New Forest Odonata – 3: Ashley Hole again – 8th Aug

A warm day being forecast I opted to pay a repeat visit to the heathland wilderness of Ashley Hole (SU228167) hoping for a better look at the Common Hawker dragonflies. Overnight murk was lifting on my arrival at Telegraph Hill and once I set out from there it was wall-to-wall sunshine for the rest of my stay. As I trod a familiar route to the boggy valley of the CH hotspot Grayling butterflies escaped my footfall, while Stonechat clicked and whistled amongst the heather and gorse. There is presently a family of these birds close to the parking area here and today the juveniles made a charming sight atop one bush.

Stonechat siblings

Stonechat siblings

View down the valley towards Ashley Bottom

View down the valley towards Ashley Bottom

I have to say that the fair weather conditions did not produce significantly greater numbers of flying odonata than a week ago (see here). But the Common Hawker were definitely more active with at least four males and two females seen. A year ago I spent about three hours watching two males patrol the same route around the bog in Ashley Bottom without settling. This time observing two more males hawking around the bomb craters for long periods was an interesting experience, but one of these perched for just a few seconds in which today’s only photo opportunity came and went. At the crater where I had disturbed a female last weekend, another or maybe the same one was egg laying in the pool-edge vegetation but she remained largely concealed whilst doing so.

Bog habitat in Ashley Bottom

Bog habitat in Ashley Bottom

Female Common Hawker laying eggs

Female Common Hawker laying eggs

As much as I like the wildness and beauty of this place there is a frustrating side to things here because Common Hawker are so difficult to photograph. It had taken four previous visits to gain a passable flight shot of a male, now would I ever capture a perched image of either gender? By early afternoon I decided to explore an area in the lowest part of the valley, then go on to Latchmore Brook to try to photograph Goldenrings. That relocation was rendered unnecessary because at least three male Golden-ringed Dragonfly were lazily patrolling the stream that flows though the valley floor, chasing each other away whenever their flight paths crossed. These perched frequently but didn’t like to do so against uncluttered backdrops.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (male)

While I was prospecting for these pictures (above) another observer appeared, the first time that has happened in my five visits here, but when I eventually walked in his direction he hurried away. He had the air of an expert but I suppose I cannot pick and choose when I wish to be sociable. As on last weekend’s visit I didn’t find any Black Darter here which seemed strange. But at the first pool further up the valley as I walked away from Ashley Bottom I did come across just one of these bog specialists. The very acidic looking patches that they favour always make for interesting pictures and today was no exception.

black darter_01.1504 ashley hole

Upon leaving here I was suffering a little from wilderness fatigue and all too aware of the onset of another insect season’s end. Whether I will re-visit Ashley Hole in future years I cannot say, or perhaps it would be better to seek out Common Hawker in northern locations where they might be more plentiful. But whatever I decide this so evocative corner of the New Forest will always hold meaningful recollections.

ashley hole.1503 up valley

Goodbye to Ashley Hole for another season


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