Early summer Odonata in Hants and Oxon – 5 & 6th June

The past two days have provided an interlude in another grey English early summer so I took the opportunity to catch up with some local dragonflies. My inclination not to do English butterflies over again this year has proved to be just as well because there hasn’t exactly been the weather since my return from France. And having a new neighbour to share the interest with I’ve started to get my sadly declined wildlife garden back into shape on dry days.

Where Odonata are concerned there’s a fairly specific agenda for 2016. Having recorded every regularly occurring English dragonfly and all but one damselfly in the last three seasons, things are mainly about photography now. This means better pictures of certain species and any images of the most difficult dragons of all to capture well. So weather permitting a lot of time and effort may be required to that end.

On Sunday I considered two classic sites for Downy Emerald. One was Thursley Common, Surrey that usually involves competing for space with Joggerus ipodicus on the board walks and noisy groups throwing sticks for their dogs into the Moat Pond. The other was the southern end of Warren Heath Wood, Hants that I visited in July last year (see here), and manageable solitude. Not a difficult choice then!

warren heath.1601As soon as I walked into the forest at the latter a dragonfly was encountered: an immature male Black-tailed Skimmer. Then on reaching water’s edge at one of this site’s two Emerald friendly ponds (SU774596), a first Downy was observed. This looked promising so I walked round to the sunny end of that pond (pictured above). There two territorial Four-spotted Chaser were mounting their sentry posts, an inevitable but discouraging sight since these “bovver boys” see off any other species that comes near them.

Sure enough as soon as the next downy appeared it was harassed by the four-spots wherever it flew. The same fate befell two male Hairy Hawker that were the next to arrive. In this scenario the only species likely to settle in the brief intervals between defending their patch were the Four-spotted Chasers. So I completed a circuit of this pond, observing perhaps seven Downy Emerald in all.

I then crossed over to the second pond where in the nearest corner there were three more downies and no interfering four spots. But in place of the latter Large Red Damselfly were behaving territorially here whilst themselves being harassed by hover flies. Two hours ensued in which I observed the Downy Emeralds patrolling the same route over and over again without ever settling. I sat on tree stumps near suitable perches protruding from the water or along the bank, but all in vain where photography was concerned.

So my experience here of Downy Emerald was exactly the same as with their brilliant cousins last July: watching an attractive but constantly moving subject until I eventually tired of things. But Warren Heath Wood proved to be an excellent Odo site that I had wanted to get to know better. As well as the most downies I have ever found in one location and the other species mentioned above, single Broad-bodied Chaser, Keeled Skimmer and Blue Emperor all put in appearances. So that was a total of seven species in one afternoon representing a good cross section of early summer English dragonflies.

Perhaps the most photogenic insects here were the many Large Red Damselflies (pictured below) amongst which frequent mating pairs were found. Blue damselflies were also present in large numbers as is usual at this time of year, and one Banded Demoiselle was seen.

On the way out in the morning I had stopped at Pangbourne on the Oxon / Berks border to attempt to cross paths with that elusive creature the Common Clubtail. There I walked the Thames path upstream for an hour then back without success. Whilst appreciating it’s a little late in the season for emergences now I nevertheless hoped that the first sunny day in a while might have some bearing on things, but it wasn’t to be for another year.

Closer to home the smart site of choice during May for Oxon Odo buffs appeared to have been by the Thames in Abingdon. Here a large pond is hidden away on land adjacent to the Barton Fields Jubilee Wildlife Site. So this morning (6th) I checked the location out. A path had been cut through vegetation hopefully to give enthusiasts, not paying anglers (what chance of that?) access since a new colony of Variable Damselfly was discovered here in 2015 (see here).

Downy Emerald and Hairy Hawker were indeed both flying as I had read on the county recorder’s sightings page, but photographing them could have involved a long wait and a lot of luck. I kept an eye open rather casually for Variable Damselfly, taking pictures of blue species that I came across, and was eventually rewarded. The right hand insect (below) stood out as different even before I confirmed the diagnostics of the exclamation mark blue stripes on the thorax and the wine glass pattern near the top of the abdomen.

The above collage includes Common Blue and Azure Damselfly from today for comparison. My morning was then rounded off by a nicely posed Banded Demoiselle snacking on a Mayfly.

banded demoiselle.1601 abingdon

Banded Demoiselle

This struck me as an agreeable location in which to wile away time peacefully with a chair and camera. I have gained some improved damselfly pictures over the last two days but not images of the difficult dragons that I wanted. So I am more than likely to re-visit the Odonata sites featured in this post on sunny future days.

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