After reading online this morning that some attractive teneral forms of female Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly could be seen in the New Forest I decided to go and have a look. It is getting difficult now to find new and different odonata to photograph but there are still immatures (teneral) and females of some species that I have yet to record.
This being a snap decision the late departure would mean braving traffic congestion between the A34 / M3 junction and the M27. That obstacle took 40 minutes to negotiate but afterwards it was a clear run to a site I have visited in each of the last two seasons (see here and here). The B3078 road from the end of the motorway to Latchmore Brook (SU182124) had an extra “aawww factor” on this occasion since many of the New Forest ponies had foals.
I arrived on site just before 1pm and donning my wellies set off for the SBTD stronghold in a bog just to the north of the brook. The first odo to show themselves predictably were Banded Demoiselle, closely followed by Large Red Damselfly. At one small pool a Broad-bodied Chaser (below right) was holding territory, while two males were competing for the next, larger area of water that I reached.
A short distance beyond that spot lay the bog, glistening in the early afternoon sunshine and full of attractive wild plants. This habitat is created by water run-off from the higher ground of Hampton Ridge on its northern side. Now two more blue dragonflies were encountered: first an early Keeled Skimmer (above, left) of which there will be many at this site come mid-summer, then a magnificent Blue Emperor (below right) suspended lazily from a resting place in Gorse.
While I was watching the latter a first male Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly appeared. These always have a ghost-like quality as they drift weakly over the bog surface, only to vanish in an instant when the light changes. They are valley mire specialists favouring disturbed habitat that has been grazed and trampled by livestock.
As the pictures below (left and upper right) show, males are predominantly dark brown, with segment 9 of the abdomen blue with two small black dots, and part of segment 8 also blue. Markings on the thorax develop from a straw colouration on emergence, through green and turquoise to deep blue when mature; so I was observing fairly young specimens today. The larger Blue-tailed Damselfy (bottom right) has a rather more sharply defined blue tail that is contained within segment 8. I found several male SBTD at this particular spot but none of the teneral females I had come here hoping to see.
By mid-afternoon conditions, frustratingly became more overcast. Then it seemed the longer I stayed here the less I found. Each time I began to walk away the sun would emerge, usually weakly again but not for long before being enveloped by cloud once more. A cool breeze also grew and everything stopped flying. Eventually I did put up an unfamiliar insect that looked like a teneral female SBTD, but it flew off ahead before disappearing into cover. In four hours on site I had gained some reasonable pictures but not photographed anything new before the grey stuff rolled in … and that is so often the way with insect watching!