Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sunshine at Thursley

Today I went dragon-hunting at Thursley Common, in the most excellent company of Phil Sharp. You can see his version of the day at his blog - Sharp by Nature. We got lucky with a pretty sunny day, though the cloud did slowly build and the northerly breeze made itself felt from time to time. None of this was enough to deter the dragonflies and damselflies for very long, and we came away with a haul of 11 Odonata species.

Across the Moat flew a lone Emperor Dragonfly, my first of the year. Around the margins, numerous Large Skippers flitted and posed in the grass.

We'd barely set foot down the main trail when a Hobby wafted overhead, in full hunting mode. Phil, watching it through binoculars, saw it deftly dismantle a dragonfly. I didn't, because I was trying to find the damn thing in the viewfinder. Then we reached the first bits of water and began to tick off the dragonflies in earnest.

The Black Darter, a beautiful little green-eyed dragon, is common here and we saw lots, mostly settling on the boardwalk. It was a bit of a challenge to find one posing on something a bit more photogenic than a plank of wood. Here's a male...

... and a slightly fuzzy female. A tick for Phil, and a welcome reunion with an old favourite for me.

Another Thursley speciality is Keeled Skimmer, and as soon as we neared the boggy bits we started seeing plenty of them. The odd Black-tailed Skimmer that we saw really stood out among the Keeleds - not just for its black tail, but also its appreciably greater bulk.

Thursley in high summer isn't exactly awash with birds. One of the star species, Dartford Warbler, seems to have disappeared (hopefully temporarily), while for another, Nightjar, you'd have to hang around til dusk. We had two sightings of Hobbies, one of Common Buzzard, plus a male Reed Bunting, a handful of Linnets, a noisy Whitethroat family, a scattering of Swallows, and around the Moat Nuthatches and Long-tailed Tits.

Oh, yes, and this Kestrel, which my photos revealed to be wearing a ring. It came very close to us (but I was a bit slow with the camera) and then hovered over the heath. Was it hunting dragonflies? Or maybe the abundant Common Lizards.

We were watching this male Emperor hawking up and down, when it snagged an unfortunate pair of blue damselflies (probably Common Blue) that were mid-copulation. It then settled nearby and began to slowly munch the male of the couple, head-first. Phil at this point was actually on the phone, but still managed to get some in-focus shots of the gruesome spectacle. I'm not sure if the dragon went on to eat the other damselfly or not...

On the big marshy lake were a Little Grebe plus chick, and a female Mallard was paddling around with two half-grown ducklings. One of these little darlings pounced on a dragonfly - not sure what species - and gobbled it up with evident and noisy glee.

Enough senseless violence. Along the ditch opposite the big marshy lake, Phil spotted an Emerald Damselfly and after much manouevring we managed to get some photos. Stunning little things, these are.

Determined to see a Small Red Damselfly, I'd been carefully checking every red damsel, and finally struck lucky with this little beauty. Unlike its much more common relative, the Large Red Damselfly, it has a pure red abdomen, and no antehumeral stripes. We saw half-a-dozen of these, I guess, including a pair 'in cop'.

Continuing along the path proved impossible (or daunting at least) as there was a sizeable flood blocking the path and the only way across seemed to be via some precarious floating planks. We turned back and enjoyed the whole boardwalked dragonfly-rich area again.

Four-spotted Chasers were all over the shop. This one picked a very photogenic look-out perch.

We paused by one small pool to watch this fine female Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing. Unlike the smaller dragons, which lay their eggs with quick downward dips of their abdomens while in flight, she really took her time and settled for a minute or more each time.

Before we left, we took a short walk up a drier section of path, where I was hoping we might find a Silver-studded Blue or two. And so we did, two females and a male, flittering over the short heather. Nothing compared to the numbers I saw here on my very first visit in 1995, but we are coming to the end of the species' flight season.


Mike Attwood said...

I haven't been to Thursley since the fire a few years ago. Looks as though I will have to put it back on my list. Looked like a good hall Marianne.

Frank said...

A lovely selection of dragons and damsels from one of my favourite haunts.

Phil said...

Lovely Kestrel and Hobby Marianne and I really like the dragon eating Mallard, not something you see everyday is it.
Thankfully our blogs tell a similar story, although I did forget some of the bird stuff. Too taken up with the Odonata probably.
Thanks again for your ID help, really enjoyed the day.

Alan Pavey said...

Reading both yours and Phils blogs was really enjoyable, with so many good species and pics, sounded like a really good day.