29th May 2020
A field. Not a large field but, then again, not a truly small one. Roughly square and perhaps four hundred yards along each of its sides. Orientated just a little clockwise from North to South. A third of the way up from its Southern edge a line of tall, mature Ash trees cuts across and almost down through the centre a small stream runs South towards the Test. I found it on a map, while mired in the dark dampness of the sodden Winter months, and ventured out to explore if it had the potential to be a site worth visiting when the Spring brought more clement weather. I discovered what seemed to be an idyllic semi-wild meadow cut through by a thickly reeded runnel. It reeked of Damselflies, perhaps even Dragons.
For now, I am not telling anyone exactly where it is. I mean to try and visit it once a week through the next few months to gradually build up a knowledge of what is there and, perhaps, what passes through.
I visited next at the very beginning of May and the Meadow was coming alive. The bare branches had gone and the flattened and soaked grey and brown vegetation had sprung back rich and verdant. I am not a botanist, more just a muppet with a camera, but even I could see the variety of growth around me. When this pandemic allows I must get David out here to forage around because that is very much his sphere of expertise.
I didn’t know what I’d find, or if I’d find anything at all, so I didn’t take a notepad to count numbers. Although I did take a camera, without which I feel as if I’ve left half of me behind. I only found one Damselfly, but it was the one I had been so much hoping for. While I am not revealing exactly where this meadow is Chilbolton shares the same valley, and last Summer I visited Cow Common with the area’s Dragonfly Recorder, David Murdoch. We were on what turned out to be a fruitless hunt for one of the country’s rarest Damselflies, the Southern, and explored the small gutter near the entrance that runs down to the Test. No Southern Damseflies, but a handful of Large Reds and it was these I hoped to find at this promising Meadow. There are other colonies in the area, most notably at Anton Lakes, but they are very small, the one on Chilbolton Common promising to be the largest. Now, here in front of me, down in the grass, was a Large Red. I did manage a photo, but it wasn’t anywhere near good enough and was binned as soon as I got it up on the computer screen and saw how third rate it was!
I visited again in the next few days, not to count seriously, just to watch how numbers developed, and without spending too long I saw 14! This was looking promising indeed.
On Wednesday 27 May I park the car, clamber over the style and set off along the footpath towards the rickety wooden bridge that carries the public right of way over the stream. The sky, so clear all through the morning, has clouded over but the temperature is in the mid-twenties and the humidity is as high as it has been so far this year. I am in my elephant! Before I reach the stream I leave the path and cross to the left to search the reeds. I find a Red immediately, hiding, inconveniently for my camera, in nettles before it decides I am not interesting enough to hang around for and flies off to do that magical sudden disappearing thing that Damselflies seem so able to do. I move through the undergrowth and up onto the bank. By now I am seeing Banded Demoiselles and it isn’t too long before I get a chance to try my luck with the lens:
This is a female, with a metallic green body and green-tinged wings. I expected to find these here. They are very common in any kind of reedy environment, in lakes and slower flowing water, and this stream with its thick reed beds is tailor-made for them. In this small area downstream of the bridge I am counting them steadily, and it isn’t long before a male gives me a good photo-opportunity:
The male is much more a metallic blue and has that identifying dark “thumb-print”. A very similar species is the Beautiful Demoiselle, but in the male of that species the whole wing is dark, almost black, while the female has browner wings against the female Banded Demoiselle’s green.
I leave the bank and work my way round to and across the foot-bridge, then through the thick grass to the opposite bank. As I approach I find a Red posing in the grass. It seems completely unalarmed by me and allows me to slowly crouch down and run off several shots. Luckily one actually met my demanding standards:
This is a female. At first glance the sexes can seem difficult to tell apart but the key is the amount of black on the abdomen. In female the upper surface of segments 6-9 is black while in the male it is only section 7-8. Luckily I can show this as it isn’t very long before a male also allows me to get a good shot:
I continue to hunt for the next couple of hours, slowly working my way upstream, and find that these two species are completely dominant here to the extent that I only find three others. These are Azure, Blue-Tailed and Common, but I only find one of each! I am surprised. The Azure does prefer standing water, but this stream is mainly very slow-flowing with plenty of virtually still water thanks to the thick reed growth. Both Common and Blue-Tailed are less fussy and so long as the flow isn’t fast will usually be quite happy and present in significant numbers. However, the counts I get of Large Red and Banded Demoiselle more than make up for any disappointment. In total I count 78 Banded Demoiselle and 30 Large Red. These would be good numbers anywhere but this is a small site and I have only looked at 200 yards of stream at most. As mentioned above, I shall be back, and wonder what else I will find as the season warms up.