Longparish on the River Test

Longparish Mill

or the Hunt for a Golden Bloomed Longhorn Beetle

John Solomon

What am I doing here? There is a blustery breeze and nobody would describe it as warm, perhaps 19C but not over 20C. I didn’t get rained on driving out but some of the heavier clouds threaten to spit on me before the afternoon is done, then the sun breaks through for a few minutes and the humid heat bears down like a furnace.

I am standing by the car parked by the side of a small lane that wriggles along behind Longparish Mill. The small pull-in I have stopped at is found at OS 444 448.

There is a footbridge across the Test here and I pause on it to peer out over the reed bed upstream and to my right. I was here on Tuesday, it is now Saturday, and the sun shone down from a clear blue sky and the reeds almost danced with Banded Demoiselles. Now there is nothing. I walk on, through the arch formed from the branches and leaves of trees and bushes at the far end, out into a small meadow and onto the bank at the side of a small and fast running stream to the right. Again, on Tuesday this stream was busy with activity but today there is nothing. This could be a quiet day.

So, why am I here, when so clearly everything is hidden away from the inclement weather and roosting? Two simple reasons. First, when the sun is out everything is flying around and easy to see, but … it is flying around, the heat making them full of energy. If it is cooler then if you can find something you have a much better chance of it allowing you to creep up on it get a good photo. Secondly, because when the sun is out and the butterflies and dragonflies are flying that is all you see, but, of course, that is not all that is here. When those alluring insects are no longer stealing your attention then you can concentrate on those less showy things that would normally be far below your radar and, today, one species in particular. The Golden Bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle. Check it out on Google. I first found a couple here last year and got a poor photograph. I usually keep even a third rate photo if it is the only example I have but, stupidly, I have managed to bin it. Regardless, I would want a better one. They are around through May and June and generally considered to be widespread but local in central and eastern England, so I was quite excited to find them down here. I did catch sight of one a month ago, but it was a very warm day and, although it stopped twice where I could see it, it didn’t stay around for anywhere near long enough for me to move in and get a shot. Today would be the day.

I start hunting in the triangle of thick vegetation to my right. The rain we had all over winter has put an enormous amount of water into the ground and, as everywhere, everything is tall, over my head and still shooting up. I am not having much luck with the Longhorn Beetle, even though I am going very slowly and examining every blade of grass, every leaf, peering down into the greenery beneath, but a fly catches my eye. A Hoverfly. I am getting quite interested in these lately and decide to go for a shot:

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This is a Tapered Drone Fly, or Eristalis pertinax. Very common it first begins emerging in spring and then is present until the end of the summer. The larvae are described as “rat-tailed”, meaning that they have a “tail” at their rear end which is actually hollow and used as a snorkel to allow the maggot to breath. They live in sodden vegetation in small pools and ponds.

Not far away, hovering around the same flower heads is another:

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This is a Glass Winged Syrphus, or Syrphis vitripennis. The larvae of this species have a rather more glamorous and exciting lifestyle, living on plants and hunting aphids. Very much the gardener’s friend. They, also, are very common although numbers can vary considerably as this insect engages in mass migrations from continental Europe.

Ten minutes or so later and another flower, another hoverfly:

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This one is small and easily over-looked and goes by the name of the White Footed Hoverfly, Platycheirus albimanus. The larva is another aphid hunter, but this time low on the ground and among the leaf litter.

As I look up from this last conquest I spot bright red among the nearby nettles. I close in and, somewhat obligingly, the sun slips behind a cloud:

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A Red Admiral. This is a female as the “red” bands have an orange look to them. A male would be more obviously scarlet.

I turn, now, to the meadow. There is a path straight ahead of me, running parallel to the stream. This is the footpath you will find marked on a map, but there is another rough path to the left running round the back of the meadow. I set off along this very slowly. This is another great area for Banded Demoiselles and with the cooler temperature I am hoping they will be less lively and more accepting of my presence. I do find several but if they were meant to just sit obligingly for me they didn’t get the memo. I do manage to pick up a rather tired Meadow Brown:

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This is a male, although the wings are well worn.

It takes me around twenty minutes to work my way along and then I step out onto the far end of the public footpath at the opposite end of the meadow to where I started. I walk slowly back, scanning the grass stems, scanning the bramble leaves, glancing up and around just in case something is flying. Fifty yards or so from the footbridge there is an area of grass, perhaps fifteen or twenty yards long, with small pathways worn through at each end where people have made entrances to the stream bank. I walk into the first, then slowly make my way through the high grass. Stop! Down, low to the ground, a male Banded Demoiselle bouncing around on a blade of grass. I very slowly drop down. There is grass between us but I try and work the camera through. I can’t, however, the wind is gusting and I think I might be able snatch a couple of shots as it pushes the stems to and fro. Funnily enough those two words “fools” and “errand” keep popping, almost rhythmically, into my head … which tells you all you need to know. I stand up as the insect flies off.

I move on. Three yards and the grass is flattened, perhaps where two dogs had a fight? Perhaps where Adam and Eve lay down on a blanket? Just a few more yards then back home for tea. I step forward, and again, then scan … and almost half jump as I have one of those truly OMG moments every hunter hopes to get every once in a while. Sitting just over a metre, or around four feet or so if you prefer, away from me is the most beautiful insect I have seen all year. It looks a bit sea sick as the reed it is clinging onto for grim life is shaken this way and that by the wind, but it is there! Almost so close I could reach out and touch it!

It mustn’t fly! I must get the camera organised. I mustn’t rush, but I must do it quickly … and very calmly! It mustn’t go wrong! It mustn’t fly! Please don’t …

It didn’t. In fact it didn’t seem worried about me at all. Maybe clinging onto that reed was quite enough for it to worry about at one time. I took shot after shot after shot. Starting hanging with its back towards me the wind got the better of it and it moved round to the far side of the reed, but still I could get the camera through to it. I rattled off around fifteen photos, giving myself a nightmare of a job later as I tried to decide which two or three to keep, then put the camera down and moved in to examine her with the naked eye. She and me, both out on a grey and gusty day, a foot apart, eye to eye. I said thank you to her, as I always do to any insect that allows me to photograph it, then left her. I turned back as I reached the footpath and she was still there. I like that, when I take a shot and the insect was so unaffected by my presence that it continues its life as if I don’t exist. That’s how it should be.

Oh, yes, you want to see?

Not a Golden Bloomed Longhorn Beetle, another day perhaps, but a female Golden Ringed Dragonfly:

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For non-locals, Longparish is a beautiful village full of thatched cottages that sits on the River Test. This is expensive fishing territory with a pristine, chalk river and enormous wild brown trout awaiting people with far too much money! David’s images below from December 2019.

The river is braided with several channels.
In spring and early summer this area is full of warblers that have migrated here to breed.
Pollarded willows here grace the banks of this highly guarded riverside.

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