Sometimes, convincing less wildlife inclined friends to spend hours investigating various habitats for obscure species of flora and fauna can be difficult. This certainly was the case last weekend when me and three friends went camping in the New Forest. And it wasn't just my buddies causing the weekend to not go quite to plan.
Beautiful demoiselle, one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, Konstantinos Papakonstantinou
It wasn't my suggestion – late Thursday evening – to go camping, but having just this summer got manically into damselflies and dragonflies, I wasn't going to pass up on the opportunity to visit arguably the place to see these stunning creatures.
My two friends Adam and Florence are notoriously late. I’m fairly sure Adam inherited it from his mum, who has never been less than half an hour late for anything, ever, but Florence must have developed it after they got married last year. Originally we had planned to go on Friday evening, but after finding out Adam hadn't packed at 7pm on Friday, we decided to go half way to Florence’s parents’ house.
Golden-ringed dragonfly, another one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, gailhampshire
My girlfriend Sophie had beaten me and Adam to Florence’s house, and they had already cracked out the vino. In fairness it was a lovely evening, and we decided to leave early the next morning.
Upon waking I found out that Florence hadn't packed either. After the inevitable lie-in she began to pack. We planned to leave by 8.30 – which was ambitious with Adam involved – but ended up leaving at 11.30. Only 3 hours late. Not bad.
The journey involved the usual hordes of red-faced, sweating men in cars full of screaming children. The roads were either clogged up to a standstill or dodgy carnival dodgems of terrifying lane-changing maniacs. With a traffic jam here, and wrong turning there, eventually we arrived at the campsite of Roundhill in the lovely New Forest.
Friendly (looking at least) New Forest ponies - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, davidgsteadman
Now the fun started, I thought. Dragonflies. Hordes of them. Golden-ringed, downy emerald and chasers galore waited for me just beyond that clearing near the river. But before I could demand a walk and lead my friends to the nearest body of water, along came a pony.
We’d opened the boot of the car just after arriving – mistake. “Planning to take stuff out of your car to quickly set up your tent and get immersed in nature are we?” thought the pony, as it sinisterly crept up behind us.
Biting and gnawing, tearing and chewing ensued as the pony gorged on the bounty of Adam’s boot. Adam cried out, “The coffee! It just ate an entire bag of coffee!” and that – as far as I was concerned – was the last straw.
I slowly approached the pony from the front. Nervously, I tried to shoo it away. But the pony was having none of it. It turned, backed up a bit, and kicked.
CRACK! Right in the ... leg, thankfully, else I wouldn't be writing this. It made the kind of sound that would usually mean a trip to the hospital, a sound reminiscent of playing the coconuts at my primary school nativity. After a bit of sit, a lot of swearing and a much needed Sophie hug, we calmly watched the remainder of our camping supplies slip down into the pony’s tum.
I say calmly, but I think we all know that’s a lie. Perhaps an hour later it left, and we got the tent up. My leg had begun to recover (as if that would stop me), and we headed out for a walk along the small river near the camp.
Me, momentarily distracted from scanning the river's edge - image courtesy of Jack Plumb
Finally, I was rewarded. Immediately upon reaching the bank, four beautiful demoiselles appeared and danced around in front of us. Then a golden-ringed dragonfly whizzed past a few times showing off. We had a delicious pub lunch, lots of beer, and the worst night’s sleep in the history of New Forest camping, then got up the next day to go to Hatchet Pond near Beaulieu.
As though gifted by the Odonata lords themselves as an apology for yesterday’s pony assault, two more new species for the year appeared in front of me at the edge of a shallow part of the pond. Keeled skimmer, and broad-bodied chaser made my Sunday, and a total of four species for the weekend. Was it worth the stress, and the (possibly permanent) leg injury?