The Common Clubtail is perhaps Britain’s most difficult to locate dragonfly. That is because the only reliable time to see them is just after their emergence from slow flowing rivers. Once they have dried off and are ready to go they fly to nearby woodland where they stay in the canopy. What the chances are of catching up with egg laying females on their return to water I haven’t read. In several attempts at the species this year I have seen just one.
There are two nationally important Clubtail sites on the Berkshire / Oxon border: along the Thames path upstream from Pangbourne (SU624772) and on the opposite river bank at Goring railway bridge (SU606797). I found and photographed a Clubtail (below) on my first visit to Pangbourne in 2013 but have not been so lucky since, and luck is what it mostly comes down to. This year I began by stopping there when I was passing, which was perhaps not the best strategy being usually in the afternoon when parts of the river bank are in shade.
Then on 27th May, as I was leaving Aston Rowant NNR Adam called me from the Goring site. He had been there for a couple of hours without seeing anything and we agreed to meet. While I was on my way his luck changed as a Clubtail emerged from the Thames below the railway bridge (see here) but by the time I arrived it had already flown. A few days earlier the BDS (British Dragonfly Society) recorder for Oxon, Steve Burch had actually photographed a Clubtail emerging from its larval case in the same place (see here). This was my first visit here and I had to satisfy myself with a reconnoitre.
On the morning of 23rd May a group of dragonfly enthusiasts from Hampshire had recorded seven newly emerged Clubtails upstream from where I had been looking on the Pangbourne side. So two days ago I went there in the morning and this time put one up at ground level, then it flew high into nearby trees. Today I went back for a final attempt at a new photograph, searching along the Thames path upstream from Beale Park but without a repeat of Monday’s sighting. There was still plenty of interest to be seen though, including very many Demoiselle damselflies and local birds going about their business.
In the afternoon I returned to the Goring site with my chair. This is a lovely location and being so well advanced with 2015 butterflies and the key dragonfly species the recent pressure to catch up was off. So I lazed around for more than an hour here on the off chance of something popping out of the river and flying over my head. Every so often I would walk up and down checking the concrete embankment under the bridge for climbing Clubtails. This was in the early afternoon window when their emergence is said to be most likely, but not today.
Well that’s enough searching for one season. In the course of it all I have gained quite an education on when and where it’s most likely to see the Common Clubtail and I’ll try again, better prepared in 2016.