Sunday, 13 May 2012


Avid readers of this blog, if there are any ;) may remember that last June Rob and I made a trip to the stretch of the River Thames between Pangbourne and Goring in search of Common Clubtail, a localised dragonfly species. We failed to see any, probably because we'd left it too late. So this year I have been checking this web page since about March (well, you can't be too careful) for sightings of the species, and yesterday the first report appeared. As luck would have it, today was pretty sunny too, and Rob was up for the trip, so we went there in the afternoon.

We refound the same tree-shrouded Goring car park as last time (a free one near the river, a bit of a rarity round here) and walked down a footpath between two meadows, stopping for a photo of this fluffy Robin.

From the same short path we also saw this male Kestrel, kicking off what was to be a four-raptor afternoon. Then it was on to the river, heading for the railway bridge that's said to be the best spot for Common Clubtails.

The air was alive with big mayflies, burning up their limited energy stores in a one-day dance show. Overhead, all three hirundine species plus Swifts were hoovering up the bounty, while those mayflies that fell into the river provided tasty snacks for this Great Crested Grebe.

We reached the bridge, and Rob began to assemble his camera kit while I went off exploring, searching the riverside vegetation for dragons. The first interesting insect I found was this lovely Cardinal Beetle.

Beyond the bridge a short way, I nearly had heart failure when I saw a biggish, longish thing flittering about but I soon saw it was no dragon, but a Banded Demoiselle - a teneral female I think. Beautiful creature, but not what I was after.

At this same spot I glanced downriver and spotted a dark, fast thing flying in my direction. It was a Hobby, hunting insects, and it gave me quite a show with a close flypast, though I missed the best photographic moments. Lovely though it was to see, it did give me a moment of disquiet, for there are few more accomplished dragonfly-slayers out there than Hobbies.

I went back past the bridge, checking in with Rob (who was also dragonless) and followed a tiny dead-end path into a small field behind the bridge. I'd reached the end when I spotted another Banded Demoiselle, this one a more mature female, I think.

Turning to retrace my steps, I saw my third Odonata of the day. It alighted on a nettle and I saw at once that it wasn't another demoiselle but a beautiful fresh Common Clubtail. Joy of joys! I took a few quick shots then whistled as loudly as I could to get Rob's attention. He came over and began taking pics of the dragon from the other side - neither of us could get past it without casting a shadow on it and possibly disturbing it.

It is a very small dragon, its body barely longer than the demoiselles, but it has that powerhouse thorax, and the distinctive club-tail, all decked out in eye-catching yellow and black. Its eyes had a strange milky cast, which I think is a sign that it is very freshly emerged.

Eventually the sun went in and I walked cautiously past the dragon, but while Rob was trying to get to where I'd been standing the insect decided enough was enough and delicately lifted off. We went back to our position by the bridge, where I photographed this male Orange-tip, and watched a few Red Kites going over (too high for good shots), then decided to head back to the car.

On the way back, one kite did oblige us with fairly close views - it also happened to be the one in best condition of all those we saw today, the others all showing signs of significant wing and/or tail moult.

Back at the car park, we saw a bunch of crows flush a Buzzard from the field beyond the trees, and I grabbed a couple of pics as it wheeled over, through one of the little windows of sky visible between the branches.

 ETA - here's one of Rob's big scary close-up pics of the dragon, from the Bigmac lens. Here you can see that, unlike most dragonflies, it has separated eyes.


ShySongbird said...

What a good visit you had! Very well done with the Common Clubtail, I've never seen one. Lovely photos throughout!

Mike H said...

Great post Marianne love that clubtail first time I have seen a photo of one. Some very nice raptor shots too.

Warren Baker said...

You found your quarry in the end then Marianne :-) What a stunner it is too, well worth the effort you put in today.

Re-the question you left on my blog. The only Odenata here are Large Red Damsels, those being aropund my pond, i'll post a photo today (Mon)

Phil said...

Well done with the Clubtail Marianne. Not a single dragon or butterfly at NH this morning during a short visit.

Rohrerbot said...

Sounds like a marvelous visit....AND incredible shots. I love your flight pics of the birds of prey. NICE!!! Some of my favorite. Hope you had a lovely Tuesday:)

Alan Pavey said...

Some great images Marianne and well done finding your prey as it were, the flight shots again are wonderful, really like the Hobby.

Noushka said...

Well done and a good start of the dragon season!
I haven't seen G. vulgatissimus yet but it is one of the anisoptera I can find where I live in the south of France.
They are magnificent!
The 2 Banded Damsels are adult females, the freshly emerged ones have glaucous light brown eyes!
I am interested in what species you have around your place, so bring more pics in! LOL!

Marianne said...

Thanks for the comments, guys :) Noushka, thanks for confirming both Banded Demoiselles are adults. I thought the more yellowy tones of the first one might mean it was not fully mature. Weather's improving here so hopefully more dragons to come soon!