It was a pretty warm and sunny weekend, and I thought it would be worth making a start on dragonflies this year. I haven't seen all that many so far this year, with a few Azure Blues and Large Red damselflies here and there (including a couple around my pond in late May which appear to have been freshly emerged) plus a single Broad Bodied Chaser. Surrey would have been the default at this time of year, but Colin wasn't keen on getting sunburnt. So having seen a few tweets about Common Clubtails around the Severn and Wye, and seeing the Forest of Dean in my site guide I suggested we head west on Saturday.
These particular dragonflies have always been problematic, being found on very few rivers, where there is a mass emergence in late spring. Adults then disperse widely and only return to the river to breed. We tried the Thames at Goring several times, and saw one once. A site further up the Thames was never successful, and my only other sighting was a very brief flight in poor weather conditions at Remenham on one of several visits.
We had visited RSPB Nagshead once before, some years back and it was rather good, since it had a number of breeding birds that are rather hard to come by in the south-east, such as Wood Warbler. I expected this to be our destination, but Colin surprised me saying we were going to Monmouth first. Apparently he had come across a blog post from last year where someone had found a number of Clubtails on the north bank of the Wye, east of Monmouth, specifically a few fields up river from St Peter's church.
We had a good journey, arriving mid morning, and discovered another enthusiast resting on a seat in the church yard. Had found the same information and had failed to find any despite searching the river bank for several hundred yards. Not good news, but we decided that since we were here we might as well have a walk, since there were some nice views.
The riverside vegetation was full of Banded Demoiselles, but not a lot else. I tried getting down to the waters edge at a couple of places to check for exuviae, but it was pretty difficult with steep ten foot banks to negotiate. Only two butterflies seen, a rather worn Peacock and a not well seen presumed Green Veined White.
We reached the recommended field and noticed the enthusiast had caught us up hoping for one last attempt. Shortly after a yellow dragonfly flew up from the grass in front of us and flew away from the river. I knew instantly it was a Clubtail and I managed to follow it in the bins and saw it land near a patch of nettles. We rushed over and got very good sustained views and some decent photos. It then flew off and into a Hawthorn, where we were able to get even closer views, and were able to show it to some passing walkers. Having taken images with the 100-400 lens, I was able then to switch to the 60mm macro. I then switched to the phone and got the best images of the lot from a couple of inches.
We then went to Nagshead, arriving mid day. Probably a bit late really as things tend to quieten down, but we were optimistic and went down to the eastern pond and then the hide. The big pond had a female Mandarin with a brood of ducklings, plus a few Four Spotted Chasers, some Azure and Large Red Damselflies. We missed a sow Boar and Piglets by a few minutes in one of the meadows, but was pleased to see a male Pied Flycatcher around one of the nest boxes.
A stroll around the shorter of the trails produced numerous vocal Nuthatches, a fine male Redstart and a female Pied Flycatcher. No Wood Warblers unfortunately. There seems to be very few this year, and I have heard the same from Devon and the New Forest. Apart from a Brimstone or two, the only butterflies were singles of Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.