A Common Clubtail in Govilon in 2023, the first record for the Usk valley

by Alan Underwood

On 14 June 2023, I met up with Alun Thomas, an old university friend who I had not met for fifty years or so. It was great fun. As he enjoys photography and has taken images of damselflies and dragonflies on occasion in the past, he was more than happy for me to show him the joys of Castle Meadows, Abergavenny. It was a good outing. I saw a Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) there for only the second time since I’ve been recording, saw Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata) there for the first time and confirmed that White-legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) are still present. After an enjoyable morning we returned to my house in Govilon for a quick break with the intention of moving on to Garn Lakes in the afternoon. Obviously I had to take the opportunity to show my friend the garden and especially the pond. As we rounded the corner to the pond we spotted a dragonfly perched on a phormium leaf. Alun suggested a Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii), and as we have these in the garden every summer, at first glance I was happy to accept this. However, very quickly I realised that something was not right. Soon my brain was shouting Clubtail! Clubtail! I found it hard to believe that I was watching a Common Clubtail (Gomphus vulgatissimus) in my own garden: “No, they only occur in the Wye Valley”, I told myself. I quickly snatched my phone from my pocket and took a few shots (unfortunately I had left my camera in the car). Fortunately Alun had brought his with him and was able to get some shots. I ran back to the car for my camera, but on my return the insect had just departed. Alun’s best image is below. What was a Clubtail doing in my garden? I don’t pretend to know, but its possible that there is a colony somewhere nearby on the River Usk which has not yet been discovered. When strolling along its banks I shall be keeping my eyes peeled even more than usual from now on!

A Common Clubtail, Gomphus vulgatissimus, in Govilon, on 14 June 2023, photographed by Alun R Thomas
A Common Clubtail, Gomphus vulgatissimus, in Govilon, on 14 June 2023, photographed by Alun R Thomas

[There is a long-established and healthy population of Common Clubtail on the Wye, extending from below Monmouth upriver through Herefordshire and into Powys, and on several other British river systems, but there has never been a record in the Usk valley, in Monmouthshire or in the other counties through which it flows, despite sections of the river looking suitable. This sighting has encouraged our local recording community to search the Usk more intensively already, but with no success in finding the species on the river yet. Emergence starts on the Wye from mid May. Perhaps 2024 will be the year that clubtails are found breeding on the Usk? Steve Preddy]

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