By Jim White: Senior Fellow for Land and Biodiversity
The Christina River has been one of my favorite Delaware canoeing and kayaking destinations for many years. Cruising with the tide on a late summer day is about as relaxing as it can get. However, if you are like me, the best part of the experience is searching for wildlife such as American Beaver, Great Blue Herons or basking Northern Red-bellied Cooters and soaring Ospreys. In the last several years, thanks to my friend Hal White (no relation) I have become very interested in dragonflies and the Christina River is a great place to see several of our common species. Scanning the spatterdock and cattails and other shoreline vegetation can result in observing colorful species such as Green Darner, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Spangled Skimmer and Blue Dasher. However, my favorite species that makes the Christina its home is the Russet-tipped Clubtail.
This large species of dragonfly is only found on tidal freshwater rivers and is not particularity common elsewhere in Delaware. Hal White, in his book Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies, wrote that this species was not recorded in Delaware until 2003 when a University of Delaware student collected it on the Christina River for his required insect collection. Why the species was not recorded earlier is a bit of a mystery but Hal speculates that large tidal rivers are not a place that most skilled dragonfly enthusiasts think of checking for uncommon species. Since the 2003 lucky find, Hal has confirmed that the Russet-tipped Clubtail is actually fairly common on the river from August through mid-October. However, although I had been up and down the Christina River many times over the years, I had never noticed this what I now consider, a rather conspicuous insect. That is, until 2008 when Hal and I mounted a mini-expedition by canoe to photograph this handsome dragonfly for his upcoming book. It did not take long after putting-in, that we observed several Russet-tipped Clubtails patrolling low over the water. But photographing flying dragonflies from a shaky canoe is a bit of a challenge to say the least. Lucky for me though, one of them perched on an overhanging branch just long enough for me to get a few photos – mission accomplished. So if you have a chance to get out along the Christina River keep your eyes peeled for Russet-tipped Clubtails.
Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies by Hal White available at the Ashland Nature Center, DuPont Environmental Education Center, or on Amazon.com.