It’s been a week of all the weathers, and although there have been some gloriously sunny interludes, I have been mighty glad of the sheltering presence of the tress on Southampton Common. You are never far from leafy cover on the Common, and I am constantly amazed by my ability to discover new pathways or woodlands.
The Cemetery Lake has a rather welcoming tree near the water’s edge, and is slightly more sheltered from the wind than the Boating Lake. As a result, I have spent some quality time with the swans and gulls over on that side of the Common this week, and rather neglected the other two ponds (although I did se a rather pleasing cloud arrival over the Boating Lake one morning).
One major advantage of being driven into the woodlands by the damp weather is that the season of fungus is upon us. This is the time year when I set off from home looking like a semi–responsible citizen, and return with branches in my hair and mud encrusted debris on my clothes, having spend a happy half hour or two kneeling in the squelchy undergrowth photographing the tiny but transient delights of fungi. Every little mushroom is different, and I am prone to exclaiming with joy when I find something particularly pleasing. People like me, who wander wild haired, chatting to themselves with beaming animation, are one of the reasons why some individuals are fearful of being alone in woodland.
Although there have been plenty of times when the clouds have rolled in this week, there have also been sunny hours, when the speckled woods and dragonflies have danced in the rays. During these moments I have been reminded that although I love the colours and tiny life of autumn, I am kind of sad that the insect stalking months are drawing to a close.
This week has brought me a delicious taste of what I hope is to come over the next few months. After a cloudless night Thursday morning was a treasure of rising mist against a backdrop of shimmering on spider’s webs. This is what I dream of in autumn and winter, and, as a bonus of the season, I don’t have to rise particularly early to enjoy it. Bring on those on-my-way-to-work sunrises and golden rays.
Even on the less spectacular mornings there has been plenty to be happy about on the Common this week. The little grebes still have their fiercely protected nest, and are often seen fishing by the edge of the Boating Lake (how they do love to inhabit those shady areas out of the light!) There are a few tufted ducks back on the Common with two or three on the Boating Lake (although usually they seem to prefer the Cemetery Lake). Not to be outdone, the swan family have been posing quite nicely for pictures in the pale morning light.
Away from the ponds there are all the little signs that Autumn is easing it’s way in: a few ripe chestnuts that make me want to light a fire on which to roast them (but not under any circumstances on the Common, please), shiny conkers, acorns, and delicate fungi. All this is worth the dropping temperatures and sorting of gloves ready for winter (how is it that I have about eleven gloves but no matching pairs?)
Even better, despite all these autumn treats, summer is not yet gone: the trees are mostly fresh and green (and how lucky are we to have so many of them?) Sunny corners are still busy with speckled woods, and the bees are buzzing around any available flowers. This in between season really is ticking all my boxes!
This week has been a lot about the dragonflies. Like me, they seem to be trying to squeeze everything possible out of the last few moments of summer. The pond-sides have been busy with the sound of their wings, and every now and then I have had to stop abruptly at the sight of a shimmering body on the path ahead of me. They regard me with their huge complex eyes, and promptly depart.
Although the insect numbers are diminishing as the weather cools a little, there are still a good number of tiny creatures trying to avoid my lens: shieldbugs swinging on grass stalks, damselflies staring at me with their outsize eyes, holly blue butterflies on the heather, and speckled woods flitting around every sunny corner.
Another great delight for me this week has been watching the little grebes on the Boating Lake as they dive, and then emerge far away from their original point of entry with an ill-fated fish in their beaks. They require a fair bit of patience photography wise, as they seem to like to fish in places where the shadows are greatest and the light lowest. Just as I have them in sight they dive again, emerge in a sunny spot, look at me with mischief in their eyes, and dive back into the gloom.
A visit to the Boating Lake is never complete without a quick mention of the cygnets: despite still having their grey juvenile colours they are taking on the elegant pose of mature swans now. It won’t be long until they are learning to fly and their parents are making plans to help them to move on.
In the background, autumn is slowly but steadily creeping across the Common: the mornings are cooler, and I have found a few conkers and numerous acorns lying around. What delightful photography subjects they are: you can pick them up and move them to a convenient environment where they stay still indefinitely. Although I am clinging on desperately to the last moments of summer, I am, in reality, ready to welcome the warm colours and crisp mornings of autumn.
It’s the last week of the school summer holidays, which means that I have been slacking on visits to the Common because of the pressing need to acquire school clothing. (No point in buying this stuff early as my thirteen year old has grown a size over the summer: I am now dressed pretty much entirely in his cast offs, although I do draw the line at wearing his outgrown school uniform.) However, on my brief forays there has been plenty to see on the Common: the best of both seasons really: very definite signs of autumn, the cooler and darker mornings, rose hips, acorns, and the gentle start of the changing colours and fall of leaves.
The cygnets have grown more than a size over the summer: the three who remain on the Boating Lake are almost as big as their parents, but haven’t yet begun their flying lessons. Their mother and father often leave them to their own devices and spend quality time together: once they can fly well enough the youngsters will be gently (and then increasingly un-gently, as the male swan does like them to depart promptly), encouraged to leave home. Meantime, the little grebes have been trying to make a nest on the Boating Lake. I have been trying to photograph them, and they have been trying to avoid me (and succeeding!)
However, despite all the signs of autumn, there are still plenty of summer beauties around: bees, dragonflies, damselflies, and of course butterflies. The heather patches are a real favourite with the butterflies just now, and with me too as the purple and yellow are beautiful backdrops for photos.
It’s an exciting time of year: when I arrive on the Common I never know whether I will be drawn to a patch of autumnal fungi, or have the chance to get caught up in brambles pursing dragonflies. Even better, on Wednesday I will be getting new glasses, so I may even be able to see whatever it is I am trying to photograph.
After two weeks of sunshine in Barcelona, I’m back in intermittently sunny Southampton, and enjoying occasional opportunities to stroll the Common (in between more pressing school holiday related activities).
It seems to have become that in between season: summer one minute and autumn the next, and my backpack is full of layers of clothing that I spend the day faffing around with. I have found a few fungi and quite a number of acorns on the Common, and whilst it’s sad to think of summer drawing to a close these autumnal subjects do have the definite attraction of staying still to have their photo taken.
However, there is still enough summer around for me not to dwell too much on the chillier seasons: I have been chasing dragonflies, with varying degrees of success, and the damselflies are still busy in the tall grass beside the ponds.
There are also quite a few butterflies still teasing me with their fast wings, although they are starting to look a little weather worn.
There is also every potential for the weather to revert back to full on summer the minute schools re-open. So, all in all, I am not packing up my summer photography ideas just yet.
This week began a tiny bit dull and dreary (aka a usual British Summer), not aided by the news that one of our cygnets was missing: only three of the fast growing little ones on the Boating Lake.
However the ducklings, who are also growing fast, put on a cheering show. They and the three coot chicks (who are too far away from the bank for me to get a decent shot of them, but easily visible in all their wire-haired glory) carried everyone forward to Tuesday, when the sunshine returned and we were once again plunged into the summer of 2018.
Although there is no shortage of other pleasures on the Common, at present I am mainly stuck in insect stalking mode. This is not solely because I like to get scratched to pieces by brambles in the pursuit of missed shots, but also because these tiny beings fascinate me: so much beauty and perfect detail crammed in to such a tiny space.
My current obsession is the Common Blue butterfly, which has stolen most of the available space on my SD card this week: everything about these dainty little creatures delights me (except for their disinclination to stay still for the camera)!
However, the small things of the Common, and the longsuffering Rangers (who tend to find either my bicycle or I in the way of whatever useful task they are trying to perform) will now have short break as I am off to Barcelona. Here, my thirteen year old son will try to prevent me from wandering aimlessly and behaving in a manner slightly outwith social norms whilst in his company. Wish him luck with that one and see you in a couple of weeks time!
It looks as if the heat wave is over for a few days! The cygnets and ducklings have been wondering what all this windy weather is about I think, as moist of their young lives have been spent basking in the sun. As well as the ducklings I am told that there are some coot chicks newly hatched on the Boating Lake, so let’s hope they do well after this stormy start.
The high temperature last week was a great incentive for the butterflies to be out and about, and the number of tiny flitting common blues was a delight to see. I know they are common, but they are delicate beauties. And they were by no means alone in the butterfly display.
Stalking butterflies requires a bit of care though, as there are plenty of other insects sheltering in the grass, and it’s easy to accidentally disturb them. The grasshoppers in particular were so numerous that some of them were having to queue on the grass.
But despite the dip in temperature, they say it will warm up again next week, so hopefully there will be plenty more butterflies, dragonflies, and a glimpse of those baby coots to come!