Intermittent summer wanderings on Southampton Common

It’s been a couple of weeks of highs and lows on Southampton Common (my blogs are slightly less frequent event over the summer, because I am building a garden railway with my son, which leaves me less time to wander). Sadly, the Boating Lake has been affected by an algal bloom. Unfortunately, one of the cygnets has died, and the other has been taken into the care of the RSPCA as the lake isn’t really suitable for it to return there at present. The council have been spraying the lake with extra water to reduce the bloom, and the adult swans and other birds seem to have weathered the storm, although the sticklebacks have not been so lucky. With the cooler weather also now here the lake is looking much better and a fence has been put up around the perimeter to reduce the chances of dogs or humans going in, and hopefully also discourage litter from accumulating there. The rangers on the Common have worked over and outside of hours to manage the situation, and to do everything they can for the wildlife, so a big shout out to them for everything they do.

That has been the unhappy side of the summer on Southampton Commons. However, as always there have been plenty of pleasing things happening too. On the Cemetery Lake, there are two new families of ducklings, whose company I have been enjoying.

Elsewhere, I have been indulging my love of insects. They say that this year is a good one for painted lady butterflies, and I have seen a few over the past couple of weeks: one or two have even stayed still enough for me to get a decent shot of them, which is always an unexpected bonus!

There have been lots of other butterflies for me to enjoy as well and on breezy days, of which we’ve had quite a number, the heather provides them with something a bit lower down and more protected from the wind than many of the other flowers. As a happy side effect, it’s also a very photogenic colour.

Alongside the butterflies and moths, the bees and other insects are also out and about in force, so there has been no shortage of tiny life on for me to sit and watch on Southampton Common.

It’s time for me to get back to railway construction now, but in my allocated breaks from track building, I’ll be popping across to Southampton Common to enjoy a well earned wander!

The 2019 Heatwave on Southampton Common

Tiny things with pretty wings really do make my summer, and I’m pleased to report that butterflies and moths have dominated my wanderings over the last two weeks: the patches of heather in Southampton Old Cemetery has been a particularly good place to see and enjoy them. The weather has been great for meandering around, and the Common and Southampton Old Cemetery have plenty of shady places to combat heatwave weather.

The butterflies and moths haven’t been my only companions these past two weeks though: there have been dragonflies, grasshoppers, bees, and plenty of other insects vying for camera attention.

Southampton Old Cemetery is the perfect place to spend time in the company of insects, and admire the summer colours, and I have frequently found myself there enjoying the peace, quiet and wildlife.

Back at the ponds, there have been more new ducklings, and territory wars have broken out between the mothers from time to time. Meanwhile, the cygnets are definitely the swan equivalent of teenagers, and hardly recognisable as the cute balls of fluff of a few weeks ago. They are still, however, under the careful surveillance of their parents and woe betide any perceived threat to them!

It looks like the heatwave is over for now, but I’m sure I will still find lots of things to exclaim over during the next week or two on Southampton Common.

Tiny winged things on Southampton Common

This week Southampton Common has been full of tiny winged creatures, and I have been very happy wandering amongst and beneath them. There seem to be more butterflies (and more missed shots for me) every day.

The damselflies are also out in force, and the number of dragonflies diving over the water and relaxing on nearby branches is increasing steadily too.

I’m very happy to report that there are plenty of bees on Southampton Common: this pleases me no end as these little guys are vital to our survival, and I have been enjoying myself so much this week that survival is something I am definitely interested in!

Amongst the other tiny winged creatures that I have spent quality time with this week are ladybirds, soldier beetles, and grasshoppers. There are so many different types of the latter, but they jump rather fast for my camera skill level!

And finally, much bigger bit still tiny: the ducklings on the Boating lake are looking really grown up, and we have four new babies at the Ornamental Lake.

So, the end of another week when small things have given me great pleasure on Southampton Common, and it looks as if next week may bring more of the same!

Butterflies and bees on Southampton Common

It’s been another beautiful week on Southampton Common, incorporating sunshine, really quite a lot of rain on Friday, and plenty of breeze in between to waft all the lovely flora in Southampton Old Cemetery around, and make it difficult for me to take photos of the numerous insects who are swinging around!

Southampton Old Cemetery has been my go to place this week, watching the swaying ox-eye daisies, admiring the rhododendrons, and, to my great delight, meeting a painted lady butterfly. The cemetery is an absolute haven for insects, and if you are a bee, or someone who likes to watch bees, I strongly recommend it to you!

The cow parsley around the Ornamental Lake is also a popular choice for the bees, so whilst waiting for a hint of cygnet action (they are hatching as I type, or so I am reliably told: three so far) I have been watching them balance on the white summer baubles.

There are also an ever increasing number of damselflies and a new little family of coot chicks to exclaim over at the Ornamental Lake. The older coot chicks are looking very sleek these days, as are the moorhens, with almost no resemblance to their younger selves of five or so weeks ago. 

On my travels between Southampton Old Cemetery and the lakes I have come across some beautiful wild orchids, including an especially impressive patch at the north end of the Common, near The Avenue.

Moving away from the Common for a moment, I want to give a quick mention to East Park, where I was lucky enough to see some beautiful demoiselle damselflies this week. These little guys absolutely delight me, so I was very pleased to have made an unscheduled stop on my way home and catch a glimpse of them.

So here I am at the end of yet another happy week of contented wandering on Southampton Common. Looking at the forecast, I’m not sure what next week will bring … but it looks as if it should include the cygnets at long last!

Insect days on Southampton Common

It’s been another beautiful week on Southampton Common and if, like me, seeing the warm weather insects reappearing makes your heart sing, then the last few days will have made you smile. Southampton Old Cemetery is buzzing with tiny life : bees, beetles, butterflies and grasshoppers. I also saw my first Cinnabar Moth of the year, which always cheers me up. It didn’t seem overly delighted to see me though, and flew away very promptly. But it was there!

A fleeting glimpse of a Cinnabar Moth

Over at the lakes, the damselflies are multiplying every day, the bees are busy, and there are two (at least) new families of ducklings, one on the Ornamental Lake and one on the Boating Lake. The coot and moorhen chicks (two of each) continue to grow fast and the first two ducklings of the year are looking very grown up, almost unrecognisable as the earliest fluffies of five or six weeks ago.

Well earned rest for mother duck
That awkward moment when one photography subject eats another
One of the first two ducklings of the year
The other of the first two ducklings of the year

There was one lucky little duckling on the Ornamental Lake this week: early one morning, as a group of us stood beside the lake chatting, a crow swooped in and grabbed one of the little ones who were poking around at the edge of the reeds. The mother duck squawked urgently, and the humans made a real racket, berating the crow, waving their arms, and startling it so much that it dropped its tasty treat. The duckling plopped back into the water and scuttled away, unharmed. In reality, of course, the crow was only doing their food shopping, as we all do, but no-one likes to see a duckling disappear!

Lucky duckling

So, we are just awaiting the cygnets. It can’t be long now until we see those fluffy grey heads. The male swan from the Ornamental Lake has been busy taking little excursions to the Boating Lake to ensure possession of the pair’s usual cygnet rearing territory. He got into a bit of a misunderstanding with a couple of dogs on his walk back one morning, and ended up in the brambles. Like the duckling, though, he was unharmed, with only his pride injured!

Spring life on Southampton Common

Southampton Common has been full of life this week: there are ducklings of various ages flitting around on the Ornamental Lake, including the very grown up looking first two of the year, a second family with two remaining and a third group of about six. There may well be more by now! There are also three or so Little Grebes up on the Boating Lake, although they are, so far, too quick and mid-pond for me to photograph!

The coot chicks are also growing up, darting in and out of the reeds with their parents, but easily traceable by their distinctive squeak, bright red bald heads and fuzzy facial hair. The moorhen chicks remain quite well hidden, but I have glimpsed their long legged, big-footed presence a few times.

For me, a real delight is seeing the return of the insects, because they give me the chance to waste hours trying to get a focused shot of a tiny thing waving around in the breeze on a delicate flower or leaf. There are plenty of damselflies around, and I saw my first two dragonflies of 2019 this week, Broad Bodied Chasers, at the north end of the Ornamental Lake.

Away from the water, Southampton Old Cemetery is a great place to meet insects : all the flowers and blossom are a real at attraction for the bees, butterflies and bugs.

Amidst all the fluffy babies, and elusive but beautiful insects, we are still waiting for the cygnets to arrive. The swans are still siting patiently on the nest, and patrolling the lake … any day now we might see a little grey head appear …

Meantime, I will be wandering here and there, aimlessly losing myself in contemplation of disappearing insects!

The first damselfly of 2019


On Friday I saw my first damselfly of 2019 in Southampton Old Cemetery. A sight that filled me with delight and resulted in people avoiding me for an hour or so as I smiled and exclaimed happily to myself about my find. How fantastic it is every year to see these little beauties returning.

The damselflies were by no means the only insects out and about this week. Southampton Old Cemetery was busy with butterflies, bees, and plenty of others. It was also a festival of brightness with the bluebells, blossom and rhododendron carpet.

The insects were also busy at the Ornamental Lake, and although I didn’t see any damselflies by the waterside there were several butterflies flitting around, including Holly Blues who like me to crawl around in an undignified fashion to take their photo.

The two surviving ducklings are growing bigger and bolder every day, rushing around the lake, further and further from their parens. Sadly, I saw two tiny moorhen chicks being assassinated by a trio of coots this week, although I am reliably informed that there is at least one surviving sibling. Nature is a cruel place sometimes, so take care little ones! The swans are mainly on and around the nest, but are also putting on some pretty good defence and flying displays if they are disturbed or if someone invades what they perceive to be their territory: that is to say, the entire lake!

Although it’s not on Southampton Common, the wisteria in East Park really merits a mention this week. It is looking just beautiful and was well worth taking my bicycle on a little detour to see.

So in and around Southampton, but especially on the Common, I have again been enjoying lots of beautiful spring sights, and the arrival of the damselflies in particular means that I am looking forward to lots more.