The cygnets’ long walk on Southampton Common

It’s been a treat of a week on Southampton Common if you like cygnets and don’t mind the rain too much. The cygnets don’t mind the rain, because they have their parents’ downy backs to ride on and snuggle into. From this cosy vantage point they can watch the humans standing in the rain beside the Boating Lake waiting to catch a glimpse of them.

The cygnet-fest began on Monday for me. It was raining quite heavily, so the obvious thing to do was to go and stand at the Ornamental Lake for a while so that I could see how the cygnets were getting along.  When I arrived I was reassured to find that I was by no means the only person who considered this a reasonable way to behave.  There were two cygnets in the water with the male swan when I arrived, and one in the nest with the female. However, all was not well with the little one in the nest, and after a number of exchanges between the parents, the mother left the cygnet and the nest, and was gently ushered away by her partner, along with their two other babies. He led his family into the foliage at the edge of the lake for about half an hour, before escorting them back onto the lake, and taking care of the two healthy cygnets whilst the female returned to the nest. It was by now empty, and after checking a couple of times, and calling to her partner, she returned to her family: now just the four of them.  It was sad, but rather touching, to see how the male swan guided his partner through the process of letting nature take it’s course. 

The next day was the highlight of the week for me: every year, after the cygnets hatch, the swan family migrate from the Ornamental Lake to the Boating Lake, but I have never witnessed the event before. This year I was very lucky. As I was wandering and wondering whether the heron would come close enough to be photographed properly I saw a jogger dodging around something at the island corner of the lake. I grabbed my camera and dashed over, yelling impolitely at a gentleman and his daughters (whom I had never met before) to join me for the experience of a lifetime. They followed the disorderly old woman and together we caught up with the swan family. One of the Park Rangers came across to supervise the process: without any interference with the swans’ plans he ensured that the path they took was kept clear of humans, dogs and bikes. As the swans chose to walk along the main path between the lakes, at a busy time, his presence was much appreciated by all. 

The cygnets, who were only about three days old, walked every step of the way to the Boating Lake, with no offer of a lift from mum or dad at any stage. They were, however, treated like royalty, with their adoring subjects lining the way, exclaiming and taking photos.

Once at the Boating Lake the cygnets plopped into their new home and have commanded a constant stream of exclaiming onlookers ever since. They have taken their popularity very much in their stride, as they sail around on mum or dad’s back (causing great anxiety if snuggling under their parents’ feathers takes them out of the sight of their fan base), splash around together, and take time out to sit on the side of the lake in the sunshine (or rain!) With the seagulls and crows also taking an unhealthy interest in them though the accepted greeting at the Boating Lake is no longer “Hello, how are you? “ But an anxious: “Are there still two?” 

In between times, the little grebes have had a less lucky week. They had a beautiful nest constructed near the side of the Boating Lake, but unfortunately on Thursday it became rather waterlogged in the rain. There was something left of it on Friday, once the water levels fell a little, but the eggs may  well have been lost. However, they are rather determined little characters, and may, I hope, make another nest soon if this one hasn’t worked out. Elsewhere, back on the Ornamental Lake there were still three little coot chicks on Friday, looking as cute and fuzzy as ever.

It really has been all about the cygnets this week though! Perhaps next week I will drag myself away from them, especially if the weather becomes a bit more damselfly and butterfly friendly. If not, well, the cygnets really are fun to spend quality time with, and I have had a fantastic week on Southampton Common, despite being forced back to drinking flasks of warming coffee rather than cool water from the newly installed water dispensers at the Hawthorns and playground. 

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!

Duckling days on Southampton Common

This week my wanderings on Southampton Common have, once again, been a lot about fluffy ducklings. There are still two survivors from the first brood of the year, looking very grown up and independent, but at least a couple of large families have appeared on the Ornamental Lake this week, one of ten and one of twelve, (although the numbers have dwindled rather over the week, as nature takes its course). It’s hard to drag myself away from them and do something useful, but occasionally I have achieved it!

Not to be outdone, the beautifully ugly coot chicks have put in a regular appearance, and although the moorhen chicks are generally staying well hidden in the reeds, there were still two babies visible on Friday. At this time of year we really need a chalkboard added to the noticeboard beside the lake so that those of us who are obsessed with the “fluffy count” can leave reassuring messages for one another about who is accounted for!

We are still awaiting the cygnets, which will be another big event, and will almost certainly happen on a rainy day when I can’t get my camera out, but the male swan in particular is maintaining a determined vigil over “his” territory (the whole of the lake, as he perceives it).

With the weather warming up again, to my great happiness the damselflies have been out and about, flitting around the reeds at the Ornamental Lake and giving me an excuse to linger, wasting time, in between the duckling and coot chicks’ rounds.

It hasn’t always been good weather this week though, and the wonderfully green Southampton Old Cemetery has, as is so often then case, provided me with some much needed shelter from time to time.

The weather forecast suggests that I may have some sunshine to play in with the damselflies next week. That would please me a lot, but, whatever the British Springtime throws at us, I’m sure I’ll find something not so very useful to do on Southampton Common.

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.

Easter Holidays on Southampton Common

It’s been the second week of the school Easter holidays, and on Southampton Common the funfair has arrived, butterflies are fluttering around, the bluebells in Southampton Old Cemetery are looking beautiful and life feels warm and sunny.

At my regular spot beside the Ornamental Lake the ducklings have continued to delight me, although their diminishing number has been rather dismaying. Despite the vigilant watching of their parents, only two of the original nine remained at the last count. Nature is beautiful, but cruel sometimes.

Over at the Cemetery Lake there has been plenty of action: the coots are, as ever, busy disputing territories, with the added incentive of guarding their nests. However, the big news has been the arrival of (at the last count six) Canada Geese. Initially one pair visited and were not made at all welcome by the swans. I though that they had left, however, far from being beaten, they returned with reinforcements. At my last visit the swans seemed to have decided to limit their eviction efforts to when the geese went too close to their nest.

So, it’s been another week of very intermittent but mainly happy wandering for me on Southampton Common, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Spring has in store next. May is just round the corner and that means dragonflies. Watch this space for out of focus insects …

The ducklings have arrived on Southampton Common

The ducklings are here! The first fluffies of 2019 were reported to me on Wednesday, and I finally sneaked out to see them on Saturday morning. Up until then it had already been a pretty good week: with it being school holidays wandering the Common has been a bit off my agenda, but I managed to make a flying visit to Southampton Old Cemetery, which is looking beautifully spring-like.


What attention I have given to Southampton Common this week has, however, mainly gone to Ornamental Lake, where the swans have been putting on a good show of love, territorialism, and preening.


My highlight of the week though has been the first family of ducklings this spring scampering in. I was tied up with family engagements when their arrival was announced, but on Saturday my son required railway modelling supplies from a shop in Shirley. I seized the chance to be uncharacteristically helpful and volunteered to cycle across the Common to collect what he needed. Whilst everyone was reeling from my unusually upbeat approach to an errand, I grabbed my camera and went. My not entirely altruistic goodwill was well rewarded, by the sight of the remaining seven (of the original nine) ducklings scampering and swimming around the edges of the Ornamental Lake. I scampered with them for a happy half hour or so.

So, even a sparse visiting schedule to Southampton Common has made me very happy this week. In between times, here’s a taste of the sort of thing that has kept me away from the Common: standing on a railway bridge at Sway Station with my son, waiting to see the Flying Scotsman fly through backwards. It was very cold on the bridge, but luckily we got covered in nice warm steam!

Lots of sunshine on Southampton Common

This week began with a beautiful Monday morning of blue skies and sparkling water, and the days just carried on getting better.

The ducks have been busy pairing up, with a fair bit of not completely friendly competition amongst the male mallards, the goosanders are (I hope) considering my request to make the Ornamental Lake their breeding ground, and at least one pair of coots have made a nest in the reeds. I can’t wait to see the super-ugly but beautifully cute coot babies again.


Not to be outdone, the swans at the Ornamental Lake have been checking their nesting site, and chasing off any real or supposed threats to their territory.

All across the Common, but especially in Southampton Old Cemetery, there have been enough butterflies, blossom and flowers to keep me amused, if not entirely out of mischief, for hours.

And last, but by non means least, we have a new springtime species on the Common: the Mr Men, in the form of Mr. Nosey. One of the many Mr Men Mosaics that are popping up mysteriously across Southampton.

All in all, it’s been a delight of a week on Southampton Common. I’d like quite a few more like that, and baby goosanders at the Ornamental Lake too, if at all possible, please.