Small things on Southampton Common

It’s been another happy week for me on Southampton Common, spending quality time with small things.

A lot of my time has been spent at the Boating Lake, paying homage to the cygnets.

The two little ones are growing fast and keeping their parents and their constant stream of fans well occupied. 

Sheltering from the rain under dad’s umbrella

Whilst most eyes have been on the cygnets, the little grebes have been having a go at resurrecting their nest on the Boating Lake: hopefully they will be lucky this time, and we will have baby grebes to exclaim over later in the year. 

In between my cygnet watch duties, I have spent a fair bit of time in Southampton Old Cemetery and the grassy areas between the lakes, enjoying the company of insects. The butterflies, bees, dragonflies and damselflies are becoming more numerous each day, and I was lucky enough to come across a golden ringed dragonfly in Southampton Old Cemetery: what fun I had watching him. 

They say we will have some sunshine next week, so hopefully I will get to spend more time scampering around chasing tiny creatures and generally looking foolish. Whatever the weather brings though, I’m sure I will enjoy myself on Southampton Common. 

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. 

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!

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.

More spring arrivals on Southampton Common

Another week of spring has brought more more fluffy beauty to Southampton Common: moorhen and coot chicks have arrived at the Ornamental Lake. The coot chicks have been too far away for me to get a half decent photo, but both species have kept me exclaiming with delight in that special: “Avoid the strange lady who speaks to herself” way. The moorhen chicks are simultaneously ungainly and poised, ugly and beautiful with their brightly daubed faces, look of surprised outrage, and seriously oversized feet. Their parents have been busy scooting around trying to keep up with their offsprings’ food demands all week, and the presence of babies of both species has led to a few stand-offs between the moorhens and coots.

Meantime, the two surviving ducklings are getting bigger every day, and I’m sure that there will be more very soon.

The swans on both the Cemetery Lake and the Ornamental Lake are also preparing for new arrivals, with at least one of each pair almost always on their nests now. They also manage to keep a close eye on what they see as their territory, patrolling, seeing off any perceived threat, and, from time to time, leaving the nest together for a bit of quality time.

Elsewhere, Southampton Old Cemetery is looking more beautiful every day, greatly assisted by the growing number of insects adorning the spring flowers.

So, although we haven’t got quite the Bank Holiday weather that we became accustomed to over Easter, it’s been another delightful week on Southampton Common, and I’m looking forward to more spring surprises next week.