Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Wildflower Meadow - and War and Peace in the Reed Bed Lagoon


Meadow Flowers at Rough Piece, including Common Spotted Orchid, Bird's Foot Trefoil and Buttercups



I love seeing traditional wildflower meadows, although there aren't many around here.  But I've been determined to see one this summer - and so I made a special trip to visit a meadow called Rough Piece near Basildon. Now Basildon - still known as a new town - has not and never will be a beautiful place (to say the least), but it was developed in the middle of some lovely countryside and some of this still exists on the fringes of the town.  Rough Piece has been preserved as a wildflower meadow and has also been selected as one of the 'new' Coronation Meadows (these were launched by the Prince of Wales earlier this month).

Here are some pics from the meadow;
Common Spotted Orchid














Ragged Robin


I'm not sure about the middle flower. I wonder if it's one of the Marsh Orchids (unlike the Early Purple Orchid the leaves are unspotted).

War and Peace in the Reed Bed Lagoon

1. War: The Sad Story of Fighting Swans

I've had the chance, over the past few weeks, to go birdwatching in my tranquil reed bed lagoon. I've had some quiet and peaceful moments there (see under 'Peace' below) but there wasn't any chance of that last week, because instead I witnessed a very sad wildlife drama.

I'd been watching a pair of Swans nesting in the reeds and was looking forward to seeing the Cygnets hatch out...





The nesting pair had been so attentive to each other and the nest; the male (cob) would often come up to check on the female (pen)...






And so when I saw a family of Swans - cob, pen and Cygnets - swimming on the water I was delighted, thinking that the Cygnets had hatched at last.  But I soon realised that this was actually a different family altogether - and that they were intruding too close to the nesting site of the other pair...


Within minutes of my noticing this new family, the 'home' cob came thundering in, furious that there were strangers so close to his nest. And so the inevitable happened, a vicious battle followed, with lots of loud wing-flapping between the two cobs.

The battle began in the open...

The Two Male Swans (Cobs) begin their fight






But the 'home' cob never really had a chance to dominate, perhaps he was the younger of the two...





The intruding cob had the advantage throughout, even when the nesting pen came over to protest.

The two pairs of Swans are now fighting with each other. The Cygnets look on.





All four Swans and the Cygnets disappeared deep into the reeds, where I could hear them thrashing about but couldn't see them. Then, after a battle that lasted a good half hour, the intruders emerged triumphant, with no sign of the 'home' cob at all, while his mate returned to her nest to lie low.

But the intruding cob hadn't finished. He now had his sights on the 'home' pen and bore down on her as she sat on the nest. He successfully drove her off and they both disappeared into the reeds.  And then he emerged after a few minutes - without any sign of the pen - and returned to his family.








I don't know final the outcome of this. It could be very bad news. I've not seen the 'home' pen
 on her nest since, although a single Swan can be seen gliding alone in a small pool near by.  This could be a different Swan altogether, of course. On the other hand, perhaps the home Swans have just given up on this nesting site - and flown off to start again somewhere else. 

2. Peace - Nesting Birds and New Life

Here are some of the peaceful sights I've seen in the lagoon. I've only been able to catch glimpses of the Reed Warblers flitting through the reeds.  I know they're there from their song and because a line of reeds will twitch, one after the other, as the little bird travels through them. But at last I did manage to grab a pic;

Reed Warbler



Bearded Tit (quite rare here)

Male Bearded Tit


Female Reed Bunting (the male was there too, also with a beak full of food)

Female Reed Bunting


Grebe family: I've loved seeing the very young birds catching a lift on a parent's back.
Great Crested Grebe and young hitching a ride


But it isn't long before they're too big, although the Grebes are still very attentive parents...



And finally thanks so much for letting me know about bee-flowers after my last post. This information will help with my planting for June (and so help prevent any 'June Gap' problems for the bees).


46 comments:

  1. Dear Wendy - what a totally enthralling post - I don't know where to begin.
    I have lots of common spotted orchids in the garden and was photographing them today, but will have to show them when I return from my trip. Could the deeper purple be a Pyramidal Orchid which are in flower at the moment? They seem to have the long spur which is the main giveaway for me. So lovely to see Ragged Robin, he used to be so frequent in the hedgerows when I was a child but so elusive today.
    The battle with the swans, and not really knowing the outcome is so sad. Nature is very cruel at times. The successful cob looks very arrogant on the final photograph at his grand achievements.
    Lucky you to see a male Bearded Tit, something I have never seen.
    Really great post, thank you.

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    1. Thank you Rosemary. It sounds wonderful that you have lots of Common Spotted Orchids in your garden, I look forward to seeing your pictures of them. I will investigate the Pyramidal Orchid, thanks. I agree the successful Swan looks arrogant; a true example of survival of the fittest, I think. And it's the first time I've seen a Bearded Tit, so I was thrilled with that sighting.

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  2. Nature can be so cruel.

    I think the middle orchid is a Southern Marsh Orchid, it is like the ones we found growing on the flood park near a supermarket on the edge of Haverhill. Not the most picturesque of settings but there are some lovely wildflowers there!

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    1. Thanks Celia. I find it hard to watch the cruelty of nature, especially at this time of year with nests and young. I will look up the Southern Marsh Orchid, thanks. I used to live between Haverhill and Saffron Walden many years ago, and it's a shame I didn't notice the lovely wildflowers there!

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  3. That wildflower meadow is so beautiful.. there should be more of them. I want to eventually make a small one either just inside my garden or just outside my back gate which backs onto a bridle way.

    Hope the 'home' pair of swans are ok.. your bird photos are lovely :o)

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    1. Thanks Julie. I agree there should be a lot more wildflower meadows. I wish so many more could be restored. Good luck with your own small meadow. I planted a wildflower patch about 3 years ago and it did look beautiful for a year. Even though it was hard work to create and maintain, I've recently decided to give it go again.

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  4. I hadn't heard about the Meadows in Basildon, so that is now on the list to visit when I am over that way. Keep us updated on the swans - nature can be so cruel sometimes. You are a very clever photographer to get the shots of all the other birds. Xxx

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    1. Thanks Fran. Rough Piece is on the edge of Langdon Hills and it isn't easy to find - I needed a map of the fields from the Wildlife Trust. But it is looking beautiful at the moment. The 'intruder' Swans seem to have made this area their home now, and are raising their young there.

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  5. Amazing photos, lots of my bird pictures end up just blobs

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    1. Thanks Squirrel Family. The little birds living deep in the reeds, like the Reed Warbler, are difficult to see. It was frustrating to hear them and not catch a glimpse - so I was lucky when they did suddenly appear.

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  6. How sad to see the swans fighting, but then, I suppose, that's nature for you. It's such a long time since I have seen Gt. Crested Grebes, how lovely to see them with their little ones. You really have a lovely peaceful place to visit, so necessary for those who live in towns as well as those in the countryside.

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    1. Thanks Pauline. The Grebe parents have been very good with their young and the young are thriving. I agree that it can be difficult in the town and also the countryside to find peaceful places - modern farming can be very noisy. I always try and make the time to escape to this place when I can.

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  7. Considering Swans are such graceful looking birds they can be so vicious to anything that gets in their way! Love the photo of the young Grebe catching a lift. x

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    1. Thanks Suzy. I knew that Swans could be aggressive but I was shocked to see this. The tiny Grebes did look very sweet piled onto their parents' backs. I wonder when they realised they couldn't do it anymore!

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  8. Oh, goodness, how cruel nature can be sometimes - I do hope the 'home' cob and pen will be ok. Your photos of the wildflower meadow and the water birds are all wonderful:)

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    1. Thanks Rosie. I imagine the 'intruding' or 'new' pair of Swans will take over this nest site now. I've seen the new pen take an interest in it. The wildflower meadow did look gorgeous on a warm, summer afternoon - I just wish it was within walking distance!

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  9. Why aren't there more wildflower meadows about? They are so lovely and so good for all the insects.

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    1. I wonder why, too. I can just imagine how the countryside would look at this time of year full of wildflower meadows. It would be wonderful for pollinators. I don't understand why we think we can do without them. Thanks CT.

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  10. Beautiful photos and what a stunning wildflower meadow - really lovely :)

    Brilliant photos of the swans - hope the home pair are ok though.

    Great to see the young Great Crested Grebes too :)

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    1. Thanks Caroline. Like you, I've found a lovely (and localish) wildflower meadow to visit! I think this place in the lagoon must be a prime nesting site for the Swans, the intruding family have begun to look very settled there. And I do love watching the Great Crested Grebes, from their courtship to their family behaviour.

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  11. The three fields behind me have for the first time that I have known been animal free, they are full of buttercups, I'm hoping the farmer will keep them like this as it will be interesting to see whatever flowers develop.

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    1. Thanks Joanne. I hope that wildflowers are left to flourish in your local fields and, if so, it will be fascinating to see the different flowers that emerge. Unfortunately most of the fields in my local area are arable and heavily sprayed.

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  12. How shameful - I worked at West Horndon - next door to Basildon - for 5 years, and had no idea whatsoever that meadow was there!

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    1. I had no idea this meadow was here, either, until I read the publicity about the Coronation Meadows. Then I discovered my nearest one! Thanks Robyn.

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  13. OMG....the waring swans had me on the edge of my seat....I do hope the other couple survived uninjured. Cobs are ferocious when they have young and can easily break a human arm. I've had to catch one or two in my time and it's no mean feat!

    Phew....I was so relieved to come to the lovely peace section, such beautiful relaxing pics, I felt like I was there looking on.

    What a lovely wildflower meadow, I think wildflowers are preferable to me than cultivated ones.
    A captivating post!xxxx

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    1. Thanks Snowbird. You must have been brave to catch a Swan. As you say, they are even more aggressive when they have young to defend. I was glad I was up on the bank above the water where these two were fighting. I could see the strength of their wings.
      I'm glad these dramas are rare when I visit the lagoon and it's usually peaceful.
      I agree about wildflowers, they are special because they're untouched by us and are part of the natural and ancient world.

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  14. I love wildflower meadows too, and was considering trying to develop one on the bank behind the house. But they do take a lot of work to keep going, made even more difficult by the slope.
    We used to live beside a lake, the geese (too many males) fought constantly, nature I know, but it broke my heart to watch it.

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    1. Thanks Jessica. A wildflower meadow on your bank sounds a wonderful idea but I imagine it will be a lot of work. My wildflower patch was easily accessible and I found it needed more attention than I realised.
      The battle between the Swans was heartbreaking to watch,too - I'd grown so used to seeing the 'home' pair and really felt for them.

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  15. What a wonderful post. That swan fight had me skipping words just so I could find out what happened next! Love all the 'little birds' in the reeds, in particular the Bearded Tit, how lucky to see it.

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    1. Thanks Suzie. I wish the Swan fight had a happier ending, but I'll have to get used to the new family now. I hope the Bearded Tit is nesting here, I'm looking out for a female and young now.

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  16. Hello from Jennie across at Codlins and Cream. What fabulous photographs, but a sad story about the Swan battles, and the home pair seemingly driven off. You were fortunate to be there to capture it on camera. I loved your wild flower photos too.

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    1. Hello Jennie - and thank you. If I hadn't actually seen the Swan fight, I would have assumed that the 'new' family were the original pair with Cygnets hatched out. The wildflower meadow looked wonderful in the sun, it was a perfect summer scene.

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  17. What a sad story about the swans that you captured so well. I hope the younger swans still have time to make a nest elsewhere. The wild flower meadow looks fantastic, we have been hoping to visit one over the past 2 weeks but the weather hasn't co-operated! Your nesting bird images are superb.
    Sarah x

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    1. Thanks Sarah. I hope you manage to visit a wildflower meadow this summer. I also had to wait for some good weather (and spare time) to visit this one, I was beginning to think it would ever happen! I'd like to visit more, especially some poppy fields now they're starting to flower. The little reed birds were very elusive, it took a while for me to even get a good view of a Reed Warbler.

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  18. What a really great post with fantastic photos, of the meadow and the birds in the reeds. Especially the bearded tit, brilliant. What a sad story about the swans. Yes nature seems cruel sometimes.

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    1. Thanks Annie. The little reed birds are so hidden and are also some distance away from the bank, so I've no idea where their nests are. But I'd love to see the fledglings. The cruelty of nature just seems so unnecessary sometimes, especially here.

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  19. Fantastic flowers in the wildflower meadow, they really are so stunning. And what amazing bird pictures. Wonderful.

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    1. Hello CJ - and thank you. I just wish the meadow was right on my doorstep, it really lifted the spirits.

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  20. I knew swans were territorial, but I hadn't realised quite how much, what a shame about the home swans.

    I've never seen any of those other birds before, they're just lovely. You're very lucky to see them.

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    1. Thanks Paula. I was surprised about the Swans, too. I thought there might be some posturing and chasing, but nothing more. I have been lucky to see the little birds, they do like to stay hidden deep in the reeds.

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  21. How sad about the swans. I always say that you don't need to watch Coronation Street, just watch the birds, it's the best soap opera there is. I love the photo of the little grebes catching a lift on their parents back.

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    1. I agree that a wildlife drama has it all! The little Grebes have been enchanting and the parents are excellent, too - in the middle of all the other ducks they are a close family of four. Thanks Jo.

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  22. A very interesting post and lovely photos Wendy, the wildflower meadow is beautiful. Wow, I'm so envious about your Bearded Tit sighting and photo! I've never seen one and would have to travel a fair old way to do so. The GCG youngsters always look so sweet when they hitch a ride :-)

    Very distressing about the swans. They can be horribly vicious during the breeding season. I hate witnessing that sort of thing, one feels so helpless, sadly all part of nature though.

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    1. Thanks Jan. I was watching the Reed Buntings when the male Bearded Tit suddenly flew into view. I hope he wasn't just passing through. It would be fantastic if their numbers increased here. And I'm sure the Swan fight was not only about two pairs in a small territory, but also about the nest site itself. The 'intruding' pen seems fascinated by it.

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  23. Wonderful post - I a lost feel like I've been sitting in the meadow for the afternoon :-) Found your blog as it was recommended by some of our gardening friends and would love to make contact. We're at hiwoolly@woollygreen.com Hope to hear from you soon :-)

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    1. Hello Jude - and thank you. I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering through the meadow and I'm sure I'll be coming back many times. I look forward to visiting you.

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Thank you for taking the time to leave any comments. I do love to read them.