Common Reed

Phragmites australis

This is a tall and robust perennial reed which often forms vast stands near freshwater margins. The spikelets are purplish-brown in colour, the green leaves being long and broad. It can grow up to 2m tall.

Flowers August to September, but turns brown and remains throughout the winter. Found in marshes, pools, and other freshwater habitats. A common and widespread species.

The Common Reed is an important plant in nature conservation for it supports a large amount of wildlife. It is also used to thatch roofs.

Photographs of Common Reed (Phragmites australis), taken August 2012, country park, and April 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012 & 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.

Flowering Rush

Butomus umbellatus

A beautiful and elegant aquatic perennial with umbrella-like clusters of pink flowers. Although the long thin, sword-like leaves of this plant resemble a rush or a sedge, and the name of the plant implies this, it is not and is unrelated. It grows up to 80cm tall.

The seeds are made up of tissue which are filled with air. This allows the seeds to become buoyant when they fall from the parent plant so they may float a distance away on the water’s current to germinate.

It flowers July to August. It grows and thrives in the shallows of slow-moving freshwater ponds, ditches and rivers. Locally common only in England and Wales.

In The Night Pool #2

I have been in the garden on and off during the week in the dark hours to see what comes out under the cloak of night, and here they are again, two Common Toads (Bufo bufo).

One was on a garden step, and the other was swimming in the pool.

Visit Common Toad (Bufo bufo) to learn more about these wonderful amphibians.

Rat-tailed Maggot

 Eristalis tenax

I beleive this is the larva of the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), which I found swimming in my garden pond this morning. It was very hard to photo for it constantly kept moving around. It swims by whipping its long tail through the water, and it also uses this tail as a siphon which can extend to about 5cm long acting as a snorkel to breathe under water whilst feeding on decaying organic material. It also has stubby legs to grip rocks and soil below the water or out of the water.

It lives in still or stagnant water like ponds and ditches, and when fully grown it leaves the water to find a sheltered, drier habitat to pupate. The pupae are reddish-brown in colour and retains the long tail which makes it resemble a small rodent.

Photographs taken June 2016, garden pond, Staffordshire.

Mud Alderfly

Sialis lutaria

One of three UK species which can only be readily identified by genital examination. It has dark brown, smokey coloured wings with thick, black veins. They are folded over the body of the insect like at tent when it is at rest. The adults are very weak fliers. Body length 10-15mm.

Mud Alderfly (Sialis lutaria)

The larvae breed in the mud or silt at the bottom of still or slow-moving water bodies like ponds, streams and canals. The female lays up to 200 eggs on plants overhanging the pond, and when they hatch the tiny larvae drop into the water or onto the ground and then crawl into the water. The adult life of alderflies is short. They live for just a week or two from the time they emerge in late April to the end of June. By contrast the larvae live underwater for up to 2 years. The larvae are carnivorous feeding on other invertebrates.

Flies April to October. Found in all types of freshwater environments. The adults are often found resting on vegetation near water. The commonest of the three species of alderfly found in the UK. They are widespread throughout.

Photograph taken May 2015, local canal, Staffordshire. When I first saw this alderfly resting in the sun atop an old canal bridge coping, I thought it was a caddisfly. This is my first photograph of an alderfly, and indeed my first sighting of one, so I guess I could be forgiven for my error.

Three-spined Stickleback

Gasterosteus aculeatus

This is a small fish sometimes called a ‘Tiddler’, with 2 to 4 dorsal spines (usually 3 spines), just in front of the dorsal fin. Larger fish are discouraged from swallowing Sticklebacks because of those dorsal spines which can be sharp and locked erect. A favourite quarry of children with fishing nets in small pools, they hover and dart about in open water and are usually quite easily spotted and caught. It has a torpedo-shaped body which narrows towards the tail,  which is either mottled brown or greenish, being silvery underneath. During the breeding season the male has a red underbelly and a bluish dorsal sheen. Length 4 to 7 cm.

It is a fierce carnivore which feeds mainly on invertebrates, but it will also eat tadpoles. The male attracts the female to courtship with his bright red underbelly and by doing a courtship dance. He will build a nest with vegetation in which the female will lay up to 400 eggs. He will then defend the nest from predation, and will fan the eggs to ensure a plentiful supply of oxygen. After the eggs have hatched 4 weeks later he will protect the small fry and teach them how to defend themselves against predation. They can live up to 5 years.

It can live in brackish water, freshwater or salt water environments, including freshwater rivers and streams, freshwater ponds, lakes and ditches, and in coastal habitats like estuaries and harbours. A common and widespread species throughout Britain.

Photographs taken August 2015, country park pool, Staffordshire.