July is the start of high summer. The flowers and insects are at their best and busiest, but many of the birds will have finished nesting. In July and August many birds are winding down and moulting into a new set of feathers.
On the Pools
Some of the ducks may have late broods, especially if they lost their eggs of chicks first time around, but most of this year’s young will now be fledged. The adults now moult into their “eclipse” plumage. This is much less showy than their full breeding colours, particularly for the males and this makes them very hard to tell from the females.
In the Fields and Hedges
Here are some of the flowers and butterflies that are showing along the paths this month which will give you some ideas of what to look out for as you walk around the reserve in July.
These are two plants with mauve and white flowers, but they are easy to tell apart. Both are common wayside flowers.
There are lots of different types of St John’s Wort, but they are really hard to tell apart. It’s also quite a common garden plant.
Meadowsweet is a plant of marshy places and it grows beside the rhynes.
Melilot is very common in the Sanctuary, but also grows beside the paths.
Later in the year Teasel is a favourite with Goldfinches. They love pecking the seeds out of the spikey heads
These two straggly plants with tiny flowers are both Bedstraws and are closely related but easy to tell apart. One has white flowers and the other one yellow.
The name comes from the fact that in bygone times these plants were used to stuff mattresses because they contain a chemical that repels fleas!
Some butterflies are easy to recognise – like these two! Here they are feeding on thistle flowers, but both of them love Buddleia flowers, which make it a great shrub to have in your garden.
There are lots of brown butterflies around at this time of year and they are not so easy to tell apart.
The Gatekeeper loves hedges, especially those with bramble flowers and there are lots of those along the reserve tracks!
The Meadow Brown, as its name suggests, tends to stay out in the grassy areas and it’s a much duller brown than the others.
The Comma is a really vivid orange on top but darker brown underneath when it closes its wings. it has jagged edges to its wings and if you look carefully at the photo you can see the little white mark on the underside of its wing which is what gives it its name. It also loves bramble flowers.
DUTCH ELM DISEASE
One result of the dry, hot weather in July is that the elm trees on Wharf Lane start to show the effects of Dutch Elm Disease. The stress of the dry weather seems to weaken the trees and branches start to die. Soon this spreads to the whole tree – as you can see from these photos. New elm suckers will sprout up from the roots and grow into new trees, but these trees will probably die off again when they reach a certain size.
We hope you enjoy your visits to the reserve and that you see some of the wildlife we’ve described.
June is the month when the meadows and verges are full of flowers and the breeding season for the birds is in full swing. The emergence of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies, which has been a bit slow in May due to cold northerly winds is now (literally!) taking off in earnest.
On the Pools
The birds of both the North and South Pools are busy hatching and raising young. If you look carefully from the hides, you might see young Coots, Moorhens and ducklings out on the water. On the islands Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Oystercatchers have been nesting and the young should have hatched. The Oystercatchers’ chicks are especially vulnerable until they can fly.
Hopefully the swans on the Ecology Park pond will have cygnets, so please be careful to keep your dogs well clear while in this area.
This photograph is of the 2018 family of Mute Swans on Swan Lake.
While on South Pool you might be lucky enough to spot these Canada Geese goslings photographed by Michael Brighton . . .
In the Hedgerows and Rhynes
Some of the birds to LISTEN out for in June
Once the leaves are on the trees you are more likely to hear the birds in the hedgerows than to see them. Most birds are busy raising young, but they still pause to mark out their territories with song in the early morning and again in the evening. The middle of the day can be quite quiet, especially if it gets hot.
In brambly areas the Common Whitethroat will be singing its short scratchy tune, sometimes delivering it in a display flight above the bushes.
The loudest and most explosive song must come from the Cetti’s Warbler. These birds can be right beside you hidden in the hedge and the sudden outburst of song can almost make you jump! Listen here . . .
Some of the DAMSELFLIES and DRAGONFLIES to look out for in June
The small damselflies can be seen everywhere at this time of year. Most species are blue, like the Azure Damselfly and they are very difficult to tell apart.
The dragonflies are much larger and faster flying and can be very colourful. Two species you are quite likely to see along the ryhnes and ditches in June are the Four-spot Chaser and the Emperor Dragonfly.
Damselfly and dragonfly photos by Giles Morris
We hope you see, or hear, some of these creatures the next time you visit the reserve.
Listen out for cuckoos in May. Cuckoos fly all the way here from Africa and beyond to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Did you know it is only the male bird that calls “cuckoo”? A cuckoo was heard calling at Portbury Wharf early this May.
Along the hedgerows
Our resident hedgerow birds are well into nesting by May and many of our summer visitors have arrived to nest here too. These include Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Reed and Sedge Warblers.
By the pools and on the estuary
House and sand martins, swallows and swifts will be swooping low feeding on insects. Also keep a look out, particularly on the estuary for whimbrels. Whimbrels are a wading bird very similar to curlews with long legs and a long curved beak.
Along the rhynes
This is a great place to look for dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.
Spring fever is in the air. March and April – what to look out for, This is such an exciting time of year with plenty of spring wildlife to look out for. Buds are budding and the first blossom of blackthorns and then hawthorns are pretty as a picture. The hedgerow by the North Pool Hide is worth a look, open the side shutters to see what birds are among the blossom. Last time I looked through the shutter a chiffchaff sang to me.
Only the male roe deer have antlers. Each year, in late autumn they shed their antlers and grow new ones. It doesn’t take long, after casting off the old ones, before these new roe deer antlers start to grow. If you look very closely at this “December” buck (above) you can just see the “nobs” of next year’s antlers.
By February these antlers have put on a spurt. A velvety, soft hairy skin covers and protects them while they grow and harden.
Their antlers are nearly fully grow by mid March but still covered in velvet. This fine buck was sitting in the North Pool field last year.
In April and May the blood supply to the velvet dries up and it falls off to reveal fully grown, hardened antlers. Often the deer will help this process along by rubbing their antlers on posts and tree trunks to remove the velvet.
Keeping water voles safe at Portbury Wharf is very important. So the warden and his Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve Volunteers have been busy repairing the hurdles alongside the rhynes. You may have noticed them along Water Vole Lane, the path to the sea wall.
The hurdles are there to keep the water voles safe by deterring unwanted swimmers.
They live in the rhynes and will soon start breeding (we hope). In the UK their numbers are falling, so it is important that our Portbury Wharf water voles thrive.
The vegetation along the bank is their lunch and they eat a lot of it! It also keeps them hidden from predators. So if we (and our dogs) stay away from the water and don’t trample down the bank, that will help them a lot.
Water voles can be hard to spot. But if you are lucky enough to see one here, do tell us.
This morning at sunrise I watched 18 lapwing lift off from the North Pool. Once upon a time you would have seen flocks of a hundred strong. Sadly over the last 20 or so years, numbers have fallen dramatically.
Portbury Wharf is an important staging post for wildlife heading into the Gordano Valley. That is exactly where these lapwings were going this morning.
From August on wards lots of birds migrate here to escape the harsh northern winters. These winter birds will stay until the spring before heading back up to breed so in the meantime we get to enjoy them.
Look out for the winter birds . On the pools will be the winter waders and ducks which are visiting us from the cold north. In the hedgerows you may see the winter thrushes, feeding on the berries.
On or by the water
Keep a look out for these birds on the ponds and along the shoreline:
The winter ducks including the wigeon , teal and shovelers and even the occasional pochard . You can see these on the ponds and the shoreline.
The winter wading birds such as the dunlin , lapwings and curlews .
In the hedgerows
You might also see the winter thrushes on the hedgerows. The fieldfares and redwings will stay until all of the berries are eaten and then move on.
Amphibians – Over the next month you will see frogs, toads and newts migrating to the ponds, particularly Frog Pond. They do this every year in winter to mate and lay their spawn here. If you want to help them migrate safely get in touch with the Portishead Toad Patrol.
Today’s dragonfly survey turned up lots of interesting damsels and dragons busy making next year’s generation. We also spotted a Red-veined Darter on the South Pools. It’s an uncommon species that comes across here from Europe. This seems to be a good year for them. … See MoreSee Less
Come and say hello to us at the Portishead Raft Race this Sunday. We will have our popular nature table plus a "match the song to the bird" game. This is a great way to learn to identify bird song. You can also pick up a copy of our new map leaflet . . . hot off the press. The printing costs were very kindly donated by the Portishead Raft Race 2019 … See MoreSee Less
The first Dragonfly survey of the year was done on the reserve on Thursday. Quite a few Damselflies about, but not many dragons yet! Oh, and one strange looking Shield Bug! (possibly Verlusea rhombea). The Dragonfly is a Broad-bodied Chaser, the Damselflies are a Blue-tailed and an Azure. … See MoreSee Less
This was the amazing sunrise that greeted me as I walked by the nature reserve. A flight of Canada Geese completed the picture.
There was a roebuck snoozing in the North Pool field while out on the salt marsh several curlews, many shelducks, a number of teal, a pair of oystercatchers, a duo of gadwalls and a common sandpiper was the icing on the cake.
It was a lovely afternoon for a wildlife count with plenty to see from swallows and martins to orange-tip and peacock butterflies. Plenty of birdsong too including the joyful song of a skylark drifting down from over the salt marsh.
Though this kestrel hunting across the reserve stole the show. His hour long search for food ended successfully and he flew off to the salt marsh with his prey. … See MoreSee Less