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Very Scarce Lesser Emperor

We are approaching the end of this year’s dragonfly season, but a few species are still to be seen.  In the last week, or so, we have seen: Common Blue and Emerald Damselflies; Common and Ruddy Darters; Migrant Hawkers and a female Emperor depositing eggs on vegetation in the North Pools.

Ruddy Darter
Emerald Damselfly
Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawker

Possibly the most unusual sighting was of the very scarce Lesser Emperor. We had suspected that this rare vagrant, which has bred in the UK, was present at PWNR; but we had no photograph to confirm our suspicions. Our luck changed when we managed to photograph a Lesser Emperor. Though it is not a particularly good image it captures a Lesser Emperor attacking an egg-laying Emperor.

Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs
Emperor Dragonfly and again . . .
. . . and now with the Lesser Emperor Dragonfly

See also our Dragonfly and Damselfly section

SEPTEMBER – What to look out for

Hawthorn berries and Old Man’s Beard (aka Traveller’s Joy / Clematis vitalba)

September is here!

This means that autumn is properly starting. The weather may be sunny and warm at times, but nature is preparing for the hardships to come. Fruits and nuts are ripening, many animals are fattening up for migration or hibernation – some have gone already!

Birds

On the pools, the ducks will be starting to moult out of their eclipse plumage into their full breeding colours. This will make them much easier to identify. The first of the wintering species will also be starting to appear, though it will be a while before their numbers really build up.

Lookout for the first wigeon, shoveler and teal. There will be lots on the pools by December!

Shoveler, male and female
Shoveler are named for their big scoop of a bill, but the males are most easily recognised by their white and chestnut sides.
Male Wigeon
Wigeon are neat and dainty ducks; usually found in good numbers on the North Pools in mid-winter as well as out on the Saltmarsh.
Male Teal – he has a fabulous head pattern if you can ever get close enough to see it properly.
Teal are the smallest of our ducks and are also fond of the Saltmarsh. They also seem to prefer the cover and shallow water of the South Pool to the open spaces of the North Pool, so this can be the best place to see them well.

In the hedgerows our summer warblers are laying down fat reserves to fuel their long migration flights south. You can often see Whitethroats and Blackcaps feasting on elderberries or blackberries this month and look out for more unusual species moving through.

Female Blackcap
Long-tailed Tit

Two of the birds that will stay with us through the winter also sing throughout the winter months. The Robin has a slightly wistful, but pretty, winter tune that can often be heard on Wharf Lane. By contrast the Cetti’s Warbler has a strident and explosive, though abrupt song that erupts from the thickest scrub. Both birds can be heard now and in the months to come, though most other species have stopped singing.

Insects

Some types of butterfly will still be active and searching for nectar-rich flowers all through the autumn, provided that the weather stays mild for them. Some species of butterfly over-winter as eggs, pupae or even caterpillars, but Peacock and Red Admiral both over-winter as adult butterflies. Before they go into hibernation they must keep feeding up, so you will often see them gorging on the sweet juices of over-ripe blackberries or apples.

Red Admiral
Peacock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragonflies are beginning to die off now, though their larvae, or nymphs, are still very much alive in the ponds and rhynes. Three species that you can still look out for are the Ruddy and Common Darter and the Migrant Hawker.

The two darters are not always easy to tell apart but you will often see them perched on the tip of a prominent twig or fencepost. From here they will dart out to catch flies before returning to the same perch – hence their name!

Male Ruddy Darter
Female Common Darter

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migrant Hawkers are also often still abundant in September. In contrast to the darters, they spend a lot of their time flying backwards and forwards round a small circuit “hawking” for flies. Unlike most other dragonflies they are not territorial and can sometimes be seen in quite big groups, zig-zagging around a sheltered patch close to trees – Wharf Lane can be a good spot.

Male Migrant Hawker
Female Migrant Hawker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion

September can be a lovely month, with lots of warm weather. So make the most of it when it’s fine and get out onto the reserve to see what our wildlife is up to. There’s plenty happening this month – just keep your eyes peeled and enjoy your walks!

Nature Trail – What do I eat?

Don’t miss our next Nature Trail!

This Nature Trail – What do I eat? is on Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve from Saturday 24th August to Sunday 1st September.  Find the 35 trail boards dotted around the reserve.  Answers the questions then lift the flaps to reveal the answers to see if you are right.

Don’t miss our next nature trail!

Each trail board features a different species, from birds to mammals and insects to plants. These are species that you might see on the nature reserve. So see if you can identify them and guess what they eat or what eats them?  The trail is on for 9 days so, if you don’t find them all in one visit, you can come back another day to find the rest.

You do not need a map to find the boards, you can just have a wander and enjoy the ones you come across. However if you want to know in advance, here is a map showing the approximate, anticipated locations:

We hope you enjoy the trail
and learn something interesting about the wildlife here.

 

AUGUST – What to look out for

August….it’s the month of summer holidays and lazing on the beach! But for much of our wildlife it’s almost the beginning of autumn. The breeding season’s over, lots of plants are ripe with fruit and some bird species are even starting to move south.

On the Pools

This is the month when you should start looking out on the pools for birds beginning their migration. Some species will be arriving from spending the summer further north, some will be setting off to the south having spent the summer here.

 

 

Sand Martins and a Swallow gather at the North Pool (Dave Horlick)

You might see gatherings of Swallows and Martins as they get ready to leave for Africa. They will often come together in big numbers close to water, where there are lots of insects to feed on and reeds to roost in overnight.

Swifts are one of the first summer visitors to leave us. By the middle of August most have gone. It is an amazing fact that young Swifts, when they launch themselves from the nests in our houses where they hatched, will probably not touch down again at all for two years!  For two long years they will fly continuously; eating, drinking and sleeping on the wing and during this time they will make two return visits to southern Africa. Amazing birds!

Look out as well for the first waders returning from the north where they nested. Some, like the Curlew, will stop here and stay the winter with us; others will push on further south to Europe or Africa. With so many birds moving through, there’s always the chance of seeing something unusual on the pools at this time of year.

A curlew in the saltmarsh (Hilary Kington)

In the Fields and Hedges

Many of the wild flowers start to go over and dry up in the heat as we go into August, but brambles are in full flower and we will soon be seeing the first blackberries.

Bramble flowers are a great source of nectar this month for lots of insects, but especially for the butterflies. In addition to the Commas, Red Admirals and Peacocks that you can often see around th reserve, look out at the moment for Painted Lady butterflies.

Painted Lady Butterfly

These lovely butterflies are long-distance travellers and each year they move up from Morocco, where they spend the winter, and push north. How many reach us in Britain depends on the weather in southern Europe. They breed as they move north if the weather is suitable and in some years they can arrive here in huge numbers. This year is proving to be a good year for Painted Ladies, so keep your eyes peeled as you walk around the reserve – they are a beautiful sight!

Why not send in your butterfly sightings from the reserve to the Big Butterfly Count ? This is a national survey that takes place this month and relies on members of the public  to send in counts from their gardens or neighbourhoods. The reserve would be a great place to do it. You can find all the details on their website here: https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/about

Have a great time looking out for wildlife on the reserve this month. Look out for our NATURE TRAIL at the end of the month (bank holiday week). It should be a fun activity for all the family. Test your knowledge of wildlife and learn about some of the reserve’s fascinating creatures and plants!

 

 

Looking for dragonflies

After a very quiet start to the season, last week’s survey of PWNR turned out to be one of our best.

Some surprises included a Red-veined Darter (well done Dave) on the North Pools. It’s an uncommon species that comes across here from Europe. This seems to be a good year for them.

There was also Small Red-eyed Damsels (previously only seen on the Sanctuary pool) and Brown Hawker on one of the ponds in the grazing meadow.

Small red-eyed damselfly
Brown Hawker

We also spotted five Scarce Chasers close to the Seasonal Path rhyne during June’s survey. All very positive despite last year’s drought.

Scarce Chaser

Here are a few other images from the day:

Editor’s Note: We would like to thank the talented Dragonfly Survey Team for this post.

Related pages:

JULY – what to look out for

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.

Male mallard in breeding plumage
Male mallard in eclipse

 

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.

Common mallow
Great Willowherb

These are two plants with mauve and white flowers, but they are easy to tell apart. Both are common wayside flowers.

 

 

 

Meadowsweet
St John’s Wort

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
Teasel

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

 

 

 

Lady’s Bedstraw
Hedge Bedstraw

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!

 

Peacock
Red Admiral

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.

 

 

Gatekeeper
Meadow Brown
Comma

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.

Signs of Dutch Elm Disease
Dying elm trees on Wharf Lane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope you enjoy your visits to the reserve and that you see some of the wildlife we’ve described.

 

JUNE – what to look out for

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

Mallard ducklings – photo Hilary Kington
Coot with chicks – photo Chris Clarke

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.

Mute swan with cygnets – Hilary Kington

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.

Common Whitethroat

In brambly areas the Common Whitethroat will be singing its short scratchy tune, sometimes delivering it in a display flight above the bushes.

Common Whitethroat recorded by Harry Hussey from www.xeno-canto.org

Lesser Whitethroat

Its more secretive cousin, the Lesser Whitethroat, has a song which is just a tuneless rattle, often coming from the middle of a bush.

Lesser Whitethroat recorded by Harry Hussey from www.xeno-canto.org

Reed Warbler

Also very distinctive is the Reed Warbler song, which you will hear along the rhynes. It is a long, drawn-out chugging and churring song, but often has quite a bit of trilling and whistling.

Reed Warbler recorded by David M. from www.xeno-canto.org

Cetti’s Warbler

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 . . .

Cetti’s Warbler recorded by Frank Lambert from www.xeno-canto.org
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.

Azure Damselfly Four-spot Chaser 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.

 

MAY – what to look out for

A May cuckoo at Portbury Wharf

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.

Common Whitethroat

 

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.

Swallows fly over the pools and salt marsh catching insects

Along the rhynes

This is a great place to look for dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

Peacock butterfly
The earliest damselfly is the Large Red Damselfly

 

March and April – what to look out for

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.

Butterflies and insects

Look out for the first butterflies:

Speckled Wood
Comma

T

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pale green Brimstones look like leaves
Peacock butterfly

 

 

 

 

Birds

New spring-time arrivals


The distinctive Wheatear with its “bandit” face mask comes all the way from Africa for the summer. You might seen them anywhere, this one was on a washed up log on the salt marsh.

Breeding plumage

Many of our regular visitors are showing off their breeding plumage.

For most of the year Black-headed gulls have white heads with just a telltale white spot behind the eye. But this time of year they actually live up to their name.

Courtship displays

Our wildlife are looking to nest and rear young so this is the time for courtship displays.

Male shelducks display to impress a mate, though clearly it is not working here! She looks decidedly disinterested. Look out for them on the foreshore and on North Pool Island.

Or you may be lucky enough to see oystercatchers strutting their stuff on the North Pool island or on the foreshore.

Water voles

Water Voles are becoming more active in the rhynes. Now is a chance to glimpse one swimming. It gets harder to see them once all the reeds start growing.

While on the Salt Marsh

Sea scurvy grass in flower on the salt marsh. It is rich in vitamin C and sailors used to eat it to prevent scurvy.

 There is so much going on among our spring wildlife so this is just a taster of things to look out for. 

Roe Deer Antlers

Roe deer antlers regrow each year

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.

Spring

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.

Read more about Portbury Wharf’s Roe Deer here