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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.




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 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!


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.



Meadow Brown

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.


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.


Salt Marshes Day

Portishead Salt Marshes Day is on Saturday August 14th. It is a celebration of our salt marshes. We have two salt marshes locally, one by the Lake Grounds at Battery Point and the other at Portbury Wharf. They are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because they are such important conservation areas. Home to increasingly threatened species, such as the curlew, they are surprisingly biodiverse and bio-abundant. They are also extremely valuable carbon sinks that help combat global warming.



Where is Portishead Salt Marshes Day taking place?

The event will take place alongside the path between Portishead Marina and Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve between 11.00am – 5.00pm. The Friends of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve, a local community group, and Plover Rovers are organising the event. Plover Rovers are a science communication charity focussing on bringing marine science and coastal communities together. Also on hand will be Curlew Action, a charity working to save the curlew from extinction. They will be telling us what we can do to help this iconic wader.



What’s happening?

There will be a storyteller with tales from the salt marsh as well as a number of talks:

Mathilde Braddock, geologist, will tell you how Portishead and the Sahara desert are linked in her talk “Beneath the marsh, a hot desert. . .”. Times of Mathilde’s talk are 12.00 and 15.00.

Mary Colwell is a writer, producer, environmentalist, founder of Curlew Action and chair of the Curlew Recovery Partnership. Mary will talk about Saving the Curlew. The time of Mary’s talk is 14.00.

Scott Xavi Gudrich, MSc MA MemMBA MAIEnvSc, is a marine biologist. Scott will explain the important part that salt marshes play in burying carbon in his talk “Salt marshes – the super forests of the coast”. Did you know that salt marshes are even better at removing harmful carbon from our environment than rain forests?  Times of Scott’s talk are 11.15 and 16.15.

Here is the timetable:

Hands-on science and art?

Hands-on science

Ever wondered what wading birds look for in the mud? Then why not try your hand at mud sampling to find out?  The creatures in the mud are vital for the survival of the wildlife here.

Hands-on art and Salt Marshes Day art exhibition

Call for Salt Marsh Art


Are you feeling creative and want to show your love for our salt marshes? We are inviting people to send us sketches or paintings inspired by the salt marsh.  You can find out more on our Call for Salt Marsh Art.

There will also be an opportunity for creative hands to help build a mud monster out of clay.


As a community group of volunteers we couldn’t organise this day without funding.

So we would like to thank Portishead Town Council for awarding us a grant. Not only will this grant help to fund this event but most of the items purchased can be used for future events too.


Great things happen when community works together!

Save the date for Salt Marshes Day

So come along on Saturday 14th August to learn all about your local salt marshes.
They are full of surprises!





And finally we have created a whole new salt marshes section on this website. There is lots of fascinating information here . . . and more to come as this page is still work in progress.

Here is the link to our new salt marsh index

Call for Salt Marsh Art

Call for Salt Marsh Art

If you love wild places and care about the natural world, we need your help with our Call for Salt Marsh Art.

As part of Portishead Salt Marsh Day, August 14th, we want a pictorial display. So we would like your sketches, paintings, prints, collages, poems, textile, embroidery etc on the theme of Salt Marshes.

We need a big show of beautiful thoughts and images to show that Salt Marshes matter and we care about them. Not only do they protect and support wildlife, they are great carbon stores, they absorb the impact of waves and are unique environments for endangered species.

The display will be mounted on trellis, acting as a grid. So the items must be backed by card so that we can stick them to the grid using velcro strips.

We will show as many pieces as we can, at least one from each entrant, most probably more.

If you need some inspiration have a look at some of the photos on Portishead Salt Marshes gallery. We would love your depiction of the landscape and or the wildlife that lives there.

How to take part in the call for salt marsh art

  1. Create your salt marsh inspired image in one of the sizes given below.  They need to be 15×15 cms in size or multiples of that, 15×30, 30×30,  15×45,  30×45, 45×45 cms are all acceptable, but no larger than 45 cms.Please keep to the stated sizes, then we can fit them into the grid.
  2. Please put your name and contact details on the back.
    We won’t be selling on the day. This is open to anyone of any ability so many people will be doing this for fun and not want to sell their work of art. However for those who do, we will be promoting your work and sending potential customers your way. So please include a social media or website address if your work is for sale.
  3. Email to arrange submitting and after the day, collection of your work.

It’s as simple as that, so why not have a go just for fun!

Find out more about Portishead Salt Marshes Day

Hinkley Connection Update June 2021

This update relates to the footpath closure on Wharf Lane for 6 weeks between 7 June 2021 and 16 July 2021.

Access to the North Pool hides remains open from the old sea wall along the salt marsh. Please keep to the path and do not walk on the salt marsh as this is a very special habitat. Unfortunately the South Pool hide is out of use during this work. All other paths around the site and Ecology Park remain open and Wharf Lane car park is unaffected.

The work has been coordinated to ensure that the footpaths are reopened ahead of the school holidays.

Exert from the National Grid Hinkley Connection Project notice posted up around the reserve:

Part of this work involves installing cable ducts to lay new underground electricity cables to the east of Portishead substation and into Bristol Port Company land. When this work is complete, we will remove four WPD pylons from this area, and build a new pylon in the port, to join the new underground cables to the overhead lines.

To keep everyone safe during the cable ducting work, we need to close the footpath on Wharf Lane, and sections of Water Vole Lane and Marina Walk.

If you have any questions about the works please contact:

Community Relations Team
National Grid Hinkley Connection Project
T: 0800 377 7347
Hinkley Connection Update June 2021

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. When Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Oystercatchers nest on the islands their young should have hatched out. The Oystercatchers’ chicks are especially vulnerable until they can fly.

Mute swan with cygnets from 2018

At the time of writing this the swans on the Ecology Park pond have got cygnets, so please be careful to keep your dogs well clear while in this area.

There is a Public Space Protection Order in place here banning dogs from the water. So it is a criminal offence to let your dog in the water . . . and anyway who wouldn’t want to make sure the swans and cygnets stay safe!

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

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

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

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
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.




One of the slightly easier birds to identify is the Oystercatcher

The Oystercatcher is a black and white bird with a bright red beak, red eye and pink legs and feet. It is quite a noisy bird with a loud peep-ing call like a referee’s whistle. So you often hear them before you see them.


There are 12 species of Oystercatchers worldwide, the thirteenth, the Canary Island Oystercatcher, became extinct in the 20 century. Our Eurasian Oystercatcher is on the amber list of concern while other species are at even greater risk. Ours is probably the lightest of the oystercatchers, just a tad heavier than a loaf of bread. 

They were once called sea-pie. It was Mark Catesby, an eighteenth century English naturalist who renamed them. As well as oysters they eat other shellfish particularly mussels and cockles. They use their strong flattened bills to prise their catch open. Though over the last 50 years some have taken to living on inland waterways and lakes instead. These non-coastal birds feed on worms and insect larvae so their dinner is slightly easier to access!

Where to see the Oystercatcher

Look out for Oystercatchers by the pools on the Nature Reserve and along the Estuary. They can be seen all year round but numbers may increase in winter with the arrival of birds from Scandinavia.

To find out about other birds here see Portbury Wharf’s Birds

Whimbrels passing through


Just when you’ve worked out how to recognise curlew, along comes a whimbrel!

If birds aren’t your thing you might wonder why you should care? But the whimbrel demonstrate the importance of our piece of coastline. It is a vital staging post for these birds on their long haul flight. Whimbrel fly all the way from Africa to nest on far flung islands off the northern tip of Scotland. It is a long way to fly so they need to rest and feed before attempting the final 700 or so miles.

The curlew’s smaller cousins pass through here briefly in April and May. But how do you know if it is a whimbrel or a curlew? One of the clues is in its nickname the Seven Whistler, due to their distinctive call. So if you hear several piping whistles it is a whimbrel. In Celtic superstition the Seven Whistlers are supposedly a group of six birds looking for a seventh. Hearing the call was fabled to augur death or other disaster. Let’s hope not!

If you get a close enough view, look out for a dark eye stripe and 2 dark stripes on the crown. Its bill is less curved than curlews, almost straight but bent at the end.

The whimbrel is on the red list as its numbers are declining.

Other links:
Our curlew page

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

While some winter birds are yet to fly back north to their nesting sites, spring fever is definitely on its way.  March and April 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 are pretty as a picture.  In amongst the blossom listen out for the distinctive call of the chiffchaff, he calls out his name.

Butterflies and insects

Look out for the first butterflies during the next month:

Speckled Wood








Pale green Brimstones look like leaves
Peacock butterfly






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 residents 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 – well nearly, the head is actually brown!

Courtship displays

Soon our wildlife will be 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. 

February – What to look out for


Look out for FROGS and TOADS!

This is their mating time and they are on the move. February and March is the time when we are most likely to see them as large numbers converge on their breeding ponds. As Portbury Wharf is a wetland area with plenty of lovely watery places many frogs, toads and newts will be heading our way.

They have spent the winter in hedges, muddy ditches, under stones, plant pots or hunkered down under compost heaps. The rising temperature triggers the breeding season.

Frogs become increasingly active in garden ponds just before the migration begins, a sure sign that movement is imminent. I can hear frogs croaking and frolicking in my pond as I type this! If weather conditions are favourable (mild, damp evenings) the onset of migration is sudden. They will begin, en masse, to head to their breeding ponds.

They take the quickest route along ancestral pathways to the pond were they spawned. This often brings them into conflict with cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

Usually you can join Portishead Toad Patrol to help them cross the Village Quarter and The Vale safely. However this year, unfortunately COVID-19 has put paid to that but hopefully with less traffic during the lockdown they will be okay.

Join the Portishead Toad Patrol
For future reference you can contact the Portishead Toad Patrol at:

Winter birds are still here

The winter birds are still around so take a look at what you might expect to see on our Winter Birds page. They will be going back north to nest soon so see them while you still can!

See if you can spot Dunlin and Wigeon on the North Pool or out on the estuary  . . .

Male Wigeon

. . . or maybe you will hear the beautiful warbling call of a curlew or two.

Curlews with a Redshank