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.
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.
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!
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 are named for their big scoop of a bill, but the males are most easily recognised by their white and chestnut sides.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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….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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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