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OCTOBER – What to look out for

Hawthorn berries (haws) after rain

Welcome to October!

We are well into the autumn and this can be a lovely time of year with lots going on.


While the summer birds have gone south to find warmer climates, the winter birds are coming here from colder countries further north. We may not think it, but our winters are relatively warm for these northern birds which will stay until spring. They will spend the winter feeding on the salt marsh and the pools in the reserve.

Also keep an eye out for snipe around the muddy pool edges. They are well camouflaged waders so take some spotting!

Look carefully – can you spot the snipe?
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.

The numbers of waders like dunlin and redshank will also increase during October and November. Dunlins may be dumpy little wading birds, but they fly along the tide line in large mesmerising flocks (flings of dunlins).

The larger redshanks will also become increasingly numerous now, identifiable by their long red legs and long red bills. Add to that the haunting calls of the long-legged, long-beaked curlews echoing across the salt marsh. All in all it is a lovely place to stand and stare during autumn and winter.

In the hedgerows

Glossy red rose hips

October is a time of plenty. Though the blackberries may be starting to run out there are lots of other berries to keep wildlife fed.  Look out for the glossy red hawthorn berries and red rose hips. Rose hips, contain the seeds of the rose and are jam packed with vitamin C. Field mice will climb along the slender stems to reach them if the thrushes don’t get them first. Other small mammals can join in this feast by picking up berries when they fall to the ground.

Insects and butterflies will benefit from the over mature fruit on offer now. While tempting ripe seeds are on the menu for the likes of goldfinches and linnets.

Where there is fruit and seeds there is likely to be wildlife, so look closely.

Red Admiral on Ivy

Flowers may be in short supply now that summer is over so insects that rely on pollen and nectar have to search harder in October. This is where the ivy flowers come to the rescue. Ivy is a fantastic plant for wildlife and will keep flowering into November. You can read more about ivy here.

Also keep your eyes open for late flying dragonflies like the Migrant Hawker

Enjoy your October visit to the reserve

We hope you enjoy your visit to the reserve and maybe, if you are lucky, you will see some of our wonderful wildlife.

SEPTEMBER – What to look out for

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

September is here!

By the meteorological calendar, the first day of autumn begins on 1 September and ends on 30 November. So  autumn is officially here. 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, 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.


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









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 – suitably distanced of course!

AUGUST – What to look out for

Whilst for us August is the height of summer, 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:


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.

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.


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 What3Word location is

This is not too far away from the Eat Portishead Festival the other side of the marina. So  come and learn about our salt marshes then grab a bite to eat!


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