Contact us at info@fpwnr.org

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.

Birds

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.

 

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!

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 – suitable 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: https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/about

 

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

 

Roe deer kid

How to help our spring wildlife

It’s spring and lots of our wildlife is beginning to breed. At this important time we can all do two easy things to help the wildlife here; keep to the paths and keep our dogs on leads. These simple measures will safeguard many species.

Did you know?

Our skylarks, lapwings and other birds that nest on the ground have a tough time protecting their eggs and chicks. They already face attack from other birds and foxes so can do without us trampling their camouflaged nests. The skylark has an iconic, heart warming song. If we encourage a healthy population here then future generations will also hear skylarks.

The female roe deer will soon be having their young. Once the kids are born the does (females) will leave them hidden on the salt marsh or on the reserve. They will only return occasionally to suckle them. It is when the kids are alone that they are in most danger. Both foxes and loose dogs could easily injure or even kill them.

Portbury Wharf Water Vole – a priority species protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981

Of course many of you will know that our swans have previously suffered attacks from both foxes and dogs. So please do not let your dog swim in the water or get close to swans. This simple measure will also protect our dwindling water voles. They live in the rhynes and waterways and will be fattening up after the winter. The vegetation on the banks is their lunch and they eat a lot of it! It also keeps them hidden from predators. So it will help if we all stay away from the water and don’t trample down the bank.

We and our dogs can be pretty scary to the wildlife. Dogs can even scare some of the human visitors too by running up to them. So please be kind and keep your distance and keep dogs under very tight control, preferably on a lead.

Social distancing is protecting us and distancing will protect our wildlife too. Give it a go so all life can flourish at Portbury Wharf!

PS Thanks for roe kid image by B. Schmidt from Pixabay

Hinkley Connection Update April 2020

This update relates to the continuation of work at Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve and the extra safety measures being taken during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is a briefing we have received from the Community Relations Team of the National Grid Hinkley Connection Project. We are posting these briefings so you are kept up to date with the work being done on Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve.

As an owner and operator of critical national infrastructure, we at National Grid know that millions of people are relying on us, now more than ever, to keep the lights on and the gas flowing. We have engineers working hard to ensure energy can be supplied safely and efficiently to hospitals, schools, businesses and homes across the country.

Many roles across our business have been designated as ‘key worker’ roles by the government and, at a time when everyone is being asked to stay at home wherever possible, some of our people are out there working to ensure our NHS can care for the sick, businesses and schools can continue to operate, and that people can work from home in these unusual circumstances.

The Hinkley Connection Project is a critical national infrastructure project. These are works that have been given government approval to continue to ensure the future running of the network.

Following robust risk assessments and a comprehensive review of our programme of works, we are now, together with our contractors, continuing to progress with the critical elements of the project, in line with current Government guidance on construction activity.

We have significantly reduced our workforce and those on site are working under stringent site operating procedures to safeguard the remaining workforce, their colleagues, their families and the UK population.

In relation to the underground cable works between Nailsea and Portishead, this week works have been focused on installation of additional hand washing facilities, deep cleaning of offices, installation of extra welfare cabins and additional parking provision at the compounds, so that guidelines around social distancing can be met.

To meet seasonal working restrictions, we must also restart works in Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve. Activity will continue as per the agreed programme of works, though progress will undoubtedly be slower. This means that next week we’ll be working on the bellmouths on Sheepway and will continue with preparation for the temporary haul road, plus ongoing soil and ecological surveys in preparation for the new overhead lines. Between now and September there will also be trenching and ducting work and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) within the reserve.

We take our responsibilities to our employees and the communities in which we are working very seriously. In this challenging and fast-moving situation, we are endeavouring to keep local communities informed via our project website and parish and town councils.

We are placing additional signage at our sites to inform the public of the continuation of critical works during the COVID-19 outbreak and direct people to contact our community relations helplines if they have any questions or concerns.

If you have any questions about the works or would like further information on the safety measures we are taking, please come back to me.

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

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. The blackthorn hedgerow by the North Pool Hide is worth a look, open the side shutters to see what birds are among 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
Comma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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. 

Hinkley Connection Update February 2020

This update relates to closures and restrictions at Sheepway.

This is a briefing we have received from the Community Relations Team of the National Grid Hinkley Connection Project. We are posting these briefings so you are kept up to date with the work being done on Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve.

Hinkley Connection Project notice

To update you on where we are with construction of the underground cables between the west end of Nailsea and Portishead substation. We are currently working on Engine Lane and Hanham Way towards Watery Lane in the west end of Nailsea to build temporary entrances to our construction areas. We will be starting work on Clevedon Road in Tickenham and on Sheepway to construct the temporary entrances from 27 February.

As part of the work on Sheepway, we need to:

  • Restrict access to Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve from the Sheepway entrance until mid-March 2020.
  • Close a section of Sheepway until mid-March 2020.
  • Suspend the car parking area on Sheepway until 2025 when all work in this area will be complete.

The temporary restricted accesses from Sheepway is to keep the public and our workers safe while we build temporary entrances and access roads to our construction areas.

We understand the nature reserve is well used and we’re working with our contractors, J. Murphy & Sons Limited, to limit disruption as best we can. We’re also working with North Somerset Council to maintain as much access to the area as possible – with our priority being the safety of all users.

What this means for access from Sheepway:

  • Pedestrians and cyclists: Open throughout the work. Cyclists will need to dismount for safety reasons.
  • Horses: Closed to horses until mid- March 2020.

All other entrances to the reserve will remain open and the car parking area on Wharf Lane is unaffected during the construction of the underground cables. We will be placing public information boards at key locations within the reserve – these will be updated to keep everyone informed and up to date on our construction activity.

Community Relations Team,
National Grid Hinkley Connection Project
www.hinkleyconnection.co.uk

You can read more on this website at Hinkley Connection at PWNR and the FAQ page.