Contact us at info@fpwnr.org

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 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.

 

oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

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

Whimbrel

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
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. 

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  . . .

Dunlin
Male Wigeon

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

Curlews with a Redshank

January – What to look out for

Happy New Year!

Although it is a shiny new start to the year, sadly we are in another lockdown . . .

. . . but our winter birds are still flying free along our coast and on the reserve.

This month I thought we would concentrate on one species of bird which is on the reserve in big numbers at the moment. There are a number of different birds that visit us in the winter and you can find out more about them on our Winter Birds page.

We are going to look at just one of these in more detail:

 THE WIGEON  

Male wigeon Male and female wigeon

The drake (male) Wigeon is a really handsome duck. His chestnut head has a bright golden streak running from the top of his bill over his crown, which stands out when you get a good view of him in the sunlight.

The female is less colourful, but still has rufous brown sides and smart black wing feathers and a white tummy.

Wigeon have small bills and a steep forehead, which gives them an attractive “baby-face” look. They are one of the prettier ducks!

Wigeon over roe deer on Portbury Wharf salt marsh

 

In flight you can see the wigeons’ white bellies. The males have distinctive large white wing patches.

When and where to see wigeon

From October, our estuaries and wetlands fill up with tens of thousands of them flying in from their breeding grounds in Iceland, Scandinavia and northern Russia to take advantage of our milder weather. Only a few wigeon breed in the UK and most of these do so in Scotland.

The North Pool and the Saltmarsh at Portbury Wharf are usually home to big flocks of Wigeon in the winter. The graph show shows the numbers on the North Pool build up each winter, though the numbers this year have not been as high as the previous two years. Note that the count for January 2021 has not yet been included.

All our Wigeon have normally returned north by March!

You can find more graphs of our counts on the Monitoring page – click here.

 

 DID YOU KNOW?  

Wigeon are a grazing duck. They usually feed while walking on land, nibbling grass and other vegetation in wet fields or eating seeds and algae in the saltmarsh.

Wigeon grazing
Wigeon grazing on Portbury Wharf salt marsh
The Whistling Duck!

One of the best sounds on the reserve in mid-winter is the whistling call of the Wigeon. The best place to hear it is from either the Tower Hide or the North Pool Hide next door. Big flocks of Wigeon are constantly whistling to each other!

LISTEN TO THEM WHISTLE!

“Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)” from xeno-canto by Stuart Fisher. Genre: Anatidae.

December – What to look out for

IT’S DECEMBER!

December is the month of CHRISTMAS and that makes it hard to avoid references to mistletoe, robins, holly and ivy! Let’s learn more about these Christmas symbols which you might spot on a walk around the reserve at this festive time of year.

The Robin

Robin

How many Christmas cards will you receive featuring a robin somewhere in the picture? British robins are our favourite, friendly garden bird, largely because they can become so tame and, let’s face it, they are such pretty birds!

It is not hard to see robins on the reserve at this time of year. Many of them might be winter visitors from elsewhere, even from the continent. They will have come here because it’s milder here than further north or east.

Robins sing all through the winter, so listen out for their beautiful, wistful tune as you walk through the reserve. This is what it sounds like:

Robin song recorded by david m. from www.xeno-canto.org

Mistletoe

Mistletoe growing on the branches of a tree

Now that most of the leaves have fallen off many of the trees on the reserve, mistletoe shows up really clearly because it keeps its green leaves all year round. You will see a lot of it around the reserve if you look out for it.

To germinate, seeds of the mistletoe do not have to pass through the gut of a bird. The seeds are surrounded by a very sticky pulp (viscin) which often stick to a bird’s beak when the berries are eaten. They are then often wiped off onto a branch when the bird cleans its beak. The viscin then hardens to fix the seed to the bark of a new host tree and sometimes these seeds germinate.

 

The green root growing out of a mistletoe seed and into a tree branch.
The seed then grows a root, which burrows through the bark of the tree and into the sapwood inside. Here is a picture of this happening on a tree in my garden.

The mistletoe gets water and minerals from the tree, though it also makes some of its own food by photosynthesis, which is why it has green leaves.

Here is the same mistletoe plant three years later……..
…and here is a slice through a branch showing the mistletoe roots (white) growing into the wood of the tree

Holly

If the Robin is the ultimate Christmas bird, Holly must be the ultimate Christmas plant. As the carol says  “the holly wears the crown” and its dark green leaves and bright red berries have become the colours of Christmas.

Unlike many plants, holly has trees of different sexes. You won’t find berries on a male tree; their flowers only produce pollen.

Holly was valued by farmers in bygone days in many parts of the country as an important source of winter fodder. Branches would be cut off trees and, despite the prickles, cattle and sheep fed on leaves.

 

Ivy

We featured Ivy in a September post. It is an extremely valuable plant for wildlife and, unlike Mistletoe, it is not a parasite, but simply uses the trees that it climbs for support.

If you want to read more about this wonderful plant follow this link – Ivy post

 

 

 

Did you know?

IVY
  • Ivy was once thought to be a way of countering the worse effects of alcohol
  • “Ale-stakes”, poles covered in ivy, were once used as signs for taverns
  • Ivy was traditionally seen as a “female” plant and holly as a “male” one
  • Young Queen Victoria once wore a wreath of ivy intertwined with diamonds in her hair
  • Traditional schoolgirl rhyme: “Ivy, Ivy, I love you; In my bosom I put you; The first young man who speaks to me; My future husband he shall be.”
MISTELTOE
  • Apple, lime and poplar are mistletoe’s favourite hosts, but it can parasitize many different species
  • Mistletoe growing on oak trees is unusual and very rare. This may be why the druids were supposed to particularly value mistletoe harvested from an oak tree
  • Mistle thrush and blackcap are the two main dispersers of mistletoe
  • Like holly, mistletoe plants are either male or female. Only female plants carry berries
  • Kissing under the mistletoe may have originated from Norse mythology and probably began in the 18th century when it was first used as a festive decoration in our homes. One kiss was allowed for each berry and after each kiss a berry would be removed until there were none left.
HOLLY
  • Holly wood was traditionally used to make stocks and horse whips
  • Holly trees were left standing in cut hedgerows “to stop witches running along the tops of the hedges”

Hinkley Connection Update November 2020

This update relates to the continuation of work at Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve.

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 you’ll be aware, we’re working with Western Power Distribution (WPD) to make changes to their local electricity distribution network and our work at the reserve includes, removing some of the existing pylons, replacing them with underground cables, making changes to Portishead substation and nearby overhead lines, and building a new line of T-pylons from Sandford to Seabank.

Together with our contractor, Murphy, we’re in the final stages of building the cable ducts along the route of the new underground electricity cables between Nailsea and Portishead substation and we’re preparing to install the electricity cables in the coming months.

From April next year, WPD will start work to install new underground cables and remove the pylons in the north of the reserve. In recent months, WPD has been carrying out ecological surveys and putting measures in place to reduce disruption to local wildlife. To stop protected species from entering construction areas, we need to manage the vegetation in each area. From Monday 2 November, we need to remove vegetation along a section of the footpath on Wharf Lane.

To keep everyone safe during this work, a section of the footpath will be closed from 2 to 6 November, between 9.00am and 3.30pm each day. We’re aware this path is well used and we’re working to reopen it as soon as possible.

Attached is a PDF of the information boards we’ve affixed at key locations in the reserve and we’ve updated our project website: https://hinkleyconnection.co.uk/portbury-wharf-nature-reserve/.

We are sorry about the inconvenience caused during this closure – should you receive any queries about this work, please direct them to our community relations team on 0800 377 7347​ or by email hinkleyconnection@nationalgrid.co.uk.

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