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.
You can join Portishead Toad Patrol to help them cross the Village Quarter and The Vale safely.
Go out and enjoy our precious wetlands and wonderful wildlife on World Wetlands Day!
Watch out for the winter wildfowl as they won’t be here for much longer. Soon the migration will start and the winter birds will fly back to northern countries. Meanwhile other birds will fly from Africa and beyond to nest here in spring and summer.
Take a look at our slide show to see why wetlands such as Portbury Wharf are so important.
Happy New Year! It’s January and a new decade starts here.
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:
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!
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 home to big flocks of Wigeon at the moment and we counted 205 on the North Pools during our December Monitoring count. You can see how their numbers build up on this graph of the count:
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.
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.
It was twilight. The stars had faded away but it was not yet sunrise when hundreds of pairs of wings purred past my shoulder. What were they? Where had they come from and where were they going?
I was standing on the sea wall path with my back to the nature reserve. As these low flying birds flashed past from behind the sound was just magical. Had I been murmured at by starlings or whispered to by dunlins? In those few seconds, in the gloaming, it was hard to tell. Both can congregate on the reserve in their hundreds, so which was it?
I hurriedly snapped off a couple of photos as they streamed out across the flooded salt marsh and hoped this would give me the answer.
My snapshots turned out to be typically blurry but not too blurry to identify a fling of dunlins.
I saw them again later in mesmerising flocks, making endless shapes across the skyline and wind turbines. There were in fact over 1200 of them!
Was it because the high tide was right up to the sea wall that they sought refuge in the reserve? After all, the reserve is an excellent place to wait for the tide to ebb!
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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 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.”
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 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”
Two Goldeneye ducks appeared on the reserve this last weekend. They were seen on Saturday and were on the big North Pool when we started the monthly monitoring count on Sunday, but then moved to the South Pool where I was able to get these pics on my mobile through my telescope.
Goldeneye are diving ducks that breed in Scotland and further north, so they have come south for the winter. These are the first I have seen on the reserve – they normally prefer bigger areas of water. These are “red-heads”, i.e. they are females or juveniles. The males are a lovely black and white.
The clocks have gone back, so dusk comes early in November. The first frosts have arrived and the trees are rapidly losing their leaves….but it’s a good time for wildlife spotting. Winter visitors are streaming in, so there’s lots to look out for!
The North Pools
As the cold sets in further north and east, many ducks fly in to enjoy our milder winters. We do regular monitoring counts on the reserve and the charts of the duck numbers on the North Pools clearly show this happening.
Blue bars show 2018/19 and brown bars show 2019/2020 counts so far.
Both these species breed on the reserve, so they are here all the year round, but their numbers on the North pools are bigger in the winter months.This will be due to local birds moving to the North Pools where there is safety and lots of food, but also their numbers will be boosted by extra birds coming in to join them from elsewhere.
These two species spend their summer further north and just visit us in the winter.The numbers that reach us will depend on how harsh the winter is elsewhere.
Will this year bring bigger numbers? The October counts looked good, but we’ll have to wait until December or January to know for sure!
The South Pool
Recent management work has opened up the South Pool and the water levels have increased with the wet weather. The South Pool hide is a great place to sit and search for Snipe. Snipe numbers also increase in the winter, but they are hard to spot amongst the tussocky grasses because of their amazing camouflage. They have impressively long beaks for their size and fly away with a zig-zag flight if disturbed.
The count on 27th October also saw the first winter thrushes – a flock of Redwings. Look out for big flocks of both Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds on the Hawthorn trees around the reserve as they swoop in to strip the trees of their berries or “haws”. Some years the crop has almost gone by the end of the month!
As well as hawthorn berries there are lots of other seeds to look out for. Keep any eye out for these on the reserve, of course, the hungry wildlife might get them first!
You probably see this plant every day as you walk past gardens, woods and along the paths in the reserve. Everyone knows this plant but nobody really notices it. Yet it is an important evergreen ecosystem.
Ivy provides nesting sites and shelter for insects, birds and even small mammals, frogs and toads. It also provides food for wildlife from autumn until spring.
Ivy flowers in autumn when few other flowers are open for business. Bees, butterflies and all number of insects come to feed on the nectar and pollen. In fact it is so popular with bees that you can often hear it “buzzing” as you get close, especially on a warm day.
For insects that hibernate over the winter, like the queen wasps, queen bumble-bees, queen hornets, red admiral and peacock butterflies this may provide their last chance to fuel up.
By December the fertilised flowers have ripened into clusters of black berries. Birds love them! The berries will last until April if they don’t get gobbled up before!
Do you know what it is yet?
Want another clue?
It can happily grow along the ground or up a wall and older plants can even stand on their own if thick enough. It can grow up trees but gains no nourishment from the trees it clings to. Though it may cause some damage by its sheer weight or by shading the trees’ leaves, it does not directly kill the tree it grows up.
Even our Portbury Wharf roe deer will dine out on it when the opportunity arises.
This update relates to the measures being taken to protect the environment and ecology of the 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, during 2018 and 2019, we carried out several ecological surveys in the reserve, including those for bats, badgers, great crested newts and reptiles, otters, water voles, and birds. More recently, we’ve been busy implementing schemes to reduce disruption to wildlife at the reserve. This includes the installation of temporary exclusion fencing and daily checks of pitfall traps and tiles to prevent protected species from entering the construction areas. Any species found are safely translocated to designated sites within the reserve.
To ensure the construction corridor remains free of protected species, we need to manage the vegetation by pruning trees and cutting grasslands, scrub and hedgerows down to ground level. This work will start later this week and be completed in October 2019.
After the hibernation period ends in spring 2020, the next step is to carry out another search to ensure the construction area is free of protected species and to remove any remaining vegetation, including trees and hedgerows where necessary.
Once construction is complete, vegetation that has been removed will be reinstated in its original location, or as close to the route as possible, subject to discussion and agreement with relevant landowners.
To prevent disturbance to wintering birds between September and April, core construction activities will be on hold. This excludes vegetation removal works and, with permission from the Local Planning Authority, we may undertake minor construction activity for a limited duration. We’re taking special care to safeguard nesting sites for species of protected birds by creating specialised buffer zones and relocating designated barn owl boxes. Towards the end of this month, we’re relocating some of the existing barn owl boxes and replacing them at a ratio of 2:1, with a total of four new barn owl boxes being installed at the reserve.
To keep visitors to the reserve informed and updated, we’ve recently replenished the public information boards (Image attached for info). These provide an overview of our work and promote the contact details of our community relations team should any visitors wish to get in touch. We’ve also updated our project website with an overview of this work.
Before starting construction, we’re planning to deliver updated briefings to parish/town councils during November and December. We’ll also be writing to residents and businesses along the route of the underground cable with an update on this work and to invite them to attend a public drop-in event in the area.”
Birds migrate to find the best ecological conditions and habitats for feeding, breeding and raising their young. When conditions become unfavourable, it is time to fly to regions where conditions are better.
Most birds in colder northern countries migrate south to escape harsh winters. In temperate regions, such as the UK, about half the species migrate. For example birds that eat insects will not be able to find enough food here in winter so they fly south. While tropical birds have less need to migrate as they have a more constant food supply and conditions.
When do birds migrate? Migratory birds generally migrate twice a year, once in autumn and again in spring. In autumn they will be flying to find a good place to spend the winter and in spring a favourable region to nest and raise their young.
PS the photo is of hundreds of winter dunlin by Portbury Wharf salt marsh. ... See MoreSee Less
At least 4,000 species of birds migrate, that is about 40 per cent of all the world’s birds. Bird migration is a perilous business as they often have to fly hundreds or even thousands of miles.
The birds that are winging their way to Portbury Wharf in this autumn migration will be escaping the frozen north. Our winters are balmy in comparison to Iceland, Siberia and other northern latitudes! ... See MoreSee Less
Tomorrow, Saturday 10 October, is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD). So this month, in celebration, we will be posting lots of stuff about migration and Portbury Wharf 's winter birds. If you have any interesting bird migration snippets you want to share please join in.
PS this photo is of a fling of dunlin. They are like shoreline starlings flocking at the tide's edge in mesmerising formations. ... See MoreSee Less
Portbury Wharf is a great place to visit and it is not just us human visitors that think so! It is a popular destination for our endangered winter birds too.
The autumn bird migration is one of nature's miracles. A time when shoreline birds, thrushes and more fly incredible distances across oceans and continents to escape harsh arctic winters. Some of these new arrivals will stay on the estuary edge and salt marsh as there is lots of food there. Others will prefer the pools and hedgerows on the nature reserve.
To make it through the winter they will need to feed and rest undisturbed. So we can all help by giving them plenty of space. So if we, and our dogs, keep to the main paths and don't walk across the salt marsh, they will have the best chance of survival. ... See MoreSee Less
they are like buses - get one sandpiper and more appear. There were 2 green sandpipers on the south pool yesterday and they flew up to the North where they joined 3 common sandpipers. This video is of the green ... See MoreSee Less