Surprised – roebuck and fox

Just before sunrise on a warm and wind-less May morning a black-faced roebuck was about to cross the rhyne on to the salt marsh when he saw me walking along the sea wall.

He turned tail and ran into a small copse on the “Sanctuary” a safe area on the reserve with no public access. A few minutes later he emerged from the far side of the copse trailing behind a fox.


The pair paused and turned in unison to take a last look before trotting off into the reserve.



Scruffy roe bucks


May is a time when the roe deer are moulting into their summer coats.  This buck’s new red coat is just peeping through his scruffy winter suit.

IMG_1917. . . and only a little of the winter velvet remains on his antlers.


But some bucks take a little longer preparing for summer . . . it was the end of May when I saw these two young bucks, both with antlers still fully covered in velvet. The one on the left was a pricket . . . a deer in its second year whose antlers have not yet branched.

IMG_1915I was distracted by a heron which had flown silently over my head like a stealth bomber and landed in the creek.. .

. . . then noticed the two young bucks heading back towards me. I was caught out in the open with nowhere to conceal myself so stood stock still.


They were so close now that I was sure that I would be “found out” at any moment.

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Surely he is looking directly at me, he must have seen me, but no,
the cool wind was working in my favour and he could not pick up my scent.
After a moment’s hesitation he continued walking towards me.

The pair sat down in the sunshine just metres away, the banks of the creek shielded them from the wind, quite a cosy spot.

When they were both looking in the other direction I inched away and left them to enjoy their morning undisturbed.


A touch of May magic

It was one of those days when everything was turning out rather better than expected. The overnight rain had stopped, the north east wind that had been blowing for days had eased . . . and as soon as I stepped foot on the marsh I heard a cuckoo.

A perfect start to a spring day and it got even better when I saw a water vole sitting on the bank of the rhyne. A rare treat in itself but to watch a water vole whilst listening to a cuckoo was a touch of May magic.


The water vole felled one of last years reeds – tough, bleached and woody and twice its length . . .


. . . before dragging it to the water’s edge.


After one final trim it plopped into the rhyne and dived below the surface with prize in tow . . . maybe heading for the underwater entrance to its burrow?

If I did not see anything further this was well worth getting up early for . . . but in the next hour I heard skylarks and curlews, came face to face with a somewhat scruffy roe buck and yes I saw the cuckoo!





A splendid morning!



Roe deer triplets

The start of a delicious autumn morning as the sun got ready to rise over the dockyard cranes.


Clouds of mist rose from the top end of the lake, poured across the sea embankment and hugged the salt marsh. I could still see the cranes towering above the blanket of mist but in its midst it was dense and damp.


A hundred yards further and I emerged from the mist laden path into the bright, clear dawn with several pairs of eyes watching me. A buck, doe and yearling were well known to me but I was surprised by another group of deer even closer to me, a doe with triplets.

Deer usually hold their ground if you keep to the path and keep walking so I carried on until the path dipped out of their view and then doubled back unseen to watch them.


There was a great deal of shipping activity going on this morning and a tug passing behind them gradually disappeared into the bank of mist which had now settled just offshore.



The triplets browsed on the marsh undisturbed for about half an hour under the watchful eye of their mother before something disturbed them and they headed off up the marsh.

IMG_5659The family ran up and down the creek looking for a place to swim the high tide and return to the safety of the marshland within the dock boundary, an area with no public rights of way. In the distance a cargo vessel was being escorted into Royal Portbury Dock.

From where I was I couldn’t see them swim the creek but did see the mother waiting patiently on the opposite bank. It took the kids several minutes to catch up and they all bounded off towards the dock wall.

It had been another great morning for deer watching.

Swimming Roe Deer

The first rays of morning sun cast a gorgeous pink hue across the marsh and lit upon two handsome roe bucks with velvet covered antlers. This wonderful sight was accompanied by the song of a skylark emanating from high overhead and I stared skywards for some minutes searching the dense blue for distant specks of larks.

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When I turned my attention back to the deer one of the bucks had moved towards Chapel Pill and surprised me by wading into the water and swimming across the creek. I had heard that deer swim across here sometimes but had never actually witnessed it. IMG_1520 - Version 4

A lone curlew flew out of the creek but the shelduck, wigeon, Canada geese and oystercatchers had obviously seen it all before and gave scant regard to this featherless swimmer amongst them. IMG_1520 - Version 3

The second buck who had been browsing in the corner of the marsh by the dock fence decided to follow suit and ran down the edge of the creek to the favoured crossing point watched by his compatriot on the opposite bank. Once across they both headed slowly towards the docks until out of sight.

It had been one of those “good to be alive” mornings and I headed home contented and with an appreciation of how lucky I had been to see and hear so much whilst bathed in the warmth of the early spring sunshine.


I used permanent rose watercolour to suggest the pink hue that lay across the marsh along with raw and burnt siennas, sap green and cobalt turquoise light . . . plus indian yellow in the righthand sketch.


Dunlin, Deer . . . and Denny

Updated 3 AprilIMG_1715

On the face of it you would not expect to see dunlin and roe deer together but that is what greeted me this morning.


There were two deer, a doe and a young buck, by the water’s edge in front of Denny Island with hundreds of dunlin flying behind them. I was downwind of them but feeling very conspicuous standing out in the middle of the marsh and expected to be spotted at any moment.


The young buck looked past me towards the docks.


A handful of dunlin – there were hundreds here this morning.


To my surprise there were 2 more deer a few hundred yards further down the marsh. . . IMG_0804

. . .  a more mature buck with a  yearling doe. I recognised this group of four from a previous visit.


Both bucks were sporting velvet covered antlers.


It was great to watch the deer but even more enthralling when accompanied by the aerobatics of hundreds of dunlin – a very special sight in front of the Firefly navigation buoy.


Roe Deer Seasons

Updated 15 November

The beautiful and elegant roe deer, I am delighted whenever I see these small, secretive deer browsing on Portbury Wharf salt marsh.


Just seen this November buck, not yet shed his antlers but sporting his grey brown winter coat and white throat patch (known as a gorget patch). The day was dull and overcast so the marsh was a muted umber.


This slightly scruffy May buck was still shedding the winter velvet from this year’s antlers.IMG_7449

. . . and here in the company of his doe they stopped to check me out. Vibrantly green May marsh with a wonderful streak of yellow sunlight in front of the Severn Bridge.


A high tide at Portishead Pier in October and the dark brown winter coat of this roe deer blended so well with the rich burnt umber and alizarin crimson tones of the salt marsh, it made her all but invisible. But as soon as she took flight her striking “powder puff” rump bobbed rhythmically above the herbage –  a dead give away!


As she drew level with the old Masonic Hall on the far side of the Pier she passed this vivid patch of bright green grass, such a wonderfully vibrant colour on an overcast day.



Sketches from a sunny September day, one of the Masonic Hall by the pier in front of Eastwood and the other of a roe on the marsh by the pier – I haven’t used these oil pastels in years and certainly never in combination with water colours but had great fun here . . .


. . . and in the magical, rose-coloured light of an early morning in October a wisp of 23 snipe flew up above this roe browsing on the salt marsh herbs.


. . . and in a more wintry scene amongst the marsh grasses.


In the depths of winter on a frosty January morning a female roe (a doe) heads up the grassy sea wall by the nature reserve’s tower hide.

In winter, after the roe bucks have shed their antlers and before their new ones have started to grow, it can be difficult to sex the deer but the doe has a prominent tail-like anal tush, a downward pointing tuft of hair in the middle of her powder puff rump.


In contrast to the grey / brown winter coat the summer roe boasts a much more conspicuous burnt sienna wardrobe – like this roe doe down by the dock wall.

They tend to be easier to spot when contrasted against the greener summer salt marsh but they are really quite small and can easily remain hidden in the long grass.


On a lovely sunny June morning I came across this buck right at the top of the marsh opposite the sewer outlet sign at Portishead Pier. . .

. . . he was so engrossed in feeding that even if he had spotted me he was not about to be distracted from “breakfasting” his way down the marsh.





Suddenly the peace and quiet of the marsh morning was shattered by the sound of raucous, throbbing diesel engines emanating from the docks . . . three tugs had simultaneously started their engines.



All three tugs shot out of the lock gates at a rate knots and even this dockland buck who was well used to the comings and goings of the tugs was startled by the scale of racket and commotion.










On a bright and sunny August morning of sharp shadows I was making my way back along the track when I saw a roe buck in the middle of the marsh. I wanted to get past without disturbing him so I crept low in the grass and when close knelt down to watch him.


However, unexpectedly he started walking straight towards me and came within feet before catching my scent. He peered through the grasses to see what manner of creature I was then turned and ran up the bank back into the nature reserve.

Useful Link:
The British Deer Society is a good place to find out more about these deer.