As I approached Battery Point in the half light just before dawn I saw the outline of a fox skulking away. He was silhouetted against the channel on the brow of the hill and an alarmed blackbird announced his presence from a nearby bench.
The fox paused when he saw me and than disappeared into the tangle of the wind swept hedgerow along the cliff edge.
I continued down to the lighthouse where I spotted a hen mallard on the rocks below. She sat motionless amongst the seaweed clad rocks for a very long while before two ducklings suddenly scrambled out from beneath her.
It made me wonder whether she had escaped the attention of the fox that morning or maybe she had started the morning with a larger brood and the fox had breakfasted on ducklings? Who knows but for now she and her two offspring were safe.
Ducklings naturally take cover under their mum’s protective wings where she can accommodate even a large brood of several without squashing them when she sits down. Must be cosy under there!
Yes I know “Duckling in samphire” sounds like something you might get in a posh restaurant, but no, it is something you might see near Battery Point.
At this time of year both mallard ducklings and samphire are in abundance here. Many of the ducklings keep to the relative safety of the man-made lake just the other side of the sea wall but some of the seemingly more adventurous downy bundles can be seen trudging across the mud and venturing out for their first taste of salt water swimming.
These three were out wave riding with Mum as the sea lapped the edge of the marsh and washed across beds of samphire. The bright green shoots of the samphire, the asparagus of the sea, poke their heads through the thick mud at the edge of the marsh and twice a day are caressed, or more often than not buffeted, by the incoming tide.
Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) is almost cactus like in appearance and when young is a wonderful fresh green. In centuries past it was gathered and burnt and its soda rich ashes used to make soap and glass hence its other name of Common Glasswort.
It was a treat to see a pair of gadwalls deep down in Chapel Pill at low tide.
The male boasts some exquisitely barred brown-grey plumage whilst the browner female is very similar to a female mallard.
In flight their white wing patches help to identify them . . .
. . . and the male has some glorious chestnut-russet wing feathers which positively glow in sunlight.
It may not be as striking as a teal or wigeon but I still have a soft spot for this “somewhat low-profile” duck.
Updated 30 April 2014
This very striking duck is often on the salt marshes and at this time of year the males are in courtship mode.
This is a low tide view of a pair of shelduck at Battery Point. The freshly exposed mud is streaked with the blue reflections from the sky.
This male was not about to let his female out of his sight and pursued her enthusiastically up and down the salt marsh.
A simple study in pencil and wash . . .
. . . and here with the background added.
Sexes are similar but during the breeding season the males are easy to distinguish by a prominent red knob above their beaks. In between seeing off other males he displays to the female by drawing his head backwards and then performing and exaggerated bow.
These are striking, boldly marked ducks that are easy to spot both on the marsh and in flight. Their chuckling like call is also distinctive which you can hear on the RSPB website.
An oil pastel sketch of a male wigeon out on a flooded salt marsh.
This rather engaging duck with its distinctive whistling call is a winter visitor here, usually from October through to March.
From the front they are enchantingly round and cartoonish, as if freshly dunked up to their midriff in a bucket of whitewash and with the male sporting a rather fetching yellow “mohican” forehead.
A pair of wigeon snooze in the depths of Chapel Pill at low tide – watercolour and oil pastel sketch.
These wigeon suddenly flew out of the late October shadows into the sunlit, sienna grasses above Chapel Pill. It seems their hasty departure was as much a surprise to this Canada Goose as it was to me . . .
. . . and as I watched a roe buck at the water’s edge in November a small company of wigeon startled us both.
Their white bellies are a great help in identifying them in flight, as are the male’s white wing bars (top left).
Visit the RSPB website to hear the whistling call of the wigeon www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/w/wigeon/index.aspx
. . . perhaps the collective noun for wigeon should be a “whistle” of wigeon, but a “raft”, “trip” or “company” are usual.
Teal are such handsome little ducks, especially the chaps, who are bedecked with chestnut heads, green eye patches and pale yellow tails framed in black . . . and the bright green wing bars (speculum) so translucent in the sunlight.
. . . a watercolour and oil pastel sketch. Yes, it is a somewhat weird and unorthodox combination but great fun to do and I rather like the texture.
Hundreds of these dapper little ducks congregate at Chapel Pill during the winter. These three females were sunning themselves on the mudbanks high up in the creek, while way, way below teal zigzagged out of the creek. The female does not have the colourful wardrobe of the male but still shares the green wing bars.
. . . although at times they are well hidden beneath layers of feathers.
High up on the bank were these drakes, two were soaking up the sun but the third was back in the shadows.
. . . whilst this drake was in the bottom of the creek in what little water remained on the low tide.
Teal spring up almost vertically and are fast flyers – the collective noun for teal is very aptly a “spring” of teal.
It is in flight when the green wing bars edged with white are most visible and especially lustrous in the sun. I do so enjoy watching the teal at Chapel Pill.
For more teal posts see:
Iridescent teal and the Vecht Trader
Teal jinxing and jiving . . .
Teal down and dirty
Sketched between September and January
Although the wintering teal have now left for their summer breeding grounds I thought I would add some winter time sketches that I have just been leafing through.
I find these small, fast flying ducks that jinx and jive in flight fascinating. Their teal green wing bars shimmer in the winter sunlight, though even on a grey day they don’t disappoint.
Half submerged in the gloopy mud soup of Portishead Hole on a low spring tide were some very mucky teal Continue reading
An Autumn Morning on the Salt Marsh
A sketch of the irrepressible teal dashing past the Vecht Trader
It was a gorgeous autumn morning as the sun rose over the salt marsh but with a blast of cold air now coming from the north I must remember to wear my thermals next time! Continue reading