October salt marsh

Here are some October sketches many of which feature in my
October salt marsh sketch book. . .

. . . during October the vibrancy of the autumnal salt marsh colours mellow into a tapestry of rich ochres.

OCT IMG_0886 - Version 3The view towards Denny Island in October

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and again from Chapel Pill.

Light is everything on the marsh. There are those days in October, the ones hinting of winter when the marsh is softened and edges rounded by blue greys, yellow greys, green greys, greys of all hues.

IMG_6873Starlings feeding on the salt marsh towards Eastwood and the pier 

Then there are the days that hark back to summer when strands of sun escape the clouds and turn the spartina grass at the marsh edge from a dark straw colour of raw sienna into bands of burnished gold.

IMG_6874Teal on a vibrant day with the Welsh hills in the distance

Teal over spartina

One of the joys of autumn is watching the migrating birds arrive like the teal and wigeon and the wisps of snipe that fly high overhead before spiralling down to settle amongst the tangle of salt marsh grasses.




Teal fly back and forth in large an small flocks.

IMG_7582The Argabay, one of the sand boats that dredge the channel, is a frequent backdrop to the teal.

IMG_6872A common snipe flushed from the salt marsh. Not sure what the industrial building is on the Welsh coast but it catches the early morning light beautifully

The snipe’s exquisite plumage conceals it so well amongst the dense salt marsh that, here, you are only likely to see them on the wing when they are flushed by the rising tide, an approaching walker or an inquisitive dog.


Snipe flushed from the salt marsh – note the roe deer in the foreground.

The “common snipe” although not so common in reality, is a small, but extremely elegant, long-billed wader. Then there is the jack snipe, an even less common, smaller and dumpier, shorter billed version which “bobs” repeatedly as it probes the soft mud for food.


Both species visit the salt marsh.


I often find them on the edge of the “snipe track”, a well trodden path right through the middle of the marsh to the sea.


Another favourite at this time of year are the large flocks of goldfinches. They have a lovely “bouncy” flight and chatter incessantly to each other before tumbling down to feed on the downy thistles of the sea aster. A wonderful sight.


Goldfinches feeding amongst the wine red stems of sea aster at the marsh edge in company with redshank.

Then there are the roe deer.

IMG_6801 ref 6207A roe deer ran through a wonderful splash of green which added a real zing to the otherwise dark, brooding marsh. In the background is the old masonic hall which has recently been demolished to make way for the new lifeboat station.

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The marsh foliage looks tall alongside the small roe deer (about the size of an alsatian dog).

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painting of an October morning with teal and passing cargo vessel


This post was first published on 15 November 2014 and revised in January 2015 and April 2015.



November salt marsh

By the start of November the salt marsh is losing its colourful autumn attire and taking on a browner more wintery feel but there is still a hint of that sumptuous, darkly rich, wine red on the stems of sea aster accentuated by the intermingled drifts of bleach blonde grass.


Whilst the flora may be preparing for winter the wildlife of the salt marsh is starting to come alive with the arrival of the first of hundreds of migrating birds.  These in turn attract the resident predators like this sparrow hawk chasing flocks of recently arrived dunlin at the marsh edge.


Redshank can be seen all year on the salt marsh but their numbers increase at this time of year.  This morning I arrived at the marsh before dawn, far too dark to see any wildlife but I was welcomed by a wonderful chorus from a flock of redshank just beyond Portishead lock gates.


. . . whilst here a flock of redshank to-ed and fro-ed by the pier.


It is always exciting to see snipe – here a snipe flushed from the marsh flew past the middle buoy . . .  in this little sketch I love the texture of oil pastels on top of watercolours.


The roe deer seem to be finding the marsh increasingly popular. Once upon a time it was a rarity to see the deer during the daylight hours but now I see them regularly. By November they have traded in their glossy russet summer coats for a browner/greyer livery.


A busy morning for a tug giving the shipping a helpful nudge into Royal Portbury Dock while a roe buck browses amongst the sea aster.

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In early November there are still some greens to be seen – as here on top of Denny Island.

More November sketches to come . . . .

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.

Encounters with wigeon


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.



A very dapper duck

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.

IMG_7509. . . 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.IMG_7496

. . . whilst this drake was in the bottom of the creek in what little water remained on the low tide. IMG_7506

Teal spring up almost vertically and are fast flyers – the collective noun for teal is very aptly a “spring” of teal. IMG_7499

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:

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Iridescent teal and the Vecht Trader








Teal jinxing and jiving . . .








Teal down and dirty

Out on an autumn day

I arrived at sunrise and was greeted by such a spectacle of starlings. Large flocks were silently dropping in to the marsh to feed before taking flight in a swirling mass. As one flock flew over me I could hear the purr of their wings and a soft, whistling chirrup – it was a very muted call, as if they were being polite lest they wake the neighbourhood at this early hour.


The starlings dropped into the centre of the marsh in sight of the Severn Bridge – the colours of the marsh were still soft and cool in first light . . .


. . . but as soon as the sun touched the marsh it woke up in a burst of burnt siennas and indian reds.


On the spit by Portishead Pier the water was lapping at the edge of the salt marsh and unusually ringed plover were there. The burnt sienna of the spartina was reflected on their sunlit feathers . . . and on the redshank.


. . . whilst in the depths of Portishead Hole the lively “cobalt turquoise light” of the middle shadows contrasted boldly with the darker shadows and the bright sunlit ochre mud giving a deliciously moody feel to this redshank.


. . . and more sombre hues deeper in “the Hole”.


Back out in the sunshine some teal flew out of Chapel Pill. There was another flock deep in the upper reaches but I crept away to leave them resting undisturbed.


Further down the creek was this very handsome drake teal – though I feel this sketch does not do him justice.


The sunshine soon gave way to showers and I cursed that I had not worn my waterproofs but soon I was in the midst of rainbows and cared little about getting wet. How do you capture that incredible light? The handsome teal flew off.


Late in the afternoon I returned once more and once more was greeted by the starlings . . .  just off Portishead Pier where long shadows stretched across the marsh.

It had been a lovely autumn day of changing light and weather – so good to be out on the marsh.

Below Portishead Pier

At low tide the walls of Portishead pier are revealed in all their textured, rusty splendour and the redshank rest on the glossy mud below . . .  a study in ochres. There are some great paintings using only ochres and the pier is certainly an inspiring tonal subject but today I could not resist the sight of the redshank flying past the yacht’s blue rigging. I love the asymmetry of the mast and the delicious combination of  “cerulean” and “cobalt turquoise light” amongst the ochres.


. . . and that was not the only blue in Portishead hole – lying in the mud was an old oil drum masquerading as a mooring buoy.


The reflections from the pier, yacht, buoy and redshank bounced off what little water was left . . .


. .. and when the sun shone wonderful blue “mud shadows” were cast. . . not so much ochre after all.