June is the time of winsor blue skies.
A time of summer migrants
like cuckoos and sedge warblers . . .
. . . and the house martins.
At low tide they dive down to pick up beakfuls of oozingly sticky mud for nest building.
It is not just the mud they come for . . .
. . . there is the dazzlingly green algae growing on the lock walls.
They approach at speed
grab onto the vertical face
like some superhero defying gravity
and pick off algae
to bind into their mud nests.
PS these sketches are in June salt marsh sketches
Late summer is a great time to see kingfishers when the young leave the nest and head off to find their own territory.
At sunrise I met a friend on the salt marsh and we walked the length of the embankment. It was a late August morning but a chill in the air declared the arrival of an early autumn. A handsome roe buck watched our progress from the safety of the nature reserve before bounding off with characteristic zeal though the tall meadow pasture.
We headed for the creek where two days earlier I had stalked a kingfisher.. .
I had got quite close to this kingfisher as I crept through the salt marsh and negotiated the muddy gullies – narrow but deep mantraps hidden beneath the grass waiting to embrace a carelessly placed boot or two. I noticed that my pocket watch was missing, it was the same area where last year I had lost forever a much loved watch. Had my new, shiny watch sunk into the mud at the bottom of one of these gullies? The tide was rising fast and within two hours the marsh would be underwater so I hastily retraced my steps as best I could. It took 15 minutes of frantic searching before I saw the glint of silver through the grass, what a relief – needless to say the kingfisher was long gone.
Fortuitously, I was given a second chance on my way home. There was a kingfisher and a heron in Portishead Pill. No need to stalk this kingfisher, I had a grand stand seat. How lucky I was!
Would we be as lucky today? Well we were making far too much noise as we approached the creek so were not surprised to see a little egret making a hasty exit. We leant on the railings at the top of the creek chatting until we were interrupted by a series of sharp whistles and a flash of azure streaked passed us into the creek … this kingfisher was soon joined by another. We watched the pair fish the length of the creek for several minutes.
When they eventually flew out of sight I was treated to a picnic breakfast of apple, a proper English one, cheese and two lusciously ripe figs fresh from my friend’s garden.
Could it get any better? Well yes actually. Mid breakfast the two kingfishers reappeared at the top end of the creek.. . they must have double backed across the salt marsh or could it be a second pair? With fig in one hand and binoculars in the other we had a great view.
We had been lucky! What a way to start a day . . . such a privilege.
To hear a kingfisher whistle click Kingfisher on RSPB website
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’s summer at Battery Point salt marsh and one of the prettiest flowers on the marsh the sea lavender (limonium vulgare) is in flower.
It is well established here unlike at the nearby Portbury Wharf where only once have I found any trace. It was last winter when the surrounding flora had died down and far out in the middle of the marsh I stumbled across several plants with dried out seed heads still standing proud.
Indeed so rare is this plant at Portbury Wharf that I have not managed to find them since. You would think it would be easy to see their lavender flowers at this time of year but oh no they remain tantalisingly hidden . . . perhaps buried beneath drifts of sea grass!
The five-petalled flowers vary in colour from a violet with a dark pink central rib to almost white. Also known as Marsh Rosemary this plant is neither related to lavender or rosemary but to Statice.
The flower bracts are so small that to see any detail I had to enlarge my photos quite considerably – the right-hand pencil sketch shows the actual size of a flower bract. In contrast they have quite large and wonderfully curvaceous leaves, sensuous even, which sing out in vivid lime greens and yellows when sunlit from behind and can turn to splendid reds and oranges in the autumn if conditions are right.
It was not only the salt marsh colours which inspired my last post of “Summer Colours” but this brightly liveried ship of the Grimaldi Line also added to the vibrancy of the salt marsh that morning.
This is the “chunky” Grande Sicilia a 177 m long x 33 m wide ro-ro (roll-on roll-off) car transporter. Her cadmium yellow hull blended with the yellows on the salt marsh and contrasted brilliantly with the winsor and ultramarine blues from the sky and the hills – even the muddy water reflected these wonderful blues.
A distant view as she passes Portishead Pier . . .
. . . and getting nearer to me here off Chapel Pill with white reflections from the hull and wheelhouse.
I could see the cars on the Grande Sicilia’s foredeck as she passed Chapel Pill. In the foreground a flock of ringed plover were in company with some dunlin – the wings of the plover shone out in the sunlight. The cadmium yellow of the hull was darkened with reds, both cadmium and indian where the shadows and touches of rust fell.
See Salt Marsh Summer Waders for more summertime waders and Salt Marsh Summer Colours for more landscapes from that morning.
. . . August sketches from a two hour walk on the salt marsh
Oh what a wealth of colour and moods in such a short time and if that was not enough I was in the company of three roe bucks and a host of shoreline birds.
I arrived on the marsh at sunrise and was greeted by a glorious sky of rich reds and yellows.
The night had been stormy with torrential rain and thunder but the dawn broke dry with a magnificent sky as I looked towards the three wind turbines at Avonmouth.
Soon the vivid yellow sky faded as the sun rose higher and the clouds increased behind the distant Severn Bridge . . .
. . . but a red glow still streaked the marsh and these lovely colours bounced off the salt marsh grasses with the Welsh hills in the background.
Looking across the salt marsh towards Portishead Pier and the tree clad hill of Eastwood.
As the sun disappeared behind the clouds the marsh colours became more subdued. The brilliant indian and winsor yellows of the grasses were replaced by a duller yellow ochre in this view towards the Severn Bridge.
Etched into the landscape is this well worn green track in the middle of the salt marsh leading from Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve to the channel’s edge.
An hour after sunrise and all traces of red have gone replaced by some gorgeous shades of blue . . .
. . . contrasting brilliantly with the vivid yellows and greens where the sun peered through the clouds and touched the marsh. I love these colours.
For a while even the voluminous clouds were deep, rich blues of winsor and ultramarine . . .
. . . but before long a series of grey squally rain clouds blew up the channel . . .
. . . each with a rainbow dancing in attendance – this one off Portishead Pier.
This was how I left the salt marsh at the end of my dawn walk on a typical English summer day – what a wonderful morning.
Updated September 2014
Last summer the greenshank was missing from my sketches of summer waders but this year I was lucky enough to spot this one in Chapel Pill . . .
Also in the pill at the same time was one adult and one juvenile Grey Wagtail – this is the adult . .
Updated 23 September 2013
Well summer is over and I can feel the cool breath of autumn so this is my last update on summer waders. Over this period I have been able to sketch redshank, ringed plover, oystercatchers, curlew, whimbrel, common sandpipers, turnstones, dunlin and black-tailed godwits. There have been reports of other waders in the area such as greenshank, though I did not see them myself so my list of sketches remains incomplete.
COMMON SANDPIPER AND TURNSTONES
I often see one or two pairs of common sandpipers bobbing rhythmically in the muddy pills at either end of the salt marsh as they look for food. Continue reading
A magical morning listening to skylarks and watching a barn owl hunt across the marsh.
These watercolour sketches recall the owl as it worked its way from one end of Portbury marsh to the other – a beautiful sight on a beautiful June morning. Continue reading