Summer waders on the salt marsh

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.


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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.

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Rather more unexpected was a small flock of turnstones distinctive in their summer plumage of dark breast patch and white head. I usually see them further down the coast on the pebble strewn beaches where they live up to their name turning over stones, seaweed and flotsam searching for food. So It is great to see them here even though I had to make do with a distant view as they never came very close to me.



This is one of my favourite waders, a tall long-billed elegant bird shown here preening alongside the smaller redshank.


I have not been able to get close to the godwits on the marsh as they prefer more inaccessible areas so the sketches above are of godwits seen at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge just up the coast.

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In winter the black-tailed godwit has mostly grey-brown plumage but in summer the neck and breast is reddish and the flank barred.


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On this morning a flock of 20+ godwits flew up and down the marsh edge, their long legs trailing behind them.

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They past in front of the bulk carrier GL Qushan as she was escorted into dock. . .


. . . before settling down in front of the dock wall.


Salt marsh sketch - ringed plover

These small and distinctive black-ringed waders keep quite a low profile here. This pair were just visible with the aid of binoculars on the spit of mud at the seaward edge of Chapel Pill but generally the majority are on the mudbanks out of sight from the shoreline only giving themselves away when large flocks take to the air.

Salt marsh sketch - ringed plover crossing Denny Shoal Buoy

These three were part of a larger flock flying past the Denny Shoal Buoy. This is a south cardinal buoy off Denny Island in the busy King Road shipping channel indicating that the safest water lies to the south.

Salt marsh sketch - pen and wash of ringed plover

. . . and a pen and wash sketch.


The low spring tide had exposed the mud banks as far out as the middle buoy. It is hard to appreciate the size of this navigational marker or indeed its distance from the mud as the curve of the shoreline is deceiving here but the curlew, a fairly large bird, was certainly dwarfed beside it.

Salt marsh sketch - curlew by middle buoy near Portbury Dock


IMG_5829At this time of year the small dunlin are very distinctive with their seasonal black belly – so even from a distance they are easy to identify amongst other small waders. Here the tide is high with only the tips of the lush green spartina visible and a flock of 40 plus dunlin looking for a place to settle . . .


. . . and here two dunlin have found a likely spot alongside this redshank.



The moody sky and glorious early morning sunlight cast long shadows as a handful of redshank flew out of Portishead Hole.

Sketch note – I used raw umber where the sun shone on the brown estuarine water but in brighter noonday sunlight I would probably use a touch of raw sienna.


. . . and an evening view from a previous visit.


The reddish orange legs of the redshank showed well against the summer green of the marsh as these birds came in to land but . . .

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. . . not so red and showy when feeding in the mud (charcoal drawing).


At the Chapel Pill end of the marsh over 100 redshank congregated at the water’s edge to feed on the flood tide.

IMG_4963The cargo vessel Blue Creek steamed passed Denny Island and Chapel Pill on its way into port her colours strangely similar to those of the mudbanks (predominantly cobalt turquoise light, winsor blue and indian red). Not that you would ever describe Chapel Pill as a blue creek!

Useful link
More about the redshank with an audio clip of its call visit the RSPB website at:


One of the great things about oystercatchers is that you can hear them long before you can see them as they call in flight (to hear what they sound like play the audio clip on the link below this section).

IMG_4950In this sketch the pair restlessly patrolled the edges of the marsh passing the fruit juice tanker Bebedourno and attendant tug.



The beep beep calls of oystercatchers, like repeated short, soft blasts from a referee’s whistle, grew louder as a pair headed towards me in Portishead Pill. . . In the distance are the cranes of Portbury dock.



The stand off  . . . on spotting a crow they landed to intimidate this unwanted intruder and swiftly drove him off.









Useful link

More about the oystercatcher with an audio clip of its call visit the RSPB website at:


More salt marsh sketches to come on this post including birds and landscapes.


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  1. Hilary , I’m fascinated by your blog, it’s beautiful AND informative ! I don’t know much about wading birds but I have painted down near the bird-hides and enjoy the industrial landscape too. I have a lovely library book called The Living Birds of Eric Ennion, do you know his books ? This one is a treasure trove of drawings and paintings . You’re welcome to look at it
    if you haven’t seen it already .
    Keep up the good work !

    1. Thanks Gill,
      I agree, it is a great spot for both natural and industrial landscapes – I particularly like the views of the dockland cranes (not the bird variety) and the tugs at work. YES PLEASE I would love to see more of Eric Ennion’s work.

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