Whimbrels and Scurvy Grass

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When the whimbrels arrive on passage from Africa to their northern breeding grounds and the Scurvy Grass bursts into flower it is a sure sign that spring has arrived on the marsh.



I have always been a fan of the curlew and perhaps even more so of its whimbrel cousin, partly because it is only here for a short while so has a certain rarity value but mainly because of its distinguishing eye and crown stripes which make it even more appealing to draw.


I got lucky with this one perched on the remains of the old jetty. It was a very high tide so the only perches still above water were close to shore.

Even when the whimbrel cannot be seen (or is too far away to tell apart from a curlew – a situation I find myself in all too frequently) its call of a single whistling note repeated several times gives its presence away. Hence its popular name of the “seven whistler” – or perhaps as we are on the Severn estuary I could be forgiven for writing “Severn whistler”?


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English Scurvy Grass – cochlearia angelica – aka spoonwort. . . .
(its leaves are the shape of an old fashioned spoon – coclear is latin for spoon)
Has small white 4 petalled flowers, lower leaves ovate, upper leaves clasping stem.
Very salt tolerant, the plants nearest the low tide mark are often underwater.

From late April the salt marsh is dotted with clumps of white flowering Scurvy Grass. It is not actually a grass but a member of the cabbage family.

So how did it get its name of Scurvy Grass?  In centuries past sailors used to row ashore to harvest the plant’s fleshy, vitamin C rich leaves. They ate or infused them as ale to supplement their poor diet and so prevent scurvy. “Grass” was an old English term for any green plant.

Sketch notes
Watercolours: winsor yellow, sap green, alizarin
Supracolor pencils: spring green, dark carmine, mouse grey
B pencil

Useful link
More about the whimbrel with an audio clip of its call visit the RSPB website at: www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/w/whimbrel/index.aspx


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