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”?
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.
Watercolours: winsor yellow, sap green, alizarin
Supracolor pencils: spring green, dark carmine, mouse grey
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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