Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cornish holiday - further adventures on the South West Coast Path

Here's my final post about my recent Cornish holiday in and around the Lizard peninsula. We were there a week and visited many and varied places, but only the most nature-related material will appear here!

Chris wanted to spend one day chilling out in the cottage and doing a bit of work(!). I can't get my head around bringing work on holiday but he said he'd only brought reading and writing that he'd enjoy doing, and that it was like a writing retreat to do it in such pleasant surroundings. Perhaps I'll understand better if/when I ever get a job I actually enjoy! Anyway, I didn't want to miss any opportunity to spend as much time as possible outdoors, especially as the weather was so good, so I set out on my own from the cottage to the South West Coast Path. Instead of going north as we had previously, I planned to go south instead and see how far I could get, and what I could spot along the way. Although I love walking with Chris, and indeed other people too, I also like going out on my own sometimes - I like to stop and look at birds, plants, rocks and butterflies but Chris likes to keep moving, so I was looking forward to taking my own good mystical time on this walk. Hence, this is going to be a very photo-heavy blog post!

I first walked to Chynhalls Point, which we had briefly visited previously, but I wanted to spend more time there investigating the flowers.

Chynhalls Point.
These two were new to me:

This lovely flower was EVERYWHERE! I believe it is Spring Squill (Scilla verna).
Fuzzy flowers are always nice. Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria).
Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris) was not new to me, but I had never seen it in so many different colours before! I decided to try and photograph them all using my field lens and smartphone camera combo, for some super macro fun:

Blue Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
Dark pink Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
Purple Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
Light pink Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
For some reason I get that weird lens flare sometimes when taking photos through my field lens, will keep experimenting to see if I can prevent it.

While I bumbled happily around Chynhalls Point I was observed by a pair of Stonechats. Also there, and indeed all along my walk, I saw Wall butterflies.....so many Wall butterflies! They were the most numerous butterfly species I saw on the holiday which was something of a marvel to me, having only previously seen one in my life (they are pretty much absent from Birmingham to my knowledge!). As I made my way south along the cliffs I also added Small Copper and Holly Blue to my list.

Wall (Lasiommata megera).
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus).
I walked as far as Ebber Rocks before heading back to the cottage, still only a short distance away, for some lunch. After that I came back down to Ebber Rocks to continue where I left off!

Ebber Rocks in the centre, Chynhalls Point in the distance.
I soon reached Black Head, which as a prominent headland before the coast path turned west, I thought might be a particularly good spot to check for cetaceans and seabirds. There were Gannets aplenty out on the sea, and a bit of scanning around soon rewarded me with a small pod of Harbour Porpoises unobtrusively making their way along!

Black Head is the one with the little white hut on it.
As I continued west I seemed to be making fairly good time, so I decided to try and get as far as the headland at Lankidden before turning round. I encountered another bird that had become a special feature of the holiday (we'd seen them in two other places) - passage Whimbrels, this time a flock of eight coming in off the sea, marvellous! I also saw a Kestrel carrying a snake in its talons, wriggling furiously! And I found another new plant:

I think it is Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula).
Having reached the end of the (very windy) headland, I turned around to retrace my steps as far as a small inlet where I could take a path up to the farm neighbouring the one we were staying at, making a somewhat circular route. It had been another superb walk and having written about it now, I want to go on holiday again. Better get planning....

Here are a couple more views west along the coast path, and a map showing my route (more or less).

South West Coast Path looking towards Lankidden headland.

South West Coast Path looking towards Lankidden headland.

View from the South West Coast Path.
My route.

Monday, 18 May 2015

North Wales springtime fun

Yesterday I was off again with the West Midland Bird Club, this time to Wales. Our first stop was RSPB Conwy, where we were greeted by Swifts galore, the first of the year for many of us - myself included. They were accompanied by many Swallows, House and Sand Martins. From the cafe we picked up Shelduck, Little Egret, Great Crested Grebe before following the trail round and stopping at each hide in turn. 

RSPB Conwy.
It was high tide so there were waders aplenty on the lagoons! Both Curlew and Whimbrel were present, helpfully standing next to each other making their differences very apparent - the main one being their size with Whimbrel clearly a third smaller than Curlew. A graceful Greenshank was dibbling around on one of the lagoons, and we saw a pair of Redshanks and a pair of Common Sandpipers elsewhere. There were also a few Lapwings around and a large flock of Oystercatchers, most of them resting while they waited for the tide to go back out. 

Large flock of Oystercatchers.
Digiscoped Oystercatchers, about the best I could manage before my camera batteries conked out!
As well as the usual Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Gadwalls I also found two male Red-breasted Mergansers drifting around. There was plenty of warbler action too, we heard Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat and had great views of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap. One interesting bit of behavior I spotted was a group of eight Sand Martins perching together on some reeds at the water's edge, the reeds bending over under their weight. I don't know why they had chosen to sit there but they looked very cute! As we walked along the seashore there wasn't much around due to the aforementioned high tide, but we did spot a distant Cormorant and three Linnets feeding in the saltmarsh. 

We jumped back on the coach and headed to our next destination, Loggerheads Country Park. We were soon enjoying a pair of Grey Wagtails collecting food for their young along the stream! However there were a lot of dog walkers and other noisy visitors around so we walked down the stream pretty quicksharp to get to a more peaceful spot, munching on wild garlic as we went. I switched to my camera phone seeing as the batteries in my usual camera were flat.

A quieter spot downstream, and a cloud of Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum).
Soon we were surrounded by three singing Song Thrushes! Their cacophony momentarily drowned out the more delicate song of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees in front of us, but we soon tracked him down. We also saw a Green-veined White butterfly supping on the wild garlic flowers. 

This Green-veined White (Pieris napi) let us get surprisingly close.
Heading up the steps to the cliff top we saw a Robin with its beak stuffed full of insects, some still twitching! We watched to see if it would give away the location of its nest, and sure enough, it flew down into a small gap between the roots of a tree at ground level, hidden by ivy. We heard the chicks cheeping as they were fed! After the Robin parent flew off, we carefully peered into the nest and saw tiny downy grey chicks with gigantic gapes!

The Robin's nest was hidden behind the ivy between two of the tree roots.
Further up the hill we sadly found some discarded orchid (I think maybe Early-purple, Orchis mascula) flowers that someone must have picked - I didn't think that really happened much any more, I remember having it drilled into me when I was young that you MUST NOT PICK WILDFLOWERS. 
 
A shameful waste :o(
We enjoyed the view from the top with a cup of tea and watched a pair of Buzzards soaring overhead. On the walk back down we watched a pair of Nuthatches foraging around on the ground. In the stream near the We Three Loggerheads pub several of our group had got lucky with Dipper, so we headed over there and indeed had superb views of a Dipper collecting food - as well as some Mallard ducklings catching flies! It was all go as then our group leader Ray arrived with news of Spotted Flycatcher back along the stream, now that it had quietened down and there were fewer people around. Within a couple of minutes of arriving at the correct spot, we had located a fine pair of Spotted Flycatchers, jauntily flitting around between the trees, fence and gutters of a building by the steam. Brilliant! Our final bird of the day was Coal Tit in a conifer by the visitor Centre. Another great day of birding and some fine year ticks for my list!

The view from the top of the cliffs.

The view from the top of the cliffs.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cornish holiday - Kynance Cove & Lizard Point

Here's another post about my recent Cornish holiday in and around the Lizard peninsula, a beautiful and fascinating part of the world that I wish I was still in!

On the second day of our holiday, although the wind had not dropped, the sun had come out and was to remain so for the remainder of the week - result. Today we drove over to Kynance Cove, from where we planned to walk to Lizard Point and back again. I had a quick(ish) look for a Western Subalpine Warbler which had been reported in the area on Twitter within the last couple of days, and spoke to another couple of birders doing the same thing, but it seemed that the high winds of the previous day had seen the bird off. It meant we got to enjoy a bit of heathland though before heading off along the coast, and I also saw my first Whitethroats of the year, as well as plenty of Stonechats.

I love heathland.
Kynance Cove gradually revealed itself as we walked down the path towards it, with the spectacular serpentine stacks and outcrops coming into view. One of the main reasons I'd wanted to come to the Lizard was to see the serpentine so I was pretty excited about the geological delights in store! I was not disappointed - the serpentine was like no other rock I'd ever seen before, with an incredible range of colours (reds, browns, greens, greys, blues and creams) and bizarre textures and veins. The beach and surrounding area consists of two different types of serpentine, tremolite and bastite, but to be honest I couldn't easily tell them apart due to the highly variable nature of the rocks and the effects of weathering. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the marvellous geology though!

Kynance Cove coming into view.

Kynance Cove.

Serpentine.

Serpentine.

Serpentine.

Kynance Cove.

Serpentine.

Kynance Cove.
Chris eventually managed to drag me away and we set off south along the good old South West Coast Path. As we were feeling quite hungry already, we decided to walk to Lizard village first to find some lunch before going on to Lizard Point. Along the way I spotted my first Swallows of the year, the ubiquitous Linnets, several Rock Pipits and a few Shags and Gannets offshore. I stuffed my face with humongous mussels at a pub in Lizard village and bought a small souvenir chunk of polished serpentine from one of the many rock shops.

View along the South West Coast Path.

Lizard village.
After that it was a short walk down to Lizard Point, the UK's most southerly point. The clifftop paths were thick with maritime flowers and we saw what was to be the first of the week's many Wall butterflies flittering around. There was a constant trickle of migrating Swallows flying in, and we also saw a few Grey Seals in the sea although were a few days too late for the Basking Shark that had been recorded on the sightings board! Down on the beach at Polpeor Cove there was more exciting geology in store, as the rocks had changed again since Kynance Cove into lovely wavy schists.

Thrift (Armeria maritima) on the cliffs.

Lizard Point.
Heading down to Polpeor Cove.
Polpeor Cove at Lizard Point.

Schist, showing nice wavy lines of aligned platy minerals caused by metamorphism.

Schist.
We walked back along the coast path to Kynance Cove, spotting a few Skylarks on the way. Stopping for a short sit on the grass at one point, a long-billed head suddenly popped up on the cliffs nearby. It was a Whimbrel on passage - it must have only recently arrived on the cliffs. It took off and flew away, calling as it went; a great sighting that I hadn't been expecting at all!

On the drive back to the cottage, we made a brief stop at Goonhilly Downs, a large area of heathland very close to where we were staying. As well as being an excellent site for plants and wildlife (I added Willow Warbler and Blackcap to my bird list, and Cornish Heath to my plant list) its human history also goes back thousands of years. There are Bronze Age barrows and a menhir, and many derelict buildings dating back to World War II, when there was an RAF radar station on the Downs. One of the old buildings has been turned into a viewpoint - you can climb the stairs to stand on the roof for excellent views across the heathland.

Dry Tree menhir.

Goonhilly Downs from the roof of one of the old WWII buildings.

Cornish Heath (Erica vagans).
As a historian, Chris enjoyed the parallels between the similar roles Goonhilly Downs had played as a hub of communication for people over time - in the Bronze Age, during WWII, and now in the present day as it was the nearest place to our cottage that we could actually get any mobile phone reception! Having checked the weather forecast and tide times for the next couple of days, we drove back to the cottage after another top notch day on the Lizard peninsula :o)

Map showing (more or less) the route of our walk.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Cornish holiday - Coverack & Roskilly's

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed an excellent weeks' holiday in and around the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall with my partner. Although I'd been to Cornwall several times before, I'd never visited this most southerly point, and it was somewhere I had wanted to go for a long time due to the very enticing wildlife and geology! We visited various areas and mainly did a lot of walking and eating; I'm going to write a few blog posts about some of the highlights.

On our first day, very strong easterly winds were forecast throughout the day with cloud clearing later on. Undeterred we set out from our cottage at Trewillis Farm near Coverack, our closest village and a lovely place that I liked very much. Walking through the fields towards Coverack I spotted Fumitory growing around some field margins:

Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis).
Off Coverack the wind was whipping the sea up into some sizeable waves! Coverack village and the harbour area in particular were very picturesque. On the beach a small flock of Turnstones were scrambling around, but for much of our walk the high winds meant that many birds were keeping a low profile, and we didn't see as much as on subsequent walks. I later discovered after buying a geology booklet that the Moho can be seen on Coverack beach! Had I known this while we were there and the tide was out, I would have investigated....it would have made us late for lunch though so maybe for the best that I didn't. I wasn't too disappointed as I had more geology treats lined up for later anyway!

Rough seas off Coverack.
Coverack harbour.
Coverack beach, a geological wonderland (apparently)!
After Coverack we followed the South West Coast Path north. We'd been slightly concerned we might be walking along exposed clifftops in the high winds, however a good proportion of the path proved to be through scrub and young woodland so was relatively sheltered, and the more exposed parts were fairly low-lying too. We saw a good-sized flock of Linnets and there were loads of lovely maritime plants around.

Part of the South West Coast Path.
View back towards Coverack.
Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica).
Thrift (Armeria maritima) was everywhere.
Once we reached the abandoned Dean Quarry, we turned inland but not before we'd investigated the quarry and I'd collected a couple of specimens for my rock collection! The rock quarried here was gabbro, a coarse crystalline intrusive igneous rock that formed deep within the Earth's crust when magma cooled and solidified slowly. 

Dean Quarry.
Our lunchtime destination was Roskilly's open organic farm, where the most delicious ice cream in Cornwall is made! We first had our lunch (massive crab sandwiches for me, yum) before having a look around the farm; it has a very pleasant landscaped area of ponds and woodland to walk around and among other birds we saw Long-tailed Tit, Buzzard, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Grey Heron and a female Mallard with 11 ducklings.

One of the ponds at Roskilly's.
This was growing in a squelchy muddy bit of a path, it might be a Water-crowfoot of some kind but I couldn't identify it any further than that.
Back in the restaurant it was ice cream time, from the many exciting flavours on offer I chose one scoop of gooseberry yogurt and one of wild cherry & chocolate - delicious! We left Roskilly's and walked back towards Coverack inland, forming a pleasing circular route. We were a bit early for dinner (we'd booked a table at a restaurant in Coverack) so had a cup of tea in the local shop and wandered back through the village and down the coast path in the opposite direction. High tide was approaching and although the clouds had finally cleared, the wind was as strong as ever and the resultant waves were battering Coverack! The walk along the sea front carried with it the high probability of a soaking :oD

High tide in Coverack.
Waves accosting the sea front!

Kersplosh!

View back towards Coverack from the south.

Debris deposited all over the road by the sea.
We enjoyed a superb dinner at Harbour Lights restaurant (bouillabaisse for me, perhaps you can see a seafood theme emerging) before heading home to our cosy cottage for the evening. Here's a map with our route more or less shown in purple.....what a great walk for our first day on the Lizard peninsula :o)