My top ten Cornish wildlife-related moments

So, here I am, almost at the end of 2012. The year started with my permanent move westward to Cornwall, and the year is now close to its end as I sit here, in my lovely Cornish cottage, enjoying a G&T (I am writing this after 6pm, honest) and contemplating how I got here.  It’s been a tough year – bereavement, a change of career, lifelong friends and family now many miles away. But it’s also been an amazing year – new friends,  a new home, a different life, fresh challenges.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that change is either good or bad, depending on how you greet it.  I hope I’ve greeted it well – sadness, joy, but absolutely no regrets!

So, having got that self-reflection out of my system, I started to think about my Cornish wildlife highlights of the year.  Looking back over 2012, what do I remember about the things I’ve seen and done, each of which have taken me forward a few steps in learning about how wonderful and amazing our world is? It was quite hard wittling the number down to only a few, but here’s my top ten Cornish wildlife highlights of the year…

1. Great nature-loving people: There are so many people in Cornwall who care about the environment, from academics, to farmers, to conservationists, to ordinary people like you and me.  My first real experience of this was turning up at the Cornwall Butterfly Conservation branch AGM in January (I can’t even remember why I went – I might even have just been bored, and keen to get out for an evening!). I came away having felt welcomed, had loads of fun, and chatted to some wonderful folk who know an amazing amount about butterflies and moths (and plenty of other wildlife-related things). Now, a few months on, I’m the Branch Secretary!

Red-billed Chough flying in Penwith, Cornwall,...
Chough (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Choughs: I mentioned choughs a few weeks back as residents of my Cornish Ark.  Recently, I had a meeting with the RSPB down on the Lizard. Walking back to the village car park from Lizard Point Cafe, we spotted two choughs in a field – not only a pair of choughs, but THE pair of choughs, the original two who came back to the Lizard in 2001. That was pretty cool..!

3. Long-headed clover: OK, not everyone is particularly interested in planty things.  But I love them, and the Lizard Peninsula, that planty hotspot, hosts clover species that you can’t find anywhere else in the UK. I headed off to Caerthillion Cove in May last year looking for Long-headed Clover.  Could I find it anywhere? No. Despondent, I plopped myself down on a grassy patch and gazed disconsolately around me…at a slope filled with Long-headed Clover! Stop looking, start seeing – that’s the message I learned there!! I haven’t been back in 2012, but I’m aiming to go on a new hunt in 2013.

Dormouse on hand
Dormouse on hand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Dormice: This isn’t a Cornwall story, but I’m justifying it because it could have happened in Cornwall, as we have dormice here. But I had nipped just over the border to Devon with South West Lakes Trust to help with some dormouse monitoring. I’m not sure I will ever ever forget the experience of holding a very fast-asleep dormouse in the cup of my hands, and listening to her actually snoring! I felt both awed and protective in equal measure…

5. Science in the Square: I’ve been working for the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Cornwall Campus for the last year, and they are doing tonnes of work to engage with young people.  As part of Falmouth Week 2012, we held a humungous science event in Events Square in Falmouth in August – it rained all day, but we were in a huge marquee with earthquakes, mini-beasts, raptors, mammals etc. Lots of kids there and they were amazing!

Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

6. A Very-Close-Buzzard: I’ve already mentioned this in a recent post about Stithians Lake, but I was stunned by my very close encounter with a Buzzard. What amazed me most was how unphased this bird, happily sitting in a tree,  was by me – there I was, having turned a corner and surprised both of us, pointing lens-y things at it and generally behaving not like your average dog walker. The buzzard stared, glared, and then soared away.

7. Screechy wildlife noises: In London, I was often woken up in the middle of the night by foxes screeching. In Cornwall,  I’m also often woken up by foxes screeching – a nice reminder that wildlife knows no boundaries. However, the other night it was a barn owl screeching that woke me up – I can’t remember ever hearing that in London!!

8. Pearl-bordered fritillaries: With my new-found friends at Cornwall Butterfly Conservation I went looking for these on Bunny’s Hill, on Bodmin, earlier in 2012.  We found them! These lovely butterflies are endangered, but are hanging on in a few locations.

Adder
Adder (Photo credit: wildlifewanderer)

9. Adders: Nosing about at Loe Bar earlier in the year, I caught sight of an adder – probably several seconds after she caught sight of me. She slithered away into the undergrowth, but I watched her and there was a moment – only a few seconds – when we were eyeballing each other. A bit like my buzzard, there is something both uncanny and empowering about meeting a wild creature’s eye.

10. Last but not least: So, two years ago, the view from my office was the London smog. Now, it’s this. Need I say more?

Predannack Downs on the Lizard (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Predannack Downs on the Lizard (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

A walk round Stithians Lake

At the edge of Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
At the edge of Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

So far in this blog, I’ve focussed on discovering and sharing places new to me in Cornwall, but I thought it was high time to turn my attention closer to home.  Stithians Reservoir is a 15 minute walk from my front door, and I’m a conservation volunteer there, so I spend a fair number of hours walking round the lake, spotting wildlife and helping out with management tasks. Familiarity, however, far from breeding contempt, makes me love it all the more, and there’s always something new to find.

The Reservoir is owned by South West Water, but is managed for conservation and recreation by the fantastic team at South West Lakes Trust, who look after a number of reservoirs across Devon and Cornwall. Check out their website here to find out more. If you’re a watersports lover and live in the area, you probably know the lake really well, as do the many dog owners who enjoy walking with their pets beside the water, but there’s a lot of wildlife there, too! Here’s some examples.

Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Earlier this year, I turned a corner and came eyeball to eyeball with this buzzard! It won the ‘staring-out’ contest, posed for the photo, and then glided off across the fields.  It’s unusual not to see a buzzard on a Stithians walk, but I’ve never been as close as I was this time.

The lake is in fact well known for birdlife, including many wintering water birds as well as residents.  The Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society manage two areas on the reserve – under the watchful eye of their Stithians Warden, my chum Simon, – and there’s a public hide near the Watersports centre (opposite the Golden Lion Pub) if you want to see what you can spot.

Burnet moth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Burnet moth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

In the summer, you’ll find a lot of butterflies and day-flying moths (maybe not this summer – it was pretty dreadful – but here’s hoping for more sun next year!). Burnet moths were two-a-penny for much of the summer, brightening up the grasses with their vivid colours.  Did you know their colouring is a warning to would-be predators? Burnet moths – both the five-spot and six-spot variety – contain cyanide, so are poisonous.

The butterfly species I saw most of this year was the plain and simple but rather fetching Ringlet, but I did also spot this very nice Gatekeeper, posing sweetly for me!

Gatekeeper Butterfly, Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Gatekeeper Butterfly, Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Common Valerian: Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Common Valerian: Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

In the spring and summer, the areas around the lake are brimming with wildflowers. Even today, in December, some Red Campion was still flowering. Common Valerian (pictured) was beautiful back in July. It’s a constant battle, though, to keep the bracken and bramble cut back.  We need a mix of habitats round the lake. Some thick scrub is good – for ground-nesting birds in the spring and summer, cover for other birds as well as for reptiles and amphibians and small mammals – but we also need more open areas where wildflowers can thrive, providing nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects.   The conservation team have been doing a bit of ‘scrub-bashing’ this year, so we’re hoping to get lots of wildflowers (and butterflies etc.) next year!

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You can walk pretty much all the way round the lake (it’s about 5 miles: it took me 2.5 hours this morning, dawdling a bit, though, taking photos), apart from one section where you have to detour for maybe half a mile onto the main road. This time of year, wear your wellies, though – the path is very muddy in places. The best place to start from is the Angling and Watersports Centre at the northwest corner of the lake (TR16 6NW). There’s also a cycle path, and you can even hire a bike there – details here.

If you time it right, you can end up at the Golden Lion, not far from the Watersports Centre. A good lunch, a pint in hand, and the mud and chill are soon forgotten!!

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