What’s been flying in?

When I think of autumn migrations, it’s the Whooper Swans, Fieldfares and geese that first come to mind. Or I might think of the birds that leave us in the autumn – the Swallows, Arctic Terns and warblers that have been here for the summer. The distances many of these birds fly is astounding, from the Arctic Terns crossing from one polar region to the other, to the many species that travel between northern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), one of our migratory butterfly species (photo: Amanda Scott)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), one of our migratory butterfly species (photo: Amanda Scott)

If these migrating birds make us marvel, then what about the even more fragile creatures that cross to our shores through the summer and autumn? I mean the butterflies and moths, of course. It’s hard to believe that these insects with their delicate wings make it here intact across the sea, buffeted by winds and yet flying strongly. And make it they do. The Monarchs of North America are perhaps the most famous migratory Lepidoptera, but they are far from alone in their travelling habit.

Buttercup-coloured Clouded Yellows (Colias croceus) are a beautiful sight through summer and into milder autumns (photo: Amanda Scott)
Buttercup-coloured Clouded Yellows (Colias croceus) are a beautiful sight through summer and into milder autumns (photo: Amanda Scott)

Here in Cornwall, we are still getting new arrivals. Some are regular migrants, like the Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) or Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) butterfly, while others are more exotic and rare, blown across on prevailing winds. We’ve even had a handful of sightings of Monarchs in Cornwall over the last few weeks, carried here across the Atlantic.

I’ve just been reading a press release from Atropos (the UK journal for butterfly, moth and dragonfly enthusiasts) about the visiting moth species sighted here around Halloween. It’s well worth a look at the Atropos website – they have a page dedicated to recording new arrivals. From their list, I can see that someone saw a Hummingbird Hawkmoth – a moth associated with the sunny days of summer – in their garden in Penzance on 2 November. It was a warm day for November, but if a moth could shiver…

Slender-burnished Brass moth (), a rare visitor to Britain (photo: By JMK (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Slender-burnished Brass moth (Thysanoplusia orichacea), a rare visitor to Britain (photo: By JMK (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
Also visiting Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the last few days was a rare immigrant – the rather exquisitely named Slender Burnished Brass moth (Thysanoplusia orichacea). A native of the warmer Mediterranean and Africa, there are only about 100 records ever for Britain (and now five more this year in Cornwall!), where it cannot survive the cold winters.

I also learned from the press release that Cornwall has received some less welcome moth visitors this year. The Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) is an Asian moth, introduced to Europe over the last decade. The moth itself is rather lovely, with white, almost transparent wings. It’s the caterpillars that are the problem, with their ability to rapidly defoliate the Box shrubs (Buxus ssp.) beloved of topiary and ornamental gardens. The first British records of this moth were made five years ago, and this year there are two records in Cornwall. Oh dear.

But let’s console ourselves by remembering that, in our mild-to-date autumn weather, everyone is still reporting sightings of our regular migrant butterflies – Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta), Clouded Yellows and Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui). It’s already turning colder, so let’s enjoy them before we finally have to wrap up warmer for the winter.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) near Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) near Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

If you want to find out more about butterflies and moths, and/or migrant species in particular, here are some useful websites.

Atropos, the journal for butterfly, moth and dragonfly enthusiasts. This website has information about new arrivals, how to get involved in recording and sharing information.
http://www.atropos.info/site/index.php/

Butterfly Conservation. This national charity’s website has information about butterflies and day-flying moths, how you can help, including recording, and news on their research and conservation projects.
http://butterfly-conservation.org

Cornwall Butterfly Conservation. The local branch of the national charity. If you live in Cornwall, you might like to go along to their annual AGM and members’ day on 7th March 2015, when Paul Waring, a nationally renowned moth expert, will be giving a talk. Details are on their website.
http://www.cornwall-butterfly-conservation.org.uk

UK Moths. A great website with lots of good photos to help in identification.
http://ukmoths.org.uk

National Poetry Day


Today, 2 October 2014, is National Poetry Day.

I love poetry, I love Cornwall and I love the natural world, so this is a chance to celebrate with a trio of verses (proper poet’s verses, not my own!).

Let’s start with the Chough, a potent symbol of Cornwall with its red beak and legs and poignant cry over the cliffs. The nineteenth century poet John Harris, the son of a miner from Bolenowe, near Camborne, wrote about this wonderful bird in his poem ‘The Cornish Chough’, beginning with the lines:

Where not a sound is heard
But the white waves, O bird,
And slippery rocks fling back the vanquish’d sea,
Thou soarest in thy pride,
Not heeding storms or tide;
In Freedom’s temple nothing is more free.

Chough, Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Chough, Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

John Harris, speaking to us from the past, would have had no idea that the Chough was to disappear from our shores in the twentieth century, followed by its dramatic reappearance in Cornwall in the twenty-first century. He would have been pleased, I’m sure, to see it getting itself established again.

Looking south from Sandymouth Bay on the north Cornish coast (photo: Amanda Scott)
Looking south from Sandymouth Bay on the north Cornish coast (photo: Amanda Scott)

The cliffs of Cornwall are rightly renowned for their spectacular scenery and wildlife. John Betjeman loved the cliffs of Cornwall, and is buried at St Endonoc Church, close to his home in Trebetherick. His poem ‘Cornish Cliffs’ brings to mind Cape Cornwall and Gwennap Head, although I expect he was writing about the north Cornwall cliffs he loved so well. It is a special sight in the late summer and early autumn when the rich yellow of the gorse and pinks and purples of the ling and other heathers roll away over each other across the hilltops, but Betjeman chooses to describe the scents of the plants.

 

Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling
Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring
On sunny shallows, green and whispering.

I can definitely smell the coconut scent of gorse and the honey smell of ling as I read those words!

Ling, Bell-heather and Gorse in waves of colour across Gwennap Head (photo: Amanda Scott)
Ling, Bell-heather and Gorse in waves of colour across Gwennap Head (photo: Amanda Scott)

And to finish, some lines from the famed Cornish poet Charles Causley. Writing in the twentieth century, he described his love for his homeland in many of his poems. Pertinent to the current season, his description of autumn in ‘The Seasons in North Cornwall’ is one of my favourites, especially the vision of the tall woodland trees as ship masts.

September has flung a spray of rooks
On the sea-chart of the sky,
The tall shipmasts crack in the forest
And the banners of autumn fly.

Late autumn tree silhouettes in Devichoys Wood (photo: Amanda Scott)
Late autumn tree silhouettes in Devichoys Wood (photo: Amanda Scott)

Happy National Poetry Day!

From the lower path, Devichoys Wood

Crowhill Valley Woods

…Sshhhh, don’t tell….

Bluebells

Last weekend I went to visit a hidden little corner of Cornwall, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to tell. It was a secret and magical place, and the only human  tiptoeing through was me…

But…I visited because I am writing a book about the wildlife and nature of the River Fal, and the Fal flows right through it, so at some point I hope to be sharing the wonder of…Crowhill Valley Woods. This Woodland Trust-owned woodland, part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest near Grampound and an important area of Alder sump woodland, is not that easy to find. Read this entry from the Woodland Trust’s ‘Visit Woods’ site to find out how some visitors spent a long time tracking it down! I was fortunate enough to have spoken to someone from the Trust in advance, so I knew where I was going. And here’s what I found…

Beautiful bluebells and Greater Stitchwort, companions beneath the trees (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Beautiful bluebells and Greater Stitchwort, companions beneath the trees (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
A Green-veined White butterfly visiting Cuckoo-flower, one of its caterpillar food plants (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
A Green-veined White butterfly visiting Cuckoo-flower, one of its caterpillar food plants (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
A delicate flower of Wood Speedwell (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
A delicate flower of Wood Speedwell (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

The flora was wonderful, and there will be more to come. This is somewhere to visit time and time again. Hemlock Water Dropwort was leafy and green, its umbels of flowers waiting to unfurl. Tiny flowers of Wood Speedwell poked through the undergrowth. Lesser Celandine and the improbably-named Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage contributed notes of yellow to the Bluebell-blue, Stitchwort-white and leaf-green hues of the woodland.

Peacock butterfly (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Peacock butterfly (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

There was also birdsong to die for, and I realised (once again) that it was high time I learned bird calls. In a wood, birds are, in contrast to good Victorian children, heard but seldom seen. There are many flurries through the leaves, rustles and darting flights, but the birds don’t hang around to be looked at. Nonetheless, I saw a Blackcap, a Songthrush, Wood Pigeon and several Blackbirds (plus a few small indeterminate brown ones). Bees and other insects were also buzzing – the highlight was a Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly, an immature male, presumably newly emerged, but there were also Green-veined White and Peacock butterflies a-plenty.

So, I suppose I should be recommending you visit this special place yourselves. And I do, of course. Just remember, sshhh, keep it secret!!!

Lesser Celandine

Hayle Estuary and Porth Kidney Sands

Hayle Estuary

There’s something about an estuary. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s the simplicity. Open expanses of mudflats, silted islets between meandering water channels, clear salt air and receding horizons. An estuary sits in the here and now. It is a very mindful place to be.

Contemplating Redshank, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Contemplating Redshank, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

That’s certainly what I and my friend Anne found last weekend when we headed off, on a cloudy but dry day, to visit Hayle Estuary, Britain’s most south-westerly estuary. We went to practice taking photography, but we also found real companiable pleasure in sitting quietly in the hide, taking photographs, yes, but also peering through binoculars and using our own eyes to watch the birds go about their business. It was all very tranquil.

Hayle Estuary is an urban reserve: lift your eyes from the sand and mudflats and you find the buildings, homes and industry of Hayle. It makes the estuary no less tranquil, confirming how important these oases of nature are in our busy lives.

Redshank, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Redshank, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

We found ourselves in the Eric Grace Memorial Hide looking out over Ryan’s Field, part of the RSPB Hayle Estuary nature reserve, and were entertained for some time by Redshanks, Curlews, Black-headed Gulls, Lapwings, a Cormorant and a pair of Shelduck. As novice birders, I’m sure there was plenty else we missed. We were very fortunate, however, to be joined for a while by a real birder, who was happy to chat and confirm what we were seeing, as well as telling us a bit about the estuary and its birds. Thank you, Mr. Birder!

Curlew, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Curlew, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Grey Herons, Lelant Saltings, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Grey Herons, Lelant Saltings, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

After Ryan’s Field, we headed a bit further westwards round the estuary towards Lelant, and had a welcome cup of coffee in Birdies Bistro (Griggs Quay, Hayle, TR27 6JG) which we found quite by chance. It hasn’t been there long, apparently, and is a place to be recommended, not just for the cheerful atmosphere, but also for the way the back garden is set up with viewing ‘slits’ in its fence, just like a hide, looking out over Lelant Saltings. We spotted some Grey Herons doing their standing completely still act, as well as a load of gulls doing their standing still with heads tucked under wings act.

After that, we headed off to Porth Kidney Sands, which sit at the mouth of the Hayle Estuary, somewhere that Anne has been to before with her family, whereas it was my first visit. There is limited parking, but you can park just before St Uny Church and then take the footpath down towards the beach (instructions at the end of this post).

Porth Kidney Sands, looking west, with St Ives in the distance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Porth Kidney Sands, looking west, with St Ives in the distance (photo: Amanda Scott)
This streamlet made some beautiful patterns in the sand as it ran across the beach (photo: Amanda Scott)
This streamlet made some beautiful patterns in the sand as it ran across the beach (photo: Amanda Scott)

At low tide the beach here is vast, with an expanse of sand stretching to the sea in front of you, and dunes ranging inland behind you. We didn’t spot much in the way of bird life on the beach or out to sea but, in the distance at the sea’s edge, there were surfers enjoying the waves and dogs bounding about happily in the water. Even so, as we turned west to walk along the sands a little way, staying close to the dunes, the depth of the beach still gave an air of seclusion and separation. After a few minutes walk along the beach, there is a clear track, doubling back in terms of direction but making its way along the top of the dunes: this is a section of the South West Coast Path. Follow this and cross the railway over a footbridge, and eventually you rejoin the path that took you down to the beach.

On the way, we saw a female Stonechat, perching on bramble and surveying her world…

Female Stonechat, in the dunes behind Porth Kidney Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)
Female Stonechat, in the dunes behind Porth Kidney Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)

…and in the churchyard cemetery we found snowdrops – a welcome sign of spring!

Snowdrops, Lelant (photo: Amanda Scott)
Snowdrops, Lelant (photo: Amanda Scott)

This was a lovely, peaceful way to spend a few hours – the grey skies if anything suited the tranquillity and mood, though I never say no to sunshine!

See below for how to get to the places we visited.

Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve, including Ryan’s Field: link here to directions on the RSPB site.

Birdies Bistro: link here to their Facebook page. The Bistro is on the right on the A3074, just to the south of Lelant.

Porth Kidney Sands: This link to the Cornwall Beach Guide gives good directions about where to park.

Patterns on Porth Kidney Sands

Night skies over Cornwall

I’m not long back from two weeks travelling in Kenya. This was a field trip with a brilliant group of lecturers and students from the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus, and there was lots to learn, see and do.

Kenya is very different from Cornwall, needless to say, in many ways. It was sunny, for one thing, unlike the current rather dismal weather we are having here! The animals are different, and the plants are different, and even the night skies are different. The constellation of Orion was much higher in the sky and the wrong way round, for one thing, and the moon was flipped over onto its side.

The moon is turned on its side at the equator (photo: Amanda Scott)
The moon is turned on its side at the equator (photo: Amanda Scott). If you rotated this photo one quarter turn clockwise, then that’s the view of the moon we have in the northern hemisphere.

But, most magnificently, the skies were so clear away from urban areas. Some of us spent a happy time pointing our smartphones at the skies using the Night Sky app to identify all the stars we could see. The Milky Way was visible, arching across the sky, most nights. It was all very, very beautiful.

Now in fact I get a pretty good view of the night sky from my back garden here in West Cornwall, including the Milky Way, on cloudless nights. That’s because I back on to fields and there is very little light spill from neighbouring houses later in the evening. Even so, I don’t think it would qualify for “Dark SkyDiscovery Site” status, an award given by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to places deemed to be of very high quality for stargazing because of the lack of light pollution. But we do now have two sites on the north coast of Cornwall that have recently been successful in achieving this status: St. Agnes Head, and the Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps. Both sites are owned by the National Trust and have had to meet stringent criteria: the Milky Way must be visible, and they must have good access for the public, including people with disabilities.

It’s not the weather at the moment for stargazing (unlike Kenya!), but it’s good to know there is somewhere close by to visit when the skies get clearer and the weather improves…

Photo: Michael J. Bennett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Michael J. Bennett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Link here for a map showing all Dark Sky sites across Britain.

Kennack Sands, a winter BBQ and cuddly ponies…

Kennack Sands

Earlier this week, I joined my chums from Natural England’s Lizard team for a Christmas Barbecue at Kennack Sands (a popular surfing spot), near the village of Kuggar on the Lizard’s east coast.

There are two beaches at Kennack Sands: the eastern beach and surrounding area is part of the Lizard National Nature Reserve. This is a great place to go rock pooling, to search for Basking Sharks in the summer months, or to admire the geology of the exposed gneiss.

Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)
Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)

It was good to see the team working while they ate their BBQ grub! The sand dunes and cliffs on the nature reserve are home to some of the beautiful coastal plants of The Lizard, but these can be crowded out by encroaching more vigorous scrub and taller grasses. Originally, this would have been prevented when the land was used for low intensity cattle grazing. Now, cattle grazing has to be replicated by keeping the scrub down by other means. The Natural England staff and volunteer team are cutting back the vigorous gorse and grasses on a rotational basis, giving breathing space to more delicate plants.

Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)
Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)

Also working hard were the Natural England ponies. Well, they wouldn’t call it working hard…they would call it eating! But their grazing also helps in the conservation management of the site by keeping the grass height down. Cattle would have been grazing the site regularly until the 1930s. The old farmhouse, now a guesthouse, is visible from the beach and, apparently, the farmer used to come to his door at milking time, call to his herd, and the cows would obediently return home. They were fed at the same time, so that was why they were happy to leave the pastures at the end of the day: nonetheless, it’s a lovely nostalgic image. Now it’s the job of the ponies to eat those grasses.

Butcher's Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)
Butcher’s Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)

If you visit Kennack Sands yourself, watch out for Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus), a member of the Lily family and a native of Southern England, Scilly, South Wales and East Anglia. In the winter, you can’t miss its large, bright red berry fruit. The plant gets its common name from the fact that butchers once used the spiny branches to scour their chopping boards. The spiny leaves aren’t in fact leaves at all, but flattened portions of stem: the real leaves are reduced to tiny scales on the stems: you’ll need a hand lens to see them.

All in all, it was a lovely day for a barbecue and to enjoy winter sunshine and good food together at a beautiful spot. I have met so many wonderful people and had such good times in my first full year living in Cornwall. I’m looking forward to next year already!

Gazing to the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)
Gazing at the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)

An apology, and a beautiful Lizard Point sunset

First of all, many many apologies to readers of this blog for the length of time since I last posted. I hadn’t realised it was quite so long as it was. The reasons are a mixture of a heavy workload and being away, meaning I had very little time to go walking and seeking Cornwall wildlife and nature. But now I am back!

This is a short post, to share a lovely amble down to Lizard Point yesterday afternoon. I was looking for seals, so had gone down as close to low tide as I could (a good time to spot seals). I didn’t see any in the end, despite much scanning with binoculars, but, because low tide was a little after sunset, I was able to sit and lose myself in some very beautiful skies.

Golden skies over The Lizard
Golden skies over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)

The sea was comparatively quiet, the air was crisply cold and still, shags and cormorants and gulls were perched on the rocks, and a kestrel flew by, its feathers catching the golden light. The seals were missing a great evening!

Sunset over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sunset over The Lizard (photo: Amanda Scott)

There’s a few more photos on the What’s Wild in Cornwall Facebook Page.

A Red Admiral weekend

Friday just gone was a day of Small Tortoiseshells. My garden in West Cornwall was visited by tens of them enjoying a late summer feast on the buddleia – I was glad I hadn’t pruned it back already.

But then Saturday and today, Sunday, there was barely a Small Tortoiseshell in sight. Instead the garden was full of the striking beauty of several Red Admirals, again nectaring on the buddleia, but also seeking out ivy flowers and late summer bramble.

Red Admiral (photo: Amanda Scott)
Red Admiral (photo: Amanda Scott)

Butterflies seem so delicate, it is easy to forget that several species accomplish great feats of migration. The strong-flying Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) may have a small resident population in the south of the UK, but most of those we see each year have arrived from Europe and North Africa. The females lay eggs (usually on common nettle (Urtica dioica)) and UK-bred butterflies emerge from about July, but their numbers are swelled by several further waves of immigration during the summer. You can see them as late as October, occasionally later.

Our winters are generally too cold for this species to survive overwintering, possibly apart from the warmer south of the country (including Cornwall). Many adults will therefore attempt a southward migration as the weather cools. On a wildlife boat cruise out of Falmouth recently, while I was of course thrilled by the sunfish and porpoises, I was also delighted to see two Red Admirals a fair way out from shore, determinedly heading south away from the coast.

I hope they made it.

English: Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalan...
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on Buddleia davidii (photo: Wikipedia)

Swallows – it’s almost time to say farewell

My neighbours and I have been enjoying the company of ‘our’ swallows all through the summer. The always-on-the-go swallow parents have successfully raised six members of the next generation, and now we are watching sadly as they start making preparations to leave our shores for the milder climes of Africa, with the parents feeding up their offspring for the long flight. Soon we will be seeing swallows starting to flock nearby, and our little family will be joining in. These two young ones look a bit apprehensive, don’t they?

These young swallows look a bit apprehensive about their long journey...or maybe they're just worrying who's going to get the next insect meal (photo: Amanda Scott)
These young swallows look a bit apprehensive about their long journey…or maybe they’re just worrying who’s going to get the next insect meal from Mum or Dad (photo: Amanda Scott)

The sight of a swallow’s acrobatic flight as it swoops and dives through our skies is both heartwarming and exhilarating. It is also a marker of change. First, as spring spreads through the country, the swallows arrive and are generally seen first in southern counties, including Cornwall. Then, in the autumn, the familiar sight of swallows flocking before migrating south confirms the turning of the seasons as temperatures cool and the leaves turn gold.

Cover photo

As well as getting pleasure from watching them, we can help swallows, too. Historically, swallows would have nested in caves, but have now almost completely adapted to using the eaves of buildings. Cornwall County Council has produced a useful leaflet for anyone undertaking development work, such as planning an extension or property conversion, with some simple steps you can take to ensure swallows have somewhere to nest and raise young, with little if any inconvenience to you, and much pleasure to be had from watching them nearby.

Swallows migrate south again in the early autumn, making that long long journey, because they cannot cope with our harsher winters. However, in the winter of 2008/9, a single swallow stayed behind at Marazion RSPB reserve, and was seen by staff and visitors flying around the reserve well into the coldest months. I couldn’t find anything online to tell me if the brave little bird made it all the way to spring – do any readers know? I’m hoping it did. The story reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s flighty but ultimately generous-spirited swallow of ‘The Happy Prince’ fame (if you haven’t already read this delightful fable about a swallow that stayed behind through winter to help his prince, then  you really should, though it might bring a tear – or several – to the eye…).

But, the odd fictitious or hardy swallow apart, our swallows will be leaving us soon. We will miss them once they finally depart, but they’ll be back next year for me, my neighbours and all of us to enjoy once more.

Two lakes, a wood and a meadow…a day out on Bodmin Moor

Earlier this week I was going a bit stir crazy cooped up working in the house. I love being freelance, but boundaries can get blurred between work and play, so I took myself off into the fresh air to clear away the dross and breathe deeply for a few hours.

Colliford Lake

For ages, I’ve been meaning to spend a bit more time on Bodmin Moor, so off I went with a few possible destinations in mind.

The River Fowey as it passes through Golitha Falls
The River Fowey as it passes through Golitha Falls (photo: Amanda Scott)

First of all, I went to Golitha Falls, a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the name of which alone is enough to stir the imagination. Park your car in the car park at SX 228692, and then step across the road to enter a delightful steep valley retreat that follows the path of the River Fowey as it drops in altitude, forming a gorge amidst the ancient oaks of the woodland. Golitha Falls is known in particular for bryophytes and lichens, but there are also dormice, otters and kingfishers here. I didn’t knowingly see any of the rare bryophytes, nor, unsurprisingly, the otters or the dormice, but I did see two kingfishers whizzing down the river in a flash of colour so fast I had to think twice about whether I had really seen what I thought I had just seen. Pretty amazing!

Golitha Falls

What is fantastic about Golitha Falls is that, even though there were a few cars parked, the place felt empty and peaceful. Although there is sort of a main path wending its way through the woods, there are many twists and side turnings, some ending in crumbling stone walls, some disappearing beyond the overhanging branches and going to who knows where…a place to come and explore again, I think…

I did pause as I walked through the woods (down one of those side turnings) to enjoy watching a couple of hoverflies doing their thing.

Episyrphus balteatus (photo
Episyrphus balteatus (photo Amanda Scott)
Sericomyia silentis (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sericomyia silentis (photo: Amanda Scott)

My next destination was Dozmary Pool, a bit further north. You can pull your car off the road at SX 190743, and follow a public right of way down to the pool…or, at least, you can if your way isn’t barred by a crowd of stern looking cows protecting their calves. Now, those who know me are well aware that, while I like cows in principle, I am actually quite scared of them. Don’t ask me why – I will happily deal with fierce-looking dogs and stare out buffalo – but that’s the way it is. So that day wasn’t the day I was going to squeeze past the cows in the narrow lane to get to the pool. But I took a few photos at a safe distance, and determined to visit again.

Dozmary Pool

Dozmary Pool is one of the sites reputed to be where Sir Bedivere threw King Arthur’s sword Excalibur to be reclaimed by the Lady of the Lake. Loe Pool is another contender for the honour, but I think I prefer Dozmary. This ancient place, the largest inland freshwater lake in Cornwall, carried an air of hush, of wistfulness, of patient expectancy. One could almost find oneself believing or, at least, wishing to believe, that somewhere close by the once and future King slept, waiting for his call.

Foal, Colliford Lake (photo: Amanda Scott)
Foal, Colliford Lake (photo: Amanda Scott)

From an ancient pool to a modern lake…next I headed off to Colliford Reservoir, owned by South West Water and managed for conservation by South West Lakes Trust. There are a few spots to park round this lake, but I stopped at SX 164730 and pottered about for a few minutes. I had been hoping to see a few birds on the water, but I wasn’t in luck. This will be a great place to come when our feathered visitors arrive to spend the cold winter months with us.

There were some horses grazing round the lake (I’m not scared of horses, so that was fine…), including this delightful foal. And here he is with his mum…

'Keep up, junior'. (Photo: Amanda Scott)
‘Keep up, junior’ (photo: Amanda Scott)

After that, I intended to head off home but, as I motored down the A30, I saw a sign to Blisland. ‘Ah, Blisland!’ I cried. Well, actually, my thought process was, ‘Hey, I’ve got time and I’ve heard it’s pretty, so let’s go!’ So I did, and very lovely it was, too. Blisland is a delightfully charming village, with a good pub and an interesting church.

Blisland Church

I found my feet drawn towards the churchyard, presumably because churchyards are often home to butterflies and bees and flowers. But, in hindsight, I wonder if I was subconsciously drawn by the lure of a footpath leading away beyond the old gravestones. I ignored it for a bit, and detoured into the church building itself. I love simple architecture, so I enjoyed this stone window framing the greenery beyond.

Blisland Church

When I left the church, I really meant to find my car and continue home, but that footpath would not let me go. Like the Secret Garden or Narnia, it pulled at my feet until I found myself descending some steps, walking down a slope and along a grassy path, until…

Flower meadow, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

…I found myself in the middle of the most wonderful meadow, full of knapweed, grasses, crickets chirping, bees buzzing, birds singing and butterflies bobbing about from flower to flower. I saw my first Small Copper of the year…

Small Copper, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

I also saw this Red Admiral…

Red Admiral, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

…and this Small White nectaring on the knapweed.

Small White, Public footpath from Blisland Churchyard

Magic! A perfect end to a lovely relaxing day.