Saturday, 13 September 2014

Spectacular sightings as the scope of the Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint broadens



Sighted at Britain’s Most Southerly Point, against a stunning backdrop, the Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint is a fantastic place to get closer to nature and see wild Cornish choughs, thousands of passing seabirds, Atlantic grey seals and other marine species including porpoise, dolphins and basking sharks. As well as a wealth of marine life, the Southerly tip of Britain also boasts one of the National Trust’s wildlife-friendly farms.  Tregullas Farm, sensitively farmed by National Trust tenants Rona and Neville Amiss, supports an abundance of farmland birds, wildflowers and other wildlife. 



Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint - (National Trust)
This year the National Trust has been running the Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint at Lizard Point for the first time. The watchpoint was run in previous years by the RSPB to introduce people to the local choughs, as it is ideally located for great views of the birds coming and going from the nest site.


Adult male (right) and juvenile chough (left) - (Terry Thirlaway)
As would be expected, the choughs are still the highlight of the watchpoint in the early part of the season. However, as soon as the chough family are on the wing they spend most of the day out feeding in the Kynance area so are rarely seen at Lizard Point (except when they come back to roost), which is why the RSPB watchpoint used to close in mid June. For more information on choughs in Cornwall visit: www.cornishchoughs.org 



The new National Trust watchpoint is open until mid September and the absence of the choughs has given other species a chance to shine. Lizard Point is a great place to see passing seabirds in their thousands. This year we’ve seen Manx, Balearic, Cory’s, great and sooty shearwaters, Arctic, great and pomarine skuas, Arctic, black, roseate, common and Sandwich terns so far and a number of petrels. We have also seen countless numbers of auks including puffins, little auks, guillemots and razorbills passing through on their spring and autumn migration, not to mention the passing gannets and plethora of gulls that we have, some of which have come from Spain believe it or not.


Kestrel - (Mark Hayhurst)
Another highlight is the resident kestrel who often gives amazing aerial displays at eye level before descending on its prey. Pipits, swallows, carrion crows, ravens, oystercatchers, turnstones and whimbrel are just some of the other visitors we have regularly.  The botany here is astonishing too, as is the geology and insect life. So far we’ve done air and land but what about the sea?



Common dolphins - (Terry Thirlaway)
This year we’ve seen hundreds of barrel jellyfish, the odd basking shark, sun fish and a few pods of dolphins (including Risso’s) passing through. There are also resident porpoise that can be seen feeding on the nearby reef every day, but the real stars of the show this summer have been the seals!







Lizard Point is an important haul out site for seals. Through daily observations we have recorded a maximum of 18 seals hauled out on the rocks at one time. Although seals can be seen throughout the day, sometimes quite close in, spring low tides are the best time to see seals hauled out together at Lizard Point, as their favourite rocks are exposed for longer.


Atlantic grey seals - (Terry Thirlaway)
A small group of local volunteers have been working closely with Cornwall Seal Group to collect information on the seals, through daily observations and photographs which are added into the Cornwall Seal Database. Individual seals can be identified through their unique fur patterns so every seal that is seen is logged in a special Lizard catalogue. Thanks to the invaluable efforts of Alec, Enid, Terry and Sue we are now getting an idea of which seals are regular visitors and which are just passing through. Seals identified around the watchpoint have also been seen as far east as Looe, west as the Scillies and around Skomer (Pembrokeshire) to the north. For more information on seals in Cornwall visit www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk


Atlantic grey seal - (Terry Thirlaway)
So you see, as well as the charismatic choughs there is a wealth of other flora and fauna at Lizard Point which we have been endeavouring to share with the thousands of visitors at the watchpoint this year. But we couldn’t do all this alone. The wildlife watchpoint is run by a trusty band of more than twenty, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, local volunteers.





This year, we have also had the help of Mary, our fantastic new volunteer intern. With Mary’s help we’ve been able to develop a formal recording programme for all our wildlife sightings. Every day our sightings are logged and then submitted to the relevant record centre; our bird records are submitted to BirdTrack (British Trust for Ornithology recording scheme) and any other sightings go to Cornwall Wildlife Trust and ERCCIS. So far this year we have recorded over 100 different species and submitted over 2000 wildlife records from the watchpoint, not including our botanical records. Mary has also developed a fantastic new range of factsheets and posters for the watchpoint. Working alongside the BTO, RSPB, Cornwall Seal Group and Cornwall Wildlife Trust we have held several guided walks and training events to learn more about the wildlife seen from Lizard Point and how to identify and record it.


Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint - (National Trust)
We rely entirely on volunteer help to keep the watchpoint open from April until mid September so we are always looking for enthusiastic people to join the team. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to have a desire to learn more about wildlife and a willingness to share your enthusiasm with visitors. If that sounds like you please get in touch: lizardrangers@nationaltrust.org.uk





The new watchpoint has been a huge success not only by inspiring over 10,000 visitors but also for developing an important new wildlife recording point in Cornwall. If you haven’t been to see us yet  make sure you pay us a visit before 4pm on Tuesday 16th September as this is the last day we’ll be open until next year. We are open from 10 am – 4pm daily, from April until mid September. 

To keep up with watchpoint news visit:
 www.twitter.com/cliffthechough  www.facebook.com/LizardNT

To learn more about wildlife on the Lizard visit:  www.the-lizard.org.uk


- Cat

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