Sunday, 23 November 2014

Birds on our Coast

When you think of Lizard Point at this time of year it might be hard to imagine a place bursting with wildlife, like it was when you visited the in the summer. Believe it or not, in terms of bird life, very little has changed. All the resident species are still here. There are several species of gull, chough, shags, cormorants, oystercatcher, turnstone, corvids, pipits, kestrels and much more.

Swallow - Tony Blunden
However, Lizard Point has been missing two avian visitors recently. 

As to be expected, most of the swallows have flown back to Africa for winter, but not all of them! Believe it or not there is still the occasional sighting of swallows here on the Lizard, despite it being November.

In late summer / early autumn fulmars normally head off to sea for a few months, while they moult their feathers.  After not seeing them here for a few months, we are now beginning to see increasing numbers of fulmars back on the cliffs with nice new sets of feathers.

As well as a few species moving around, we also have other visitors coming in. When you look at the plethora of gulls at Lizard Point you may well think you are looking at the same birds time and time again, and for the majority of gulls you will be. Herring Gulls are resident here so don't tend to move too far. The greater black backed gulls (GBB gulls) are locally resident so tend not to go too far either. However,non-breeding GBB gulls will move some distance to find new territory. We recently had a visit from one GBB gull from Wales and another from Norway.

Lesser black backed gull (© National Trust Images - Jason Smalley)
In contrast to our resident gulls, the Lesser Blacked Gull (pictured right) is a continental tourist, often traveling between Britain, Ireland and several parts of Europe. Some of these gulls will also get as far as Africa and Russia. Most colonies of Lesser Black Backed Gulls are fully migratory ie: they move around a lot! They can breed from as far north as central-north Russia to further south in France and Portugal.

Lesser black backed gull - Terry Thirlaway

This Lesser Backed Back gull (left) was photographed at Lizard Point in March 2014. Using its uniquely coded leg ring people across Europe have been able to record their sightings of this gull. 

From looking at the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) sightings database we know that this gull had been recorded at several locations in Spain between 2011 and 2014. In March 2014 it turned up here at Lizard Point and spent a week with the other gulls before moving on to Wales where it was recorded in July 2014. I think it’s just fantastic to know that we have such well-traveled gulls on our doorstep. 

Artic skua chasing a kittiwake - Tony Blunden
Speaking of traveling, offshore there are still lots of birds to see. Although the main migration season is drawing to close, there are still hundreds of seabirds traveling past the Point everyday. Tony Blunden, a local ecologist, regularly ‘sea-watches’ off Lizard Point to count the number and the number of species of seabirds passing by. 

On his latest sea-watch, on Sunday 8th November, Tony had a fantastic day. It appears that skuas have had a good year, and the conditions on Sun 8th were just perfect for spotting them. Tony managed to spot several species of skua among a number of other species. This really was a very special sea-watch indeed. All in all Tony recorded 8 Artic skua, 6 black headed gulls, 2 comorant, 648 gannets, 4 great skua, 2 Manx shearwater, 2 Mediterranean gulls, 1 puffin, 84 Balearic shearwater, 1 common scoter, 40 fulmar, 29 guillemot, 2280 kittiwake, 1 long tailed skua, 26 Pomeranian skua, 1 purple sandpiper, 475 razorbill, 32 shags and 2 Sooty Shearwater, and that was just in 4 hours. (It has to be said not all sea-watches provide such fantastic results - this was a busy morning!)

Manx shearwater - Tony Blunden
Few people realise that puffin can be seen passing Lizard Point every day (from April- August). Other species like manx shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots can be seen passing the Point in their thousands by the hour at particular times of year. In order to see these birds you’ll need a telescope and of course to be able to identify them at a distance, which is no easy task! Until you get the hang sea-watching it is quite a difficult to identify the many black dots whizzing through the view of your telescope, but after a few sessions you’ll soon begin to recognise the usual suspects, making anything unusual stand out nicely.

It takes patience to learn the art of sea-watching, and a lot of it depends on the weather conditions  It’s advisable to go along with an expert when you first get started, so why not join us next week? If you are interested in learning more about seabirds and sea-watching, Tony is doing another sea-watch at Lizard Point on Sunday 30th November from 8am –10am. He welcomes people at any level to join him (beginner or expert), and will meet you just below Southerly Point CafĂ©. Ideally, you will have your own telescope but there will be spare scopes available. No need to book, just turn up.

To learn more about wildlife on the Lizard visit the Linking the Lizard website

Thanks again to Terry and Tony for the use of their fantastic photos. 

- Cat

Monday, 10 November 2014

Celebrating the tiny things in life

Diatoms from Carleon Cove pool
Most of us don't give much thought to the tiniest things in life, but they are out there, and important to us all!

Meet the diatoms.  These are microscopic single celled algae, defined by having a silica rich cell wall made in two parts. They live in both fresh and salt water, and most photosynthesise, producing energy from sunlight. Diatoms are at the bottom of lots of food chains, and are the ultimate source of energy for many forms of ocean life, and you if you eat fish! A micron is one millionth of a metre (one thousandth of a millimetre), so at 20 microns long they are tiny. However, they can be so numerous that in time their silica rich remains accumulate to form a soft rock type called diatomite, which has many industrial uses.

Examining the catch of diatoms
Trawling for diatoms at Carleon Cove
This miniature world was captured by Kernow Microscopical Society, who recently held a field meeting at Poltesco, utilising our newly renovated barn to set up their equipment. They collected diatoms within the brackish pool at Carleon Cove, formed where the stream meets the shingle beach.

For further fascinating insights into very small things, including a cross section of a moth's tongue, visit the Society's website at


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Withan Woods - well worth a visit

The woods at Frenchman's creek on the Helford estuary are famous for their unique beauty, tranquillity and their abundance of wildlife. The eastern side of Frenchman's Creek is already in the care of the National Trust. Erlier in the year some woodland on the other side of the creek was put up for sale. We put in our bid and are now the proud new owners of Withan Woods. 

Withan Woods – Outlined in red

Withan is a tranquil little wood, its fringe of 'Western oak woodland' overhanging the creek and large open grown trees give it a special character. It also has a real feeling of history. Buried deep in the woods is an old quay, first recorded in the 1880’s, which is a beautiful quiet place to sit and enjoy the wildlife and views up the creek towards the main Helford River.

      Withan Quay

Kathy working hard
There is an existing right of way through the top end of the woods to the farmland above. Historically access to the quay and woodland beyond was limited, but as part of our commitment to enhancing public access, we decided that we should put in a new path down to the quay and clear an existing track to create a circular walking route, giving access to the whole wood.

Finally on warm day in October eight of us, staff and volunteers, headed off to create the new route along the creek side to the quay and beyond. When we arrived we split in to two groups, some heading off to clear windblown trees from the existing track, and the others working on the new footpath along the creek side to the quay. After a day of hard, but rewarding work we had finished the new route.

Our plans for Withan are for sensitive low key management, so the new path has been cut by hand. This ensures there as little disturbance to the existing woods as possible to preserve their unspoilt nature. We still need to return to put a few steps on the steeper sections of path and to install subtle way markers to guide visitors round the wood.

If you’re ever visiting the Helford and fancy exploring then Withan is an fantastically peaceful place to soak up the real character of the area.

Withan Woods

- Martin

Contact us


Email *

Message *