Adventures in the South West

Last week saw me travelling down to Devon for our annual family holiday. Though the cottage where we were staying in was in Devon we also ventured into Cornwall for some of our outings. Despite it being a family holiday and wildlife spotting not being high on the agenda, I still saw enough to keep me happy.

Upon arriving at the cottage we were staying in, a barn conversion on a farm, I was greeted with the sight of swallows swooping between the buildings. These weren’t my first swallows of the year but it was nice to have extended views of these summer visitors, especially whilst sitting in a hot tub! A visit to Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, gave me another hirundine sighting; this time in the form of House Martins. As they soared across the cliffs their white rumps were easy to spot.

Spending so much time on the coast gave me a chance to realise first hand just how difficult gulls can be to identify. On our first full day we visited Clovelly and down in the harbour I noticed a few gulls. I jotted down a few details; grey wings, dark/black wing tips, yellow bill, ready to use whilst looking through my book when I got home. Upon opening the book I realised that those details really didn’t narrow it down. The next day at Tintagel I saw a similar gull and this time took note of the leg colour, eye colour and paid more attention to size. These extra details helped me settle on Herring Gull for identification. A trip to Bude later in the week presented some gulls not yet in their full adult plumage, another factor to consider in the already difficult task of gull identification!

Gull at Tintagel - Herring Gull. I think anyway though am happy to be corrected.
Gull at Tintagel – Herring Gull. I think anyway though am happy to be corrected.

My avian highlights of the trip came from our visit to Lydford Gorge. Owned by the National Trust, you can take a circular walk around the gorge, walking up to The White Lady Waterfall through the woods and returning along side the river. Whilst in the visitor centre my brother and I had been looking at the information sheets on what wildlife we could expect to find, and he actually showed an interest, pointing out what birds he wanted to see.  Approaching the bottom of White Lady Waterfall, ready to eat our lunch, a brown and white bird shot past upstream. My little brother had caught sight of the Dipper too, and seemed impressed when I told him about their ability to walk underwater to find food. Continuing our walk along the river my dad told me he could see some sort of bird on the rocks by the river that he thought was a wagtail. I spent a few minutes scanning frantically where he was pointing, seeing nothing, until finally I caught sight of the grey head with the white eye stripe and the wagging yellow underparts; my first Grey Wagtail.

There is a Grey Wagtail in this picture I promise!
There is a Grey Wagtail in this picture I promise!

The Easter Egg trail was around the orchard and consisted of finding the names of birds pictured in a leaflet. Despite the fact I could name all of them bar one, we did it properly and I followed my brother round as he looked for the answers. In boxes scattered around were cuddly toy versions of different bird species, information sheets on them and some easter themed jokes. Tim seemed to enjoy finding out what all of them were, whilst I got quite excited about the teddies (I’m a big kid at heart). I did have an issue with the box containing the Nuthatch information and teddy; the photo they had used did not match any Nuthatch I have ever seen. I quite angrily sat in the cafe chuntering on about how it wasn’t a Nuthatch and that all these children would be going home ill-informed. I’ve done a little bit of research since and the picture they used is a Nuthatch, but it’s a White-breasted Nuthatch which are found in North America, so I still think some of my anger is justified.

Easter Egg trail boxes
Easter Egg trail boxes
Nuthatch picture that got me so riled up!
Nuthatch picture that got me so riled up!

One of the things I enjoyed greatly was passing on my knowledge to my grandparents. Sat outside a tea room in Clovelly we were watching some birds visiting a feeder, and I was naming each bird as it came down. In a park in Bude, starlings, blackbirds and jackdaws were hunting for crumbs and I pointed out identifying features of each one to my Granny as we ate giant Cornish Pasties. Being able to teach someone else was really satisfying and gave me confidence that I do actually know what I’m talking about sometimes!

I also had a chance to re-enforce and add to my growing wildflower knowledge. Bluebells are now out amongst the trees, a sign that Spring is progressing. As we walked around various places I found myself mentally naming the flowers that I knew as we came across them. When I came across new species I did my normal thing of taking a photo and then flicking through the book when I was home (I now own a Wildflower book for the bargain price of £2.99!) so I can now name Greater Stitchwort and Ramsons.

Bluebells
Bluebells
Ramsoms (wild garlic)
Ramsoms (wild garlic)

One of the main parts of our holiday is always to go to the beach. In ideal weather we’d spend all day there, building sandcastles, sunbathing and playing in the sea. Although the weather wasn’t too bad, it wasn’t quite good enough to spend a whole day there. Instead we visited each afternoon or evening, after doing another activity, for a spot of body boarding or for a walk. One of my favourite places we discovered was a little place called Hartland Quay. It was a rocky beach but that meant it was full of rockpools for us to explore. Most obvious were the hundreds of snails attached to the rocks. Most were grey, blue and white in colour but I did come across a rather striking individual with a green and yellow shell and an orange body. There were various types of seaweed including the rather pretty Common Coral Weed, which, as the name suggests, looks more like coral than seaweed. Limpets abounded on the rocks and blue mussels nestled in the smaller crevices. My little brother found the egg case for a Lesser Spotted Dogfish and there were quite a few Beadlet Anemones around.

Funky little snail
Funky little snail
Beadlet Anemone
Beadlet Anemone
Lesser Spotted Dogfish egg case or Mermaids Purse
Lesser Spotted Dogfish egg case or Mermaids Purse

Overall it was a great week. I love visiting the area and being by the sea is probably my favourite place to be. Living in the Midlands I’m probably as far away from the sea as I could be so I was glad that we didn’t let the rain put us off and we made the most of our time there.

This weeks it’s back to discovering the delights of Staffordshire’s wildlife 🙂

Beth

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