Our family tends to go on holiday to Cornwall every year. This year, so far, we have been twice, and seen a good variety of wildlife.
One of the first birds we saw was a Turnstone. This pretty little wader can be found in abundance in Padstow, where they have adapted to their urban environment. They are quite tame, and instead of turning over stones to catch their insectivorous prey, they now prod at the waste of the harbour, and wait by people who are eating pasties in the hope for a small donation. It allows you to get very close to them, but then again it is a shame that you can no longer watch their natural behaviour.
Also in Padstow, I accidentally took an over-exposed photograph of a seagull, and it ended up looking quite interesting…
There was also quite a lot of life in the sand dunes in Rock. The most noticeable resident is the skylark, whose song you can hear from very far away. They build small, neat cups of grass on the ground as nests. Also in this area stonechats have been seen, however I haven’t seen any yet.
At the border of the sand dunes, there are a lot of blackthorn bushes, in which can be found a good variety of wildlife. I spotted a fox’s burrow, some rabbit warrens, a chaffinch, but most excitingly, a yellowhammer. I’ve never seen this bird before, and I have always wanted to. They have a very distinctive churring type of call, which is quite loud and allows you to find them quite easily.
On the very beach of Rock, there are two very beautiful birds, both migratory.
The first is the sand martin. For a rough overview of sand martins, take a look at my short documentary on them.
From all the research I’ve done on the internet, it seems that sand martin colonies are usually quite big, with a couple of hundred nests on average. These two colonies I have found in Rock and Daymer only have around 20 and 10 nests respectively – is this particularly unusual?
They had to build new nests this year after some of their old ones were destroyed when part of the cliff face collapsed. Their chicks seem to be later this year as well – I predict they will be poking their heads out around now (late July, early October) as opposed to mid July.
They are particularly difficult to photograph as they only visit their nests every five minutes or so, and are very quick when they do so. You have to have your camera pointing at the right nest as well, or you’ll miss it.
Occasionally they will perch on a branch, which allows for better pictures.
It’s best to get photos of them as they leave the nest, because that gives you a head on photo, rather than just seeing their back. Sometimes you will see them carry a small white blob in their mouth as they leave, which they carry a distance from the nest before dropping onto the sand. This is a fecal sac, containing the chick’s poo.
Another, more surprising sight is a tern. I say tern, because I don’t know what type of tern it is. It is often very far away, flying down the center of the estuary. You can only get close when it’s low tide and it only flies past Rock every once in a while, perhaps once every half hour. So it’s very difficult to get an opportunity to identify it properly.
From all of my photos, I’m very confused, because although it has the black-tipped bill of a common tern, it has the defined black wing tips and translucent bars at the back of it’s wings of an arctic tern. Both species are very scarce if present at all in Cornwall, although arctic terns would be the less likely visitor.
I’ve heard that if an unidentifiable individual such as this one appears, it is called a com-ic tern!