The Garden Diary 2005

June-Part 1

mybitoftheplanet on the Lizard

Go to the last entry on this page        ....Go to previous entry

1 June - A dull, damp day that didn't help the toothache! Hopefully, an appointment with a local dentist tomorrow will help sort it out.

A bright note - we went to a place called Roskilly's, where they make delicious ice cream, and while there we spotted a Wren that was busy nest building in an old Swallow nest. We sat for ages watching as it flew down to plants no more than six or seven feet from us and collected dead leaves to take up to the nest under the eves of the farm building. On most trips it perched in full sight of us with its beak full - and I didn't have my camera with me!!!

2 June - A day lost to the toothache, until the visit to the dentist. Hopefully his good work will mean we avoid a premature end to the holiday. On the basis of that visit I can recommend Cornwall's emergency dental service to anyone who who is struck done with a tooth problem while staying in the county (on the Lizard, at least).

3 June - Another damp morning, but by the afternoon the clouds cleared and we spent several hours down on the Lizard.

I went off to watch the Choughs. They have five chicks on their nest tucked into a cave close to Lizard Point, and they are within a couple of days of fledging.

The parents are the same pair as nested here last year. They are always together and fly off as a pair to search for food on fields around the Lizard.

When they return they swoop very quickly over the top of the cliff and into the cave. As they leave they often make their characteristic 'k'chuff' call.

There are many Jackdaws around the LIzard Point and there are usually some around the cave. When they take off, especially as a pair, they cause the binoculars to be raised briefly until their black beaks and wings betray thay they are not the Choughs.


While waiting for the Choughs to reappear, I spent time watching this Buzzard.

Just West of the Choughs' cave there is a small valley with a typical Cornish hedge (really a thick stone wall filled with soil and covered with vegetation) across the top of it. A strong South-westerly wind made the wall a perfect place for the Buzzard to hover. It must have spent the best part of a hour there without landing once.


It's time there was halted abruptly by the attentions of a solitary gull that decided to mob it.

This all happened too far away to hear anything, but I assume from the gull's open beak that it was a noisy encounter!

As soon as the gull left so did the Buzzard.



4 June - A bright day after a dull start, and with the same strong South-westerly wind making it feel cool.

A few days ago I spotted that a pair of Blue Tits are nesting in a hole about 9ft up the trunk of a pine tree at our campsite.

The parents are busy feeding chicks and this morning I watched their comings and goings for a while. I counted forty nine visits in fifty minutes.

The small number of faecal sacs being brouhgt out suggests that the chicks are still quite young.


Down at Lizard Point I spent more time watching out for the Choughs, although I caught only a couple of glimpses of the adults as they were away from the nest for over an hour at a time. I understand that one of their offspring ventured out to the entrance of the cave, so fledging must be imminent.

While waiting for the Choughs there was plenty of time to watch for other wildlife - including a brief bit of excitement as a fox chased a rabbit across a field on the other side of the valley mentioned yesterday (no sign of the Buzzard today).

We often watch Cormorants flying very close to the sea surface as they pass the Point, or perched on nearby rocks. Just occasionally they fly over us, as this one did.



5 June - A thoroughly wet day with only a brief trip out for a meal late in the afternoon.

Despite the weather, it wasn't a 'lost' day. For a start, as I walked back to the caravan from the shower block at around 8am, I disturbed a Buzzard that had landed on the field - unfortunately it didn't return while I had my camera at the ready.

I decided to make use of the caravan as a hide for a while, and the following photographs are a result -

I haven't mentioned it yet, but when we arrived here, we hadn't even unhitched the caravan before a Robin was perching on the rear of the Discovery. It visiting us frequently, spending more time than ever around us today, ready to take away bits of bread thrown out for it.

Here it's perching on our washing line as rain falls around it.




Under the shelter of the conifers nearest to us were a couple of Squirrels and this one stopped to eat at the limits of the reach of my flashgun.



I had put out some bread near the tree line and the 'bait' was visited by several species.


The only small birds to come down to the bread were a pair of Chaffinches and the Robins.

However, there were several visits by Crows,




and a rather wet Magpie that became less nervous with each visit.

A Jay came down twice, but it thwarted my efforts - perhaps I'll get another chance of a photograph before we go home.




There was a pair of Blackbirds searching for food to take back to their nest, but they ignored the bread, choosing instead to search the soggy ground for worms.




Like the Blackbird, this Thrush hunted for worms, although it seemed to prefer larger individuals.

It was amusing to watch as it hopped about, stopping suddenly to 'listen'(?) before pouncing on a worm and having a tug-of-war as it pulled it out of its burrow.



6 June - A dry, milder day but which failed to live up to the forecast. Sunshine was promised for the afternoon, but although we saw blue skies in the distance, we stayed uder a grey blanket!

The Choughs have fledged. It has taken the last three days to happen, with the last two emerging just before we arrived at the point. I walked over to the spot from which I took last year's pictures but I didn't get the chance to get any shots. Hopefully there will be some sunshine tomorrow to encourage the youngsters to move into 'better' positions.

I did grab two poor quality bird images for the diary.

The first is of a Rock Pipit in silhouette as it dives down in front of the cliff face.

Smallish birds, they grab your attention by their habit of twittering loudly as they fly up steeply and then drop rapidly again to land on a rock.


Late in the afternoon we could see groups of Gannets passing towards the West. They were quite far off the coast so I have had to crop the image a lot.

The dark birds are juveniles.



8 June - brilliantly sunny, cloudless day, most of which was spent down the Lizard.

The Chough youngsters are proving elusive as far as I'm concerned. It seems that they appear in the mornings before we arrive but then retire to their cave again, with just a few brief moments outside.


On the other hand, the parents continue to head off together to forage for food.

Here they are searching the insects amongst the Purple Dewplants (more about them later) that grow on the rocky slopes of the Lizard.


These images show the red legs being tucked up as the birds move to another part of the cliff.




Those Chough pictures were taken from near the bottom of the path down to the old lifeboat station. It often got quite noisy down there, thanks to Jackdaws that are nesting in burrows in the cliff.

Here is one pair that were very attentive to the youngsters that could be heard inside.


I spent some time a short way along the coastal path on the other side of the point, near the lighthouse and managed to grab a couple of 'bonus' pictures.


The first was this Wren which stayed put just enough time for me to track it down by listening to its song.



A couple of minutes later this Whitethroat, a warbler. I don't think I have ever seen one to recognise before.

Interestingly, an item about birds in a newspaper today mentions that there are hardly any reports of them in the country this year.




As I returned to the point, a small falcon hovered briefly very close to the cliff path. It dived out of sight before I could point my camera, but after a search I spotted it, perched on a rock well below the top of the cliff.

Not being an expert on these things. I've tried to match it with the pictures in my birds guide but I can't make my mind up between Merlin or Kestrel (perhaps a female - a young one?).





Back at the campsite I decided to try again to capture images of the Jay. This evening it was still nervous, but much more cooperative. It probably helped that I had put out some chopped peanuts that it seemed to enjoy.

The Jay is a bird that only rarely passes through the garden at home but I have never before had a chance like this to photograph it.



9 June - Another cloudless, sunny day, with the morning spent down at Lizard Point (again) and then Porthallow in the afternoon for a leisurely, cooling paddle on my kayak!

First of all, on the way to the point we spotted a Buzzard flying by a cross-roads. It was in the same place yesterday but this time it didn't fly away as we approached. Having parked a little way from the junction I lost sight of the Buzzard until I spotted it on one of their favourite perches - a power line post.

I couldn't get very close before it took off, so these were the best images I could get this time, at least they're an improvement on no picture at all!


This was the earliest we have managed to get down to Lizard point, but it was worth it. The youngsters are still spending much of their time in the cave, but individuals are starting to fly with the parents.

Here, on a rock just outside the cave, three of them greet an adult that has just returned from a foraging trip.



Here a parent gets a welcome from an obviously hungry youngster,





and moments later they are joined by the other parent and a second fledgling and the first youngster heads over to them.




While the parents were away their family would usually disappear from sight, either into the cave or under a large rock just outside it.

Occasionally one would venture out, and a couple of times I saw one stretching its wings in the sunshine.




I'm including this image because I can't help reading into it the thought that the parent is encouraging its offspring into the air at this moment - a case of 'don't worry, all you have to do is jump and spread those magnificent wings - you won't end up in the water!'




When they do fly the Choughs are a fantastic sight. I was sitting at the top of the cliff near the cave and quite a few times I simply put my camera aside to enjoy the spectacle as the parents would wheel around over the cave, sometimes passing within feet of me as they headed off to find more food supplies - brilliant! Look carefully and you can see its red feet tucked against its body.

I shared the cliff-top spot with a Cameraman who was filming the Choughs for the BBC's Natural World unit. It will be interesting to see his footage when it makes it to the TV screen.




This  Jackdaw sunning itself amongst the Hottentot Figs had me looking twice until I saw that the read 'beak' was actually a part of a plant in front of its open, black beak.




A bird that really makes flying look easy is the Fulmar, and a family group spends a great deal of time flying in big arcs right along the curves of the cliff edge with hardly a flap of their long wings. Like the Choughs, they often passed very close indeed.




For those who have binoculars and are having cream teas(!) at the Polpeor Cafe down at the Point, this gull is nesting in full view, albeit at a distance. Look into the shadows and you can just make out the chick stretching its wings - it has a long way to go before it matches the adults!

The nest is about half way up the cliff, but if you walk on the beach below you can find one of the adults swooping over you as it discourages you from getting too close.



In the afternoon we headed back to the eastern side of the Lizard, along a road that crosses  Goonhilly Down. We stopped briefly at a pond by the side of the road. When we checked it out two days ago it was very quiet, but today it was literally teeming with Damselflies - I believe the species is the Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella). The bright blue males were like flying jewels in the sunshine while the darker females were far less noticeable.




In lesser numbers, but never the less very obvious were the Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata), broad-bodied dragonflies, that were dashing about just above the water surface with just occasional stops on the rushes near to me.



We didn't stay long but before leaving spotted this small, bright metallic purple beetle which I haven't been able to identify.




10 June - Another pleasant day, although we took things easy. We didn't make it to the Lizard until lunchtime and I didn't get many chances to point my camera at Choughs.

During the morning we drove to the garage  that is our nearest supplier of LPG for the Discovery. On the way we stopped for me to get some pictures of a Buzzard. Unfortunately it flew off too soon, but I did get quite close to these Swallows perched on a power line.

The very bright back-lighting from the high cloud  makes the white spots on the tail look like a row of holes, and fortunately doesn't quite hide the red of the head and chin.




The young Choughs were rather elusive today. I could hear a lot of chatter from inside the cave, but this was my only shot of a youngster out in the open as it begged for food.



In the sea below the cliffs around the Lizard you can usually see the heads of a few Common Seals. They sometimes spend ages with just their snouts sticking up in one spot so that visitors can be heard discussing whether they are indeed seals or just rocks. The argument is usually settled when the object suddenly disappears and then pops up in another spot

Just occasionally you are lucky enough to see them swimming on the surface, as was the case here.


11 June - The last day before heading home. On another nice morning we decided to spend the morning down the Lizard once again before packing for an early start tomorrow.

As far as Chough watching was concerned it was easily the best visit yet, with all the family taking to the air - the biggest problem was where to watch them from.


One position I chose for a while was above the Gulls' nest pictured a couple of days back.

The chicks have grown quite a bit in two days, and here are the three of them lined up in the open, patiently as they wait to be fed.

Notice their large feet (almost as big as mum's!) and how the speckled plumage blends in with the ground behind them.




The feeding of the Choughs is a far more frenetic affair. Here, a chick spreads its wings and lowers its body as it begs for food,




but if it is kept waiting it becomes much more animated.




When the parents go off to forage the youngsters are left 'parked' along the cliffs, some times in groups or singly. This pair spent quite a while quietly pecking at the soil.




Their long wait was punctuated by moments of restlessness and wing stretching,



until the calls of the adults flying along the cliff line brought the wait to an end. In this case both flew off to meet their parents.




Here, one youngster gets fed as the other approaches the second parent on a slope carpeted with Purple Dewplant.



This time the position is much more precarious as the adult struggles to maintain its footing as two chicks plead for food.




Finally, just before I left the cliff top to head back to the caravan, I had an opportunity to photograph four of the five chicks as they once again waited for the parents to return.

That was a nice end to the holiday.

(Click on the images to see larger versions)

Now that I am home, looking back through these holiday diaries I notice a few omissions that I need to correct. I'll do this over the next few days once other jobs are completed. I will add any amendments here at the end of the diary rather than slot them in on the correct days.


2005 Garden Diary Index.......Last Month........Next (June part 2)