The Garden Diary 2006
(Cornwall - part 1)
14 September - An early start in pouring rain. We set off at around 2.45am, and the first part of the journey, to Exeter, was very wet. It's been a long time since I've driven in wet conditions like that.
After a rest, during which dawn broke, we carried on, pausing for another coffee at our regular stop on Bodmin Moor. As is often the case this high point in the journey was shrouded by low cloud, and it was a bit too wet to stay outside the Discovery to take more than a quick snap of the 'view'!
Once past Bodmin, the skies opened up and we drove in sunshine for the rest of the way.
After breakfast at the local supermarket on the outskirts of Helston, we completed our journey to our caravan down on the Lizard, which hadn't seen any of the rain that we had driven through.
Almost as soon as I got out of the car I spotted a Clouded Yellow butterfly fluttering about the field (We saw lots of them in the summer). Curiously it was being pursued by a Speckled Wood. On one occasion they both landed about a foot apart, with the Speckled Wood climbing over the cut grass to within an couple of inches of the Clouded Yellow before they both took off, the pursuit taking them out of sight - curious behaviour. Was it a territorial dispute?
After a long rest (as well as a bit of unpacking and organising) we headed down to Lizard Point to just sit and watch the sea, and the ships go by. The large amount of seaweed washed up in the cove below the point is a sure sign of recent rough seas, but today it was relatively calm. This time, our visit coincides with neap tides between some of the highest (and lowest) spring tides occurring for a for a long time, so it does mean that there will not such good rock-pooling on this holiday.
15 September - A blue sky start, with the temperature outside of 15C at 9am and a slight north-westerly breeze. For us, after yesterday's marathon it was a case of a slow start followed by a relaxing day.
The morning sunshine, along with fresh Dandelion blooms brought out a couple of Clouded Yellow butterflies, giving me an opportunity not to be missed. Thank goodness the recently cut grass was dry as I tried to sneak up on the butterflies as they fed.
This is one of them,
and this is the other.
By noon the Dandelions had started to close up, and as they did so the Clouded Yellows disappeared from the field.
When in flight the upper surfaces of the wings look quite a deep yellow, but they always seem to close their wings together immediately on landing. I shall be watching out for them again during the rest of the holiday in the hope that I can capture a picture of the with their wings open.
Yesterday I mentioned a Speckled Wood Butterfly. This is clearly the main butterfly species here at the moment, with numerous of them flying about, most often around the edges of the field. They seem very territorial and will often fly up and challenge other Speckled Woods that fly past.
Several times I watched as a pair spiralled up into the air, circling each other closely before one broke off the engagement and the other perched on a tree. Could this have been courtship behaviour?
Conspicuous by their size and darting flight are the dragonflies that hunt around the perimeter of the field. I think they are Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum), a species that travels far from water (there are no ponds in the campsite, although there are dis-used quarries and other ponds nearby.
While they often land on the ground, as in the first picture, they are just as likely to be found perched on branches in the hedgerow with their wings drooped, in a position where they can ambush passing insects.
This second example was just a couple of feet away, in a similar pose.
I didn't see either dragonfly catch anything, but I was fascinated to see both being harassed by a Speckled Wood that spent a lot of time perched near to them.
There was a Buzzard about, but annoyingly while we could hear it, most of the time it was just out of sight behind trees.
16 September - Another sunny start, with the welcome sight and sounds of a Buzzard flying overhead at 7.30am.
The clear skies remind me that I haven't mentioned one of the special sights we see here on cloudless nights - the Milky Way. It has been brilliant over the last two nights. Perhaps I'll try to get a picture if tonight is clear. Back home, it's been a very long time since we were able to see good starry nights. We see the brighter stars, but the Milky way is just not visible anymore. Here it is so different, with fewer aircraft passing at high altitude to create the veil that seems to be an almost permanent feature back home, along with the light pollution that goes with urban areas.
By 8am the first small areas of grass in the field were bathed in sunlight and in the next half-hour the first Speckled Wood butterflies were appearing, finding places where they could turn their backs to the sunlight. I have yet to see any of them feed - they show no interest at all in the dandelions.
It was around 10.30am before the two Clouded Yellows first appeared to feed at the dandelions. They seemed to combine feeding with sunbathing by nearly always perching side on to the sun as they probed the flowerheads.
For some reason it was much more difficult to approach them this morning, and my attempts at photographing them with their wings open were completely unsuccessful.
It was the middle of the afternoon before we headed down to Lizard Point where we did little more that gaze out to sea! I always hope to spot a Basking Shark, or dolphin, or even a whale, but as usual they didn't appear, and today the nearest we got was a Trafalgar class submarine (I think it was - along with our insect, birds, plant and seashore guides we also have handy a guide to Royal Navy ships!) heading west. It was only when it passed behind a cargo ship that you realised how big it was.
After what had been a very warm, cloudless day, when we left the Point to return to the caravan there was a long bank of dark clouds stretching right across the Western sky, and which was heading our way. There will be no chance to photograph the Milky Way tonight.
17 September - The front passed through during the night bringing us some heavy rain, but at 8am it's bright outside with a temperature of 15C and a Robin singing nearby under blue skies again. There were only a couple of Speckled Woods about this morning, and no Clouded Yellows.
We spent some of the morning cleaning the caravan before heading down to Porthallow in the afternoon. By then there was a lot of cloud cover, but, with the sea flat calm I took the chance to spend a short time out on my kayak - no photography today.
18 September - A breezy day with sunshine and threatening bands of cloud, but with only a few drops of rain in the late afternoon.
Although it wasn't cold this morning (18C outside around 9am) the breeze was enough to keep most butterflies safely in the shelter of hedgerows or the woods.
Only a few Speckled Woods ventured out, positioning themselves very low on the ground to soak up the morning sunshine.
There was a good 'crop' of Dandelion flowers but the Clouded Yellows weren't tempted, leaving the flowers available to large numbers of Drone-flies which competed for feeding spots.
In this picture (looking South), the cove itself is out of shot to the left. Just beyond the building above the cliff (a residential home) is the site from which was transmitted the first wireless message across the Atlantic, and received by Marconi in Newfoundland in 1901.
Looking North from more or less the same spot you can see Church Cove. Sheltered by a large rocky headland there is a small church which has been there since the 14th century (although an earlier building was there from perhaps before the 11th century).
There were two Kestrels patrolling the cliffs between the two coves, but they foiled my attempts to photograph them.
Later in the afternoon we headed down the coast to Lizard Point for a coffee overlooking the sea. Fortunately I had finished my drink when I spotted the Choughs flying near their nesting cave. After a few minutes they headed for a field behind the coastal path and I headed to the car to get my camera!
It was very frustrating. They were feeding at a point where the field dropped away into a valley, hidden from sight, and for much of the time I could only see one of the pair, except for occasional glimpses like this one. It was very blustery, but a good Cornish stone wall provided useful support.
Then, with a band of dark and very threatening clouds approaching, they suddenly took off, allowing me to grab this one reflex shot of them together in the air, before they swooped down into the valley and out of sight, and I retreated back to the car.
I didn't get a clear view of their legs (to see if their had any rings or not) but the way they were staying close together suggests to me that they are the adults.
The picture is cropped, and not as sharp as I would like, but considering the circumstances at the time I was quite pleased!
This means we have now seen them during all three of our visits this year.
19 September - Yet another fine day with a breeze from the south which felt quite cool.
I've already mentioned how they always perch side on to the sun. In this case it meant that the butterfly was nearly flat against the dandelion as it fed (the sun was almost directly behind me as I took the photograph).
In this picture it may appear that you can see the flower's petals through the wings, but it is deceptive,
and you can see why when it takes off and reveals the bold, almost orange colouring of the upper wing surfaces that is very noticeable in flight, with the black outline seeming to emphasise the colouring.
This was a lucky shot - I must have taken over a hundred and twenty photographs in the course of following the butterfly around the field before I managed to capture this moment when it was about to take off.
It's been another of those 'tired' days, so we ended up at Porthallow again to relax and watch out for activity in Falmouth Bay - still no Basking Sharks etc. but another (distant) submarine!
20 September - A very windy day as we start to feel the effects of a deep Atlantic low which apparently includes the remnants of Hurricane Gordon. It seems that we may not get the full effect for a couple more days. It has remained dry, with periods of murky looking cloud passing quickly overhead.
We headed for the Lizard Point this afternoon to see what effect the wind has had on the sea. It looked quite rough but we will come back when the low pressure system has had longer to work on it.
During a bright spell I took a walk along the coastal path to take this photograph of the Point.
You can see the lighthouse above the cliffs, and the old lifeboat station down in Polpeor Cove, below the Polpeor Cafe where we often sit and enjoy the view.
On our way back to the caravan we stopped on Goonhilly Down to take a look at a large, shallow pond where we often see many Dragonflies and Damselflies.
As you can see, the pond has completely dried up - it didn't even feel soft under foot. It's not often that we see it in this state, and it is a measure of how little rain has fallen in recent weeks. Perhaps the approaching front may have some effect in the next few days, if it extends far enough south.
I wonder how the pond at home is doing...
Click on the images to see larger versions -