Wildlife to look for through the year in North Cornwall
(Click March into April for more pictures)
Look out for the butter yellow of the primrose, the massed ranks of the dog violets amongst the dead bracken, the ubiquitous red Campion and the silvery yellow of the lesser celandine at the bottom of hedgerows. Fresh green scurvy grass, actually a white flower, and the taller, carrot like alexanders begin to make their presence felt, particularly along the coast where they thrive in the salt wind.
In the woodlands the first signs of our precious blue bells and pungent ransoms (wild garlic) will be appearing along with the innocuous dogs mercury, splendid lily like cuckoo pint (lords and ladies) and many other woodland plants.
Winter hibernating butterflies such as peacocks, small tortoiseshell, commas and brimstones may be flying on warm sunny days; their wings may be rather tatty and dull in colour after their long winter sleep.
Mammals become more active as the weather warms up. But you will have to be up and about early to see most of them. If you do make an effort you might be rewarded with a view of badgers which are becoming very active. You could be lucky enough to spot a roe deer or even a fox out hunting. If on the cliffs around Boscastle keep a weather eye open out to sea as seals may well pop their heads above water to see what is going on.
Early spring often brings warm sunny days. It’s worth watching where you tread if walking on the coast path as you may come across drowsy basking adders or common lizards trying to summon up energy to go hunting. Adders are rarely a problem for us humans, they’d much rather avoid contact with us.
The end of March should allow you to see the first swallows and sand martins returning from Africa as they make landfall over the cliffs. Ravens will have already set their nests out on the cliffs whilst dippers will be flitting up and down the valley streams fossicking for water insects to feed their already emerging young.
May / June (Click on May / June for more pictures)
“March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”. What a true saying that is for this flowerful area. Everywhere you look in May is a patchwork of brightly coloured flowers. On the cliff tops the pink of the thrift, blue of the spring squill and the white of the sea campion all come together to form an artist’s palette. Typical of the cliff tops is the yellow and red of Bird’s foot trefoil (often referred to as “eggs and bacon”). The soils are quite acidic allowing heathland plants such as tormentil and heath spotted orchids to flourish. Sea carrot, kidney vetch and sea campion have their say, vying for your attention as you tread the paths.
We hope for warm sunshine encouraging the emergence of butterflies along the coast and in the woodland glades. Look out for orange tips, holly blue, small copper, small pearl bordered fritillary and skippers. A very secretive, camouflaged butterfly, the green hairstreak is a bit of a speciality here, hiding amongst the gorse in sheltered spots.
Along the coast many birds are back nesting on the cliffs and small off islands. With good binoculars at certain points along this stretch of coast you may well be lucky enough to see guillemots, razorbills and, if the Gods favour you, a puffin. Fulmars and kittiwakes will be nesting on the cliff edges as will oystercatchers, usually associated with estuaries but preferring isolated locations in which to rear their chicks.
Peregrines, buzzards and kestrels are often seen flying high above the cliff tops. Other birds you are likely to see on a coastal walk would be stonechats, jackdaws, raven, skylarks and linnets. You may well hear rather than see the diminutive whitethroat and catch the chirring of the grasshopper warbler.
July / August (Click on July/August for more pictures)
Many of the flowers, butterflies and birds already mentioned are still about, but with high summer comes many more flowers and insects.
On the cliff tops look out for English stonecrop, heath bedstraw, dyer’s greenweed, devils bit scabious, sheep’s bit, vipers bugloss, common century, common restharrow, rock sea lavender, wild thyme and field scabious to name but a few.
The hedgerows, fields and meadows are also covered with a wide variety of wildflowers including valerian, meadowsweet, hay rattle, corn marigold, hemp agrimony, creeping thistle, tansy, purple loosestrife, dog rose and honeysuckle.
Insect life is very abundant with butterflies, day flying moths, dragonflies and damselflies darting around. A walk through a woodland glade will enable you to catch sight of the showy silver-washed fritillary. Fresh broods of pristine red admiral, tortoiseshell and gatekeepers attract your attention. In the field’s ringlet, meadow brown and common blue abound. Certain conditions may enable migrant butterflies and moths to cross over from Europe. Clouded yellow and painted ladies often land in huge numbers. People report seeing humming birds amongst the flowers – it is only a moth, but one that travels long distances to play their trick.
Other showy day flying moths you might see include the striking six-spot burnet, cinnabar and cream spot tiger moths, all utilising reds in their colouration to ward off potential hunters.
Near any fresh water you might well see many different dragon and damselflies including the beautiful demoiselle, azure damselfly, common blue, common hawker, emperor dragonfly and the common darter.
At the end of July the auks head off back to sea having finished nesting. There will still be plenty to look out for out to sea including gannets, common terns, shags, cormorants and Manx shearwater. You might, if out at sea, spot the tiny storm petrel. While watching out for the many sea birds also lookout for seals, basking sharks and dolphins all are often seen along this stretch of coast.
(Click on September / October for more pictures)
Many of the wildflowers of high summer are still flowering including toadflax, autumn squill, self-heal, yarrow, bindweed, common dogger, golden rod, bush vetch and rock samphire.
Early autumn is the time when many of the fruits and nuts appear in the hedgerows. Lookout for blackberries, rosehips, haws, rowan berries, sloes, hazelnuts and acorns.
On the warm autumnal days many butterflies can still be seen including the beautiful copper coloured comma butterfly.
Damp weather of autumn brings forth many mushrooms and toadstools. Autumn sees the departure of the summer migrants such as the swallows, house and sand martins and the arrival of the redwings and fieldfares (winter migrants) to feed on the hedgerow berries.Grey seals pup at this time of the year; often they appear on the beach. Please do not disturb them, their mums are usually not far away and will come back to them once all is quiet.
At this time of year there are not many flowers about, but it is surprising how many do keep flowering all year. You will often see in the hedgerow red campion in the middle of December and by January the first daffodils and snowdrops are flowering.
Many birds over winter here in north Cornwall. A walk along the Camel Trail at low tide between Wadebridge and Padstow can be very rewarding with all the wading birds foraging for food. If you go up to Davidstow airfield at dusk you can watch the spectacular sight of the starlings coming in to roost.
Please call in to either Boscastle or Tintagel Visitor Centre and report any sighting of seals, basking sharks, dolphins or anything unusual. In the two visitor centres there is a wide range of books on wildlife, so if you have forgotten yours or feel that you would like to know more about what you are looking at, please do call in to see the range or just ask a member of staff about what you have seen and they will do their best to help you identify it.