Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thank heaven for Little Gulls!

There was plenty of activity at the farm yesterday. As I arrived in the car-park, a large flock of Redwings, which I estimated at 120, were flying low towards the Lizard village.  Following on behind were 40 or so Fieldfares. A few individuals from both groups dropped down to feast on our bountiful hawthorn berries. Meanwhile, this Black Redstart was catching flies from the roof of the outbuildings.

On towards Ruan Pool and some 350 Lapwings were flapping around, with at least 500 Golden Plover doing aerobatics above them.  I settled down in the hide with my telescope to scan through the gulls. This may be hard to believe, but in the first few years of the reserve's existence, Black-headed Gulls were very rare visitors. In fact, despite hundreds of hours of observer coverage, it was four years before the first record! That may have been because until then we didn't have a suitable body of water to attract them. But it's only in the last two years that they've become much more regular, both in the spring and the winter.  As far as I'm aware, local farming practices haven't changed recently, so that wouldn't account for them appearing in greater numbers at the southern end of the peninsula. Yesterday there were about 60 of them splashing about in the water and in the midst of them was the reserve's first ever Little Gull! This is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor to Cornwall and was a very nice surprise. There were also two Common Gulls amongst the group, another bird we rather surprisingly rarely see on the farm.

Little Gull on Ruan Pool (okay, it's not a frame-filler........)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Finally - a piece of the action.

The last few weeks have seen an unprecedented influx of American waders into the county. For this we can thank Irene and Katia for creating havoc in the north Atlantic weather systems. Almost every patch of mud in Cornwall has hosted some leggy shorebird or other from across the pond - but not our patches of mud at Windmill Farm.

Today was misty and eerily quiet. Having decided there was nothing about, I was idly and, it has to be said, carelessly trudging along the edge of our little scrape, which is almost dry, musing that I have seen Pectoral Sandpipers in the most unlikely of places. Not five seconds later, I heard a distinct call - "prrrt". I looked around in search of the culprit and there it was - a Pectoral Sandpiper, not 10 yards away. Three feet from it was another! We all froze. I ever so slowly down sat down. After an age, they decided I wasn't a threat and much to my relief carried on feeding.  After admiring them for a few minutes I slowly withdrew back into the mist and left them to it. 

The light was hopeless for photography today, so here are a couple of shots I got over the weekend of adders enjoying the warmth of the brief Indian summer. The top one is a youngster, about eight inches long, and below is an adult male.


Saturday, 3 September 2011


Spotted Redshank on the Plantlife pond this morning.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bring your own snacks....

Participants in a recent dragonfly workshop at the farm collected lots of dragonfly exuviae from around the ponds and brought them up to the information centre for examination. In case you're not aware, exuviae are the external shells of the aquatic larvae. When they're ready to fly, the larvae climb out of the water, usually up a rush-stem or similar, and slowly emerge as adult dragonflies, leaving these shells behind. The species and even the sex of the dragonfly can be established from studying them. Most of these are Emperors.

This box of exuviae has drawn a few wry comments in the visitors' book, of which my favourite is:

"Great place, don't think much of the crisps tho!"

We've had a few birdy highlights in recent days, including a Wryneck along the access road just 30 yards from the gate - it scraped on to my personal reserve bird-list by kindly perching in the hedge between the track and one of our fields. Nineteen Green Sandpipers feeding together around the edge of the Plantlife pond was a huge surprise. They are regular migrants at this time of year but generally in ones or twos. A flock of this size is very unusual anywhere.

The Black Kite that was hanging around down at The Lizard village made a couple of flyovers and, finally, we had a new species for the farm in the form of two Spotted Redshanks.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The third Emperor

Following the extremely rare Vagrant Emperor dragonflies that turned up at the farm in late April, and with the "bog-standard" Emperor a common resident species, we completed a 2011 hat-trick this week when a male Lesser Emperor was found. Although it's a rare migrant to Britain, recorded for the first time as recently as 1996, this is our second record following one in 2004. Lesser Emperors occur throughout southern Europe.

After I'd waited for about 15 minutes today, it duly appeared over the northern-most of our two specially-designed dragonfly ponds. It gave great views down to 10 feet as it cruised up and down, doing its best to evade aerial attacks by the Emperors. It failed to land whilst I was there but it was more obliging for Dougy and he got this rather good photo:

Later, he found two or three Migrant Hawkers along the boardwalk:

Thanks to Dougy for those photos. I had to make do with shots of a pair of Common Darters mating in flight, one of the scarce Red-veined Darters (at least two present today) and a female Emperor laying eggs in the pond:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Farming for finches and warblers....and why it's not possible to please everybody!

Here are a few photos of our 12 acres of arable fields, where we have the best show of wild and cultivated seed-bearing plants that we've had for several years. These will become a gigantic bird-table over next winter. Meanwhile, they are full of bees and other insects, and there are always a few Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats foraging in them at this time of year.

There have been plenty of entries recently in the visitors' feedback book in the reserve's information centre. On the whole, it seems that we're getting things right and most people comment favourably on such things as the tranquillity, landscape, bird-song, flowers and butterflies. Of course, opinions vary on some things, as the following extracts prove!

"What a shame you do not allow dogs"

"Dog-free - what a joy!"

"No dogs - bliss!"

".....dismayed to see a no dogs sign"

"Some of us think no dogs is bliss"

"Well done on an excellent trail"

"I tried to follow the trail guide....after walking up and down the fields fruitlessly for an hour I came back"

"It was easy to find our way round and it wasn't suitable for dogs"

"....well sign-posted walk around"

"Thank goodness no dogs"

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Strange critters

Here are a couple of the strange creatures that inhabit our ponds. The first is a Water Stick Insect, shown with the remains of the beetle it was eating before it was rudely interrupted. They apparently "lurk in dense vegetation, motionless and mantis-like, waiting to seize their prey." (Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life).

Below is the closely-related Water Scorpion. Both of them have breathing tubes extending from their tails. The front legs are used like a powerful pair of pincers.

Many thanks to David Wheeler for the photos.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A busy weekend

On Saturday, ERCCIS (Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) held a Surveying for Dragonflies Workshop on the reserve. The emphasis was on identifying dragonflies by their exuviae. When a nymph is fully grown it crawls out of the pond up the stem of a plant. It then sheds its skin and the adult dragonfly emerges. The skin that the nymph left behind is called the exuvia and each one has its own characteristics.

The group collected all the exuviae they could find and identified 268 Emperors (150 females, 118 males), 45 Common Darters, 14 Four-spotted Chasers (8 females, 6 males), 6 Black-tailed Skimmers (5 females, 1 male) and 14 Emerald Damselflies! Many thanks to Steve Jones for these figures.

The following day Dougy Wright and Steve led a very enjoyable three hour walk, concentrating mostly on wildlife in and around the ponds. Seventeen people attended and despite the lack of sunshine, we did really well - thanks guys. The highlight for me were the Water Stick-insects.

Thanks to Dougy for this species list:

Butterflies: Clouded Yellow, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small White, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Grayling, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Holly Blue

Moths: Silver Y, Straw Dot, Pyrausta despicata

Odonata: Emperor, Golden-ringed, Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Darter, Common Blue Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Emerald Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Beautiful Demoiselle

Other Insects: Water Stick-insect, Water Scorpion, Great Green Bush-cricket, Long-winged Conehead, Meadow Grasshopper

Reptiles: Slow Worm, Common Lizard, Adder skin

Amphibians: Common Toad, Common Frog

Mammals: Fox, Common Shrew, Wood-mouse

I forgot to take my camera, but you'll find some quality photos on Steve Rogers' blog:

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Date for your diary

On Sunday 10th July, there will be a guided, leisurely walk around the reserve, starting at 1.00pm and finishing around 4.00pm and led by Dougy Wright. He'll be on hand to show you dragonflies, butterflies, slow worms and anything else which happens to cross your path. Bring binoculars and cameras, wear wellies or stout boots. If the weather is unfavourable, i.e. cool/wet, the event will be cancelled. If in doubt, call Dougy on 07886 310509 before setting out.

Meet in the car-park, grid ref SW 694 152. To get there follow the A3083 Helston to Lizard road. Three kms after the turn-off to Mullion Cove, look for a sign for "Wild Camping". Turn right here and follow the lane straight on, past the smallholding, and keep going until you arrive in the farmyard. Please drive slowly along the lane.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Guest photographer

Steve Rogers paid a visit to the reserve last week and has kindly sent me these photos. Those of you who follow Steve's blog (here) will be aware of the very high standard he maintains and I've very grateful to him for allowing me to share these with you.

Female Keeled Skimmer

Immature male Keeled Skimmer

Common Frog

Fragrant and Heath Spotted Orchids

Slender St John's Wort

Yesterday's posers

Yesterday's warm sunshine persuaded a few insects to wait patiently whilst I took their pictures:

Male Clouded Buff moth. Most of the recent Cornish records have come from the Lizard peninsula.

Female Clouded Buff, not often seen

Marsh Fritillary

Female Common Darter dragonfly

Male Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Marsh Fritillaries

I had a voicemail message from Dougy this afternoon to let me know that he and Sarah had just counted six Marsh Fritillaries at the farm. First discovered in 2003, this is a small colony of this Red Data Book species, with a peak count of 18 butterflies in 2004. After another good season two years later, only two were seen in 2007. We then had two blank years, coinciding with poor weather during their flight period and we assumed we had lost them. Two more surprisingly appeared last year but again the weather put paid to any further sightings. So today's report is great news! Dougy has sent these photos through, along with a close-up of a Red-veined Darter.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Lazy, hazy day(s) of summer

A glorious, hot day at the farm today brought out hundreds of dragonflies over the ponds. We counted eight species, including Red-veined Darter and Keeled Skimmer. The most abundant were Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser and Common Blue Damselfly (Dougy's photos of the first two below). I got no shots of them (they're too fast for me) so I'll settle for a couple of orchids, a common bird, a rare moth and two showy individuals from the trap the other morning, which contained 215 moths of 49 species.

Four-spotted Chaser

Black-tailed Skimmer

Heath Spotted Orchid

Fragrant Orchid

Meadow Pipit

Small Grass Emerald, our rarest resident moth. This is a nationally scarce and declining species, with very few recent records outside its strongholds on the Lizard peninsula and the New Forest.

Gold Spot

Elephant Hawk-moth

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Rewind to my blog post of 15th March last year, in which I reported that we had a contractor on site to carry out the restoration of about 400 metres of old cart-track which hadn't been used for many years. When these ancient thoroughfares across the Lizard heathlands were in regular use, they provided ideal habitat for some extremely rare plants such as Pygmy Rush, which requires repeated ground disturbance to survive. In Britain, this plant has only been recorded from the Lizard peninsula but even here it has undergone a severe decline.

March 2010: Initial scrub clearance along the route of the track

May 2010: excavated trackway

Last week a visitor wrote in our sightings book "Let's hear it for sedges!", followed by a list of sedges and rushes. Of particular note was their count of no less than 53 Pygmy Rush plants - along the "new track"! Local naturalist Tony Blunden and I had a look and found them (well he found them and pointed them out to me!), along with lots of Yellow Centaury and even a tiny patch of Pillwort, both of which are also rarities.

The same view, last week

Flowering Pygmy Rush (about 5cms tall)

As Tony said, I think we can call that a success. Many thanks to Andy Byfield of Plantlife for arranging funding for this work.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Surprise surprise!

I wasn't expecting much in the way of recently arrived migrant birds today and was wandering fairly idly around the farm looking for orchids. I'd just found some nice Southern Marsh Orchids when I heard the unmistakeable fluty tones of a Golden Oriole coming from a thick patch of tall willows. It went on for several minutes, so I sneaked around the side and sat myself down at the edge of the bushes. It was quiet for a while, then suddenly the bird was singing almost above my head! For such a dazzlingly bright bird, they are devilishly hard to see in the canopy. This one was no exception and it refused to reveal itself. Nevertheless, a very exciting moment and a great record of this scarce migrant - our second in two years!

So, no oriole photos, but a few pretty flowers and some happy single-parent families:

Southern Marsh Orchid


Heath Spotted Orchid

Petty Whin

Hereford mums and kids

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A great Spring for Odonata

Despite the cool north-westerly breeze, many dragonflies and damselflies were on the wing today, but you had to look along sheltered hedgerows and glades rather than out over the pools. We've already seen 12 species this year! These are Dougy's photos (thanks Dougy):

This Four-spotted Chaser has an under-developed or damaged right forewing. It seemed to be able to fly ok.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Azure Damselfly

This female Linnet sat very tight as we approached along the path (NB: this is a bird)