Sing-a-song of sixpence

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Dawn is the best time of the day. Before the anthropogenic noise takes over, all you can hear is nature. Getting outside as the sun rises is an incredible musical experience. Before the sun has even peeped over the horizon, many birds are already active and starting to sing, but as the world is filled with light, the dawn chorus erupts.

Birds make noise for a variety of reasons. Vocalisation is the best form of communication for many species, as it means they can communicate over long distances. Various types of sounds indicate different messages. As vocalisations can be exhausting, it is important that birds get their message across succinctly.

Birds don’t make sound the same way that we do. They have a Syrinx, a specialised voice box which is located where the trachea splits into two separate bronchial tubes. This means that some birds are actually capable of making two sounds at the same time, with some species able to sing two different notes simultaneously and others able to make 30 sounds per second!

Singing is a useful tool for males as it is a great way to attract females. A strong, healthy song indicates a strong, healthy male; a male worth breeding with. As well as females, this message is also projected to other males, letting them know that the songs’ owner is not to be messed with. Some scientists believe that by singing first thing in the morning, the males are telling the world that they have survived the night and are ready for action. This is important because many species of female are most fertile in the early hours, so may be looking for a male at that time. Others have suggested that the dawn is the best time for singing due to other reasons, so the sound carries better or simply that the world is quieter so the birds know they have a better chance of being heard.

There are studies currently going on looking into the effects of anthropogenic noise on bird song and it is feared that the impacts are negative. With human noise getting louder, there are concerns that birds are struggling to get themselves heard. In fact, in cities, many birds sing louder and at a higher frequency than those in rural areas, potentially to try and be heard over the lower frequency sounds humans tend to produce. Birds living in cities are also thought to have a higher pitch, potentially to reduce the echoes as their voices bounce off buildings. This was originally reported as birds having “accents”, however the reality of this may be a bit less quaint.

As well as song, some calls you hear are warning calls. You may have never noticed, but there will be times when you are innocently walking somewhere and without realising it, birds will be warning each other of your presence. An alarm call, a sharp chirrup or tweet, lets other birds in the area known that danger (for example you) is lurking. One non-British species, the yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) is thought to warn other species when humans are in the vicinity. The oxpecker’s feed on parasitical ticks living on the skin of cape buffalo. It is thought that oxpeckers will sound an alarm call not only to warn each other of an approaching human, but to let the cows know as well, part of the symbiotic relationship these two species share.

For many birds, song and calls are innate, but this isn’t the case in all species, some learn through mimicry. Why birds mimic is still unknown. The main explanation is that it is a great way to expand the repertoire of calls a bird already has, potentially catching the interest of new females. These calls may not be just about attracting other birds, but also repelling them. By imitating noises perceived as alarm calls or threats, birds can use these sounds to put off any potential predators, either to safeguard themselves, their territory or even their food. Of course, some of these noises may be learnt simply by mistake as birds who mimic can pick up all sorts of interesting sounds and have been known to copy chainsaws, telephones and car alarms.

In fact, I recall a being in a zoo many years ago and listening to a mynah bird repeatedly call out “Son! Come and look at this!” – well it’s certainly one way to blow your trumpet hey?

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Her skeleton lay unceremoniously on the beach.

Her bare bones, rotted to the core, were casually dumped in her final resting place. I gazed at her and wondered about her story; the seas she had sailed, the storms she had fought, the passengers she had carried, the life she had led. Until finally she was left, forgotten, to decay on the sand. There was something about her, lying alone, the water lapping gently around her. She was hauntingly beautiful, as though completely out of place, yet in the very home she was built to belong in.

To us, boats go hand in hand with the ocean, yet from a natural point of view, they don’t belong.

She was made of wood. Possibly oak, it was too hard to tell, her former glory now a distant memory. Her decomposed panels barely clung to each other, desperately holding on, keeping her together. Just. The hull, now non-existent, was just a bed of sand. Her port side, merely vertical planks which jutted into the sky. Minute flakes of white paint still visible on what was left and I considered them; in all the time she had lain there, what chemicals had she seeped into the ocean? What serious damage she had unintentionally done?

I ran my fingers across what was once her bow. The wood, now soft, crumbled lightly under my touch. I bent down, looking closer at her, and noticed, in her crevices, she was not as bleak as on first suspicion….

Barnacles were encrusted in small patches where flat, undamaged wood remained; tiny, rough mounds, sharp to the touch. Some were closed tightly, others now just empty spaces. Amongst the small white blotches, limpets also clung on. Tiny radula marks in wayward, erratic lines across the wood, revealing their short journeys, undertaken when no one was watching. Kelp fronds had moved in on top of them, anchoring themselves to the conical curved tops. I imagined the plants, rising with the tide then engulfed by water, fluttering in the current like torn flags on a ghostly pirate ship.

Ragged clumps of sea weed hung between the gaps where her stern once was. I pushed a section aside, loosening some salt water which trickled down my fingers. A louse, disturbed by my sudden intrusion, flitted wildly, in random directions, succeeding in its aim to confuse its ‘attacker’. Empty mussels adorned her sides. Their inhabitants had long gone, leaving the shells open like butterflies heating their wings in the sun, delicately painted by mother nature in hues of opalescent blue and white. Glistening alien blobs hid in dark, damp crevices of her wood, lying in wait for the water to rise again, when they could unfurl their tentacles and once again bloom beneath the waves.

I noticed a crab hiding in the shadows and bent towards it. It’s claws, tentatively open, hovered near its face as though waiting to go 6 rounds with an invisible opponent.  Two pinpricks, sat atop conical tubes, swivelled erratically, nerves causing it to be wary of everything. It took a few steps back, further into the shadows, and I realised I was the source of its fear.

I had overstayed my welcome.

I stood up and cast my eye over the vessel in full. The boat, which from a distance had appeared a sparse, empty shell, had been brimming with life up close. A tiny world, barely noticeable to the untrained eye.

I continued my walk along the beach again; hands stuffed into pockets, face towards the bitter wind and watched as the waves rolled along each other before they burst like white fireworks and flitted away.

I took one more glance back at her as I walked. She looked so different now. Not lonely, not sad. She had new purpose.

Man may have given her up to the sea, but nature had given her life again.

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Lifecycle

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In true British spring style, the recent weather has been unpredictable, but a few days of clear blue skies and hot sunshine helped the season finally burst into action.

On one of those hot sunny days, I found myself heading home from a work thing at Camborne. It was early evening and I had no reason to be home straight away, so I drove over to Treslothan woods. I visit this place often; it is a sanctuary amongst the trees and one of the greatest places to visit during bluebell season. I knew that bluebells wouldn’t be in bloom yet, but I was hoping the wild garlic would be. Driving along the track to the tiny church car park I could see over the low walls that it wasn’t yet, but pulled into the car park to take a look a closer look anyway.

Not wanting to leave straight away, I decided to take a look around the tiny church. Despite being a regular visitor here, I have never been inside. Heading through the creaky gate, I walked towards the entrance. Outside, an elderly lady was bent over a mop, cleaning up the tiled floor outside the door. We greeted each other shyly and on a sudden whim, not wishing to disturb her work, I turned suddenly and made for the graveyard instead.

The graveyard dates back to the mid-1800’s along with the church and many of the gravestone have fallen into disrepair. Despite their negative connotations, graveyards are fantastic habitats, death bringing new life to the earth once more. Many of the older spaces are no longer cared for and left to nature to reclaim the land. Bathed in sunlight, the grass tall and lush, the floor of Treslothan was covered in a smattering of creamy butter primroses and daises. Bees flitted between the flower heads and groups of flies hung in billowing clouds, dancing around each other, the reason unapparent to me. The area was silent, except for the birdsong; blue tits, robins and sparrow song all came together like an out-of-sync orchestra, each musician vying for his instrument to be the main focus.

I spent some time wandering through the graves, gently lifting the vines that covered the gravestones, fingering the imprinted letters and learning more about the bodies that now inhabited the land. It occurred to me that many of the graves were for young people; Edwin Emmet, a gardener, lost his life aged 34. Bessie, died aged 11 years old. John Case, 6. There was nothing fearful about this space, but instead the air had a tinge of sadness to it. Not all the graves were for those under 40 and one in particular which caught my eye was for John Harris, the famous Cornish poet. His long, rhyming tomes of life in the county made him famous, including many about the mines and the men who worked them. The gravestone marks his death in 1884 and was in a good state and completely clear of overgrowth, one of the few, his legacy earning him a privilege not extended to the forgotten souls he shares this space with.

As I edged further into the graveyard, I became aware of an access point in the low wall at the back of the graveyard. Pushing through the long grass, I headed over to it and found myself in the most beautiful place. Sunlight fell through the trees and illuminated a thick carpet of green plants, dotted with the occasional primrose, buttercup or bluebell peeking through the top. Sycamore seedlings fought for their own space on the woodland floor. The air had a sweet floral note to it, an intoxicating smell that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I carefully made my way through the undergrowth, along the tiny path which looked as though it had not been used for some time, following a stream of golden sunlight which poured in from the west side. The trees suddenly stopped and opened up into large glorious fields, a huge breadth of space which chastened me. I stood staring out over the tangle of bramble which separated the two habitats, gazing dreamily at the horizon where the land met the sky. A robin landed on a nearby branch, just a few feet away. It hopped about, pecking at insects and scraping its beak along the wood. It stood and cocked its head on one side at me, measuring me up. Deciding I was not of any use, it continued to move amongst the trees, further and further away. Standing here, I felt as though in another world, where time stood still, and nothing mattered but the moment I was in.

After a while, I traced my footsteps back towards the graveyard and hopped over the broken wall. I passed a large, gothic crypt, the inside bathed in shadow. Two huge iron gates secured the family grave inside. Having not been opened for years, moss had grown on the stone and brown, curled leaves had gathered inside. I pressed my forehead to the clod metal entrance and reflected on the sort of funeral they would have had; an extravagant affair which would have been another example of asserting the family grandeur over the poorer locals. Lockable places for coffins were big in the Victorian era; a time when people were terrified of zombies, vampires and grave robbers. I headed back up to the church door, passing the modern-day graveyard which was now for cremations, a space for ashes only. It was the antithesis of the older space; neat, tidy, bright. Fresh bunches of flowers decorated the neat granite and marble slabs, the inscriptions picked out in neat, clear letting. I walked over the newly cleaned floor and up to the door; a huge, ancient slab of wood which had weathered over time. I pushed it gently, but it remained staunchly closed. I mused about the large rusty keyhole, the key which unlocked the door must be comically large. On the wall next to the door, a noticeboard informed parishioners about the goings on. One notice read out the rules for mourners; ‘no artificial flowers’.

As I made my way back to the car, a flash of colour behind a low wall caught my eye – a pile of fake flowers had been slung down on a heap of leaf litter. Algae had gathered around the petals and begun to turn them brown. No chance to break down into the soil and continue the cycle, they remain, their only moment to bloom, lost.

 

Flower of the moor, to nature dear,
And sweet as thou art free,
I turn aside from crowded paths,
To muse in  peace with thee.
Thou fillest with thy pleasant smell
The down in mosses dress’d
The gentle breeze flows freshly by,
And fans thy yellow vest.
The housewife loves thee, treasuring up
Thy fragrant form with care,
Should sickness come, or wounds, or sprains
For thou hast virtues rare.
How oft, when hands and head were tired,
I’ve paced the common brown,
Or stretched me by your scented banks,
As the great sun went down;
And heard mysterious murmurs sound
Along the solemn sod,
The whispers of omnipotence,
The silent speech of God!
Dear child of Autumn, sweetest when
The robin pipes his quill,
Among the early harvest sheaves,
Delicious chamomile!

The Chamomile By John Harris

The best medicine

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For many years now, I have suffered with insomnia. According to doctors, it is due to having an overactive brain. This sounds a lot more interesting than it is; the truth of the matter is that when many people are comfortably dreaming at 2am, my brain decides it is the perfect time to try and see if I know all the words to the ‘I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General’ (I don’t, I never have done. I don’t know any more than that line) or pondering Alien Hand Syndrome or whether camel humps will be reduced if they are fed constantly in captivity or if I know all the dance move to the Macarena (I do, thanks very much Moulsham High School disco of 1999).This excessive activity spills over into my waking life too; I am always talking to myself or planning my next move.
I struggle to find that ever needed quiet.

This means I spend a lot of time searching for help to relax my mind. Of course, one of the many things that people recommend is mindfulness and meditation, but what I find so surprising is the amount of people that use a nature substitute to find this peace. If you do a basic search, there are a ridiculous amount of videos and apps which fake nature as a form of relaxation – despite the fact that in fact all you are doing is making the situation worse by staring at a blue screen. Nature is proven to have many benefits to our health; both physical and mental, and for me, this is true. Taking moments in nature is one of the only times that my brain is calm, quiet and the change is palpable.

Today was one of the first really warm days of the year. The sun was shining in a clear sky and there was barely a breath of wind. I was at work all day, so missed a majority of it, but managed to slip out of the office to take a walk around site, sneaking off to my secret undisturbed place for a while, in some woods where the Helford river goes from a stream and flows out into the estuary. I stood down by the rill, listening to the water rushing over the rocks on its march towards the mudflats. In the dappled sun, it was warm, my knees burning through my black jeans. As I stood, my ears tuned in and out of the surrounding sounds and movements and I heard a cacophony of activity; a bumble bee hummed as it went about its daily business, weaving in and out of plants across the woodland floor. The songs of different birds were being performed by individuals scatted around the tree tops, each trying to be louder and more attractive than the other, the songs mixing and jarring, set against the background bass of a woodpecker; the hammering of bark ringing out around the woods.

Despite the warmer weather, the trees were still bare, meaning that it was much easier to pick out each bird amongst the branches. Wrens and tiny willow tits sneaked from place to place, hunting for insects amongst the bark. Blue tits chirruped out to one another from the tree tops, swooping down to gather up nesting materials; moss, bits of feathers and leaves. There was so much activity today, as wildlife prepared for the warmer months ahead. The woodland floor still has many curled, dry leaves scattered, however the bluebells are nearly fully grown; they are yet to sprout flowers, but the plants are lush and green and plentiful. Soon, there will be movement amongst these shrubs. Lots of pygmy shrews will be here, known only because of the movement of the flora and the high-pitched squeaks as they encounter each other whilst snuffling for worms and grubs in the soil, leading to territorial tussles. For now though, the leaves stay motionless. The shrews are elsewhere; although where they go to fight off the winter cold and keep their fat reserves up I am not sure: they need to eat regularly and cannot store enough fat to hibernate so I presume there is somewhere more suitable than here.

When I did finally head back towards the office, I took my time, walking slowly, on the backs of my heels so that each footstep is as soft and quiet as possible. As I walked, the sun illuminated parts of the path as I weaved through the trees. The light glimpsed off undisturbed spider webs, woven between the trunks by an unseen arachnids. I spied two moths, no bigger than a few millimetres flitting around each other. In the distance, a large creamy-yellow butterfly, too far away to identify, floated by, its wings warmed by the rays. I slowed my steps to barely moving as I heard the sound of shuffling and through some brambles I saw a flash of red; my favourite bird. The pheasant eyed me as it took large strides through the undergrowth, elongating each step and stretching its claws with each footstep as though the floor was unpleasant. I watched for a while, it seemingly unperturbed by my presence, until I turned to continue my walk. The movement seemed to frighten it and it took off; like a sudden orchestral crescendo, bursting through the trees and soaring over the river to a nearby field, negating the air in that way that only gamebirds can – both graceful and awkward at the same time.

As I continued out of the woodland and up through the little meadow, everything about me was calm. I had not thought about anything but the moment; the light, the warmth, the colour, the activity. And even though everything around me had a touch of chaos to it, there was order and nothing was more relaxing than that moment.

Nature is restorative, and I know it is to be one of the few things that can change my attitude. At each point I stopped; taking it in, trying to make memories of each feeling my senses were enjoying. So that later, at two in the morning, when my mind would explodes with energy, instead of staring at a beach on a screen I have never been to, an ocean I have never tasted, a mountain top I have never experienced all whilst actually aggravating my already fitful mind with blue light, I can simply delve into my memory bank and transport myself right back to that exquisite moment of peace in the woods, where the sights and sounds are tangible and where the only thing I have to worry about is trying to take it all in.

 

Seal Pup release

Originally published on The Cornish Seal Sanctuary blog:

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The Cornish Seal Sanctuary, where I work, had their first official release of the season with 6 pups being released back into the wild.

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Grey seal pups Alfred, Charlestown, Grambler, Warleggan, Ted and Crofty were all released at Porthtowan Beach. The planned release is a major operation involving several members of the Sanctuary team. The rehabilitation pool was drained, and then each pup was herded into a cage and then transferred to a trailer which was then driven onto the beach to be safely released.

Usually as soon as a pup has reached 40kg and has received a clean bill of health they are then released back into the wild.

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There are a variety of reasons as to why grey seal pups need to be rescued, from malnutrition to being separated from their mum at just a few days old. This particular release included two pups who have had amazing recoveries from serious injuries.

Ted was rescued on 16th December from Gwithian Beach with a broken jaw, suspected to have been a casualty of the storms. After the vet had stabilized Ted with antibiotics and pain relief he was then given general anaesthetic to wire the jaw back together. Two months later the jaw was solid and the vet was finally able to remove the wire, and Ted has been feeding throughout, other than a wonky smile you’d have no idea what this brave little seal had been through.

Charlestown only has full vision in one eye. He had a badly ulcerated eye that required 2 months of eye drops and antibiotics and regular vet check-ups.  The eye is now healed but he has little vision in that eye. The team have been watching him closely to assess his ability to find fish and compete with the other seals.  No one has told Charlestown that he doesn’t have the same sight as the other pups – these amazing seals just learn to adapt. He has competed so well that he is now one of the larger pups and was ready for release.

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Tamara, the Curator at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary said “We are all so pleased to have been able to release the pups today; the first release is always particularly special and even more so as it’s our first release as part of the SEA LIFE Trust”

“We’ll miss them because we’ve got to know them all so well,” she added, “but at the same time it is great to see them back in the wild where they belong.”

The sanctuary plan to continue releasing Pups as soon as they are a healthy weight and well enough to return back to the wild.

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All photos by Alex Pearce

Influences

This piece was originally published on James Common’s blog Common By Nature. James asked what influenced me to take an interest in conservation and this is my response:

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When I was younger, I would occasionally feel jealous of friends who seemed to travel to the outer reaches of the world. They would head into the classroom after the school holidays with deep tans, photos of themselves bathing in warm seas and glamorous tales of mysterious places I knew nothing about. My holidays were nothing like this. They consisted of midges, anoraks and castle ruins. We never ventured outside of the UK when I was young and you could certainly never call anything we did glamorous.

It might sound boring in comparison, but my upbringing was incredible; outings were exciting and holidays filled with exploration and it is those moments which shaped my entire future.

A lot of our time together as a family involved getting outside and into nature and I have the most wonderful memories of these experiences; collecting shells from the beach and accidentally taking home a tiny crab which I tried to keep alive in the bath; pulling up in the car somewhere that always ‘had to have a view’ in order to eat our sandwiches; building dams out of fallen branches and stones to hop across rivers; devising a book which would contain pressed leaves which would help the world with identification; trying to rescue dead jellyfish stranded on the beach; spending hours staring into the large pond in my parents garden, hunting for newts and dragonfly larvae…to us, the outside world was one big playground and the games were made through imagination.

One of my most prized possessions when I was young was a Michelin ‘Eye Spy’ Nature book; a little spotters guide and checklist. I poured over the photographs, only dreaming what it would be like to spot a fox, tick off a stag beetle from my list or figure out which cloud I was looking at. I loved animals and was fascinated with the sea; its vastness and the activity beneath the waves left me totally enchanted and all of this wonderment came through the trips we took as a family and the books my parents kept in the house. I couldn’t imagine actually seeing any of these natural wonders with my own eyes.

This excitement over the natural world has stayed with me and has influenced my life in so many ways. My love of the sea led me to study Marine Science and take up diving. My love of animals saw me work a zoo keeper for years and take an interest in education. And the realisation that it was wildlife that truly enthralled me led me to trying to educate through words and communication. Although these days I could tick off a large majority of the things in my little Eye Spy book and I have seen things I never thought I would, my tick list has simply gotten longer as I have gotten older and that little girl, getting over excited at the sight of any wildlife, is definitely still in there (except these days her hands are firmly placed around a camera instead of a round the pages of a tiny guide). The things we did as children also help our family retain our bond; we still stare into that same pond counting newts, my brothers were told off only a few years ago in Spain for creating a dam on a beach and clambering up rocks is just a standard day out for us all.

The truth is many children simply don’t get outside enough to experience the natural world as much as they should these days and are often given technology as a substitute. But I implore parents to get their kids outside as often as possible, because when I think of my childhood it’s not the toys I remember, but the day my brother and I swung bags filled with water at each other in the sea, the shells my mother and I found and tried to imagine the creatures that once lived in them and the fossils our family spotted together in the rocks at Lyme Regis. These are the moments that inspire children and shape them into the adults who could be the difference between harming our world and saving it.

 

Winter is coming. Again.

Tune into the news today and you will hear all about the ‘Beast from the East’; freezing winds arriving from Siberia, caused by a polar vortex. Phrases such as ‘3 feet of snow’ and ‘minus 15 degrees’ are being throw about on a whim at the moment, but the true extreme of the weather is yet to be seen.

Unfortunately for me, it could not have picked a worse time. Yesterday morning my fiancé hopped onto a plane and jetted off to the sunnier climes of Palma. Okay, so he was going to work which means hard physical labour and long days, but at least he gets to do it in a tshirt. I had also treated myself to a week off work. With him being away, it would mean that the dogs would be stuck at home alone all day, so I have taken time off to keep them entertained. I had planned on dedicating the week to the garden, I needed to re-establish some beloved stinging nettles which had been destroyed by cats before the red admiral breeding season started again, and January’s wet weather has been causing havoc with the lavender. But it seems that the weather has other ideas.

This morning, I woke early, bundled the dogs into the car and headed out to a local field. It is a field that we visit fairly often; a space which has easy access from the car to the grass is something valued quite highly by Lexus, my collie x lab. He has mobility issues and cannot walk too far but loves to lie about on sand or grass at any given opportunity. We had last visited this particular field around a week ago, and I recall thinking to myself how much it felt like spring. There was nothing in particular that I could put my finger on, just that feeling that the world was on the change.

Today, my surroundings were completely different. My car temperature read 2.5 degrees, but outside the wind chill feels a lot colder. A smattering of snow had been falling for several hours, the flakes tiny and dry. Thankfully they were not settling. Yet. Whilst Lex lolloped awkwardly over to somewhere he could sit and investigate and Laika ran off to explore and chase her ball, I walked the perimeter, partly to warm up and partly to explore.

The last time we had been here the ground had been soft, puddles of sloppy mud left from when the rain felt as though it would never cease. I spent a lot of energy trying to redirect Laika, who often finds herself drawn to the muckiest of spots. Today, the ground is hard; tractor tyre marks solidified in the mud, the ridges make the walk uncomfortable. The tracks had been caused when a machine had circled the fields outskirts, cutting the top of the hedgerows. I felt saddened at the change; where only a week a go a large patch of galls had been threaded through an entanglement of branches, now just stood stark, spiky cut offs of branches, like rough stubble. Galls were littered on the floor. I moved many of them back into the hedgerow, hoping that being on the floor wouldn’t scupper the wasps inside chances of survival. These hedgerows are usually full of birds too, Stonechats, tree sparrows, chaffinches; many different species come here, hopping around between the branches, enjoying the cover and spoils the hedgerows have to offer, from blackberry fruits in autumn, to seed heads in the winter. Now, the birds had been forced to move on, their lifeline cut off and removed. I understand there must be a reason for this, but I have never seen these fields used for livestock or for crops in the years I have been visiting them to walk.

One mercy if that the grass has not yet been cut. Not only are there signs of rabbits enjoying the area, but around here the long grass usually hides a special bird. Sometimes, when I am here in the winter and the sun has already set, if I shine my torch around the fields I will catch a glint of sets of eyes, glinting in the light, staring directly back at me. After a few seconds, the animal will launch itself into the air with a flurry of sound. Snipes are quite common around here, the long grassed fields above Loe Bar providing the perfect habitat for them. In the summer, they are a delight to observe. The males launching themselves in to air, reaching dizzying heights, making loud drumming sounds as the air passes through the feathers in their tails, hoping to attract a mate. For now, they lie low, disturbed only when my crazy dog gets a little too close to their hiding places. WE don’t stay too long, the freezing temperatures managing to get through my 7 layers. Instead, I decide that today we will have to focus on entertainment at home, intermingled with short bursts of exercise throughout the day, instead of our usual long trips outside the house. I worry about Laika as the has a very short coat but isn’t very bright, so is unlikely to tell me when the cold has set in. On the drive back, the snow flurry increases and I can see it settling on the dormers of houses. The sun is due to make an appearance tomorrow before the snow really sets in on Wednesday and I plan for us to make the most of it whilst we can. Spring? You lied to me.

Goin’ Bodmin

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A few Sundays ago, I was woken by a sound familiar to every dog owner; Laika, my blue staffy was being sick. It was 3am when I had to get up, calm her down and clear up the mess and by the time I had finished, I knew sleep would not return to me. Thus it was, I found myself packing my back pack and heading up to Bodmin Moor at 5am. The drive itself was pleasant, I saw few cars on the road and was guided for the full hour by my headlamps. Arriving in Bodmin a little after 6, I still had over an hour before the sun would be in the sky, giving me the perfect opportunity to find a place to enjoy its rise – easier said than done. I have been given many instructions over time about great places to visit in Bodmin, but attempting to locate anywhere in pitch black without having my bearings proved extremely difficult  and on multiple occasions I found myself turning down road after road to discover it led to nothing more than a dirt track.

Slowly, as time passed, the earth came to life. The sky was painted in an inky blue, the watercolour effect of the light seeping in starting from the horizon and despite the cold, I lowered my windows to listen to the first calls of the birds; blackbirds and robins up and singing early, despite the fact the sun had not yet risen. I found myself driving through a field which was flanked by a mixture of wild horses and ponies. Bodmin has lots of wild ponies; they have roamed the area for thousands of years. Many are owned by locals who allow them to live a free life, the moors providing the right habitat and enough food to keep them going. One white animal however was covered in mud, its hooves covered in thick brown dirt. It appeared to have a slight limp but was nervous, moving away from my car as I passed. There have been issues with the Bodmin ponies before; in fact, back in 2011, several ponies were found emaciated and later dead due to lack of care. The council stepped in and along with the support of horse charities in the area, the ponies were all looked after. Still, after I got home I contacted the South West Equine Protection group to let them know of the animal in the hope that someone might be able to head out and check on it to ensure that everything was okay.

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Some of the many ponies on the moors

As well as the ponies, there are a lot of cows and sheep that also roam free across the moors. Many of these animals have become used to human interaction, and whilst they won’t approach you, nor do they run from humans. I was particularly enamoured with the Highland cattle, theirs eyes hidden beneath their thick fringes, their sharp horns at odds with their otherwise soft and slightly dopey appearance. These cows have beautiful faces and are difficult not to fall in love with.

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Highland coo
Bodmin 4
Very impressive

As the sun began to rose, I came across Delford Bridge, a small concrete bridge which crosses a shallow river. As I drove slowly over it, the sun began to finally rise over the moors, bathing the fields in a stunning light and revealing the true beauty of the area. All around me I could see nothing but the blue of the sky and the patchwork of the craggy pastures, knitted together by expertly made Cornish walls and patches of wild gorse.

Bodmin 1.2
Morning has broken

I carried on my journey, getting increasingly lost. Pulling over, I scrabbled in my bag for a scrap of paper I had written a postcode down on. It was a post code for a mini car park so that I could stop and climb some of the local hills. The direction took my back onto the A30 for a time, before suddenly turning off to the left and onto a dirt track. The feeling that something wasn’t right started to niggle in my stomach, but I carried on, before getting to a thin road. Half way down, the pot holes started, but with marsh land on each side, there wasn’t really the space to turn around; I had to continue till the end. As I drove, increasingly slower, a sudden movement in front of me made me touch my breaks. Something large had jumped across the road, from one patch of gorse to another. Then another figure leapt from one side to the other, then another, and another. I sat for some minutes, waiting before driving in case there were other creatures hiding in the bushes waiting for their moment. When I was sure this wasn’t the case, I drove slowly again along the track and over a tiny bridge, leading to a solitary farm. Following the path that the animals were likely to have taken, led me to a few fields and sure enough a herd of roe deer stood, huddled together, staring directly at me. I didn’t take the chance to get any closer, fearing I would frighten them off. Roe deer are a fairly small deer species, with large ears, large black eyes and a large black muzzle. They are native to Britain and have been year for over 10,000 years. Once extinct in England due to hunting and habitat destruction, roe deer made a comeback, breeding from those which remained in Scotland, after work on woodland habitats meant that the right conditions have been re-established so the species can flurry once more. They are usually solitary, but in winter the animals will come together in small groups and it was amazing for me to get the opportunity to see them. They seemed completely at ease where they were, clearly spending time tearing through the countryside and across farmers land, where it is quiet enough that they likely get the peace they so desire.  I watched them for a while. Some of them disregarded me, continuing to eat and go about their own business. Others watched me cautiously, whilst one large individual did not take its eyes off me. Roe deer mate during the winter months but are able to perform embryonic diapause; when the egg does not implant and the baby begin to develop till January. There are a few species that can do this; wallaby’s and polecats to name but two. It is thought that this is to birth the animals during a more appropriate time. For roe deer, it is thought that harsh winters are the reason why the deer’s go through this delay, meaning that the babies will be born as the spring arrives. I did not stay too long, not wishing to interrupt their solitude and as I had hit a dead end, begrudgingly started back along the dirt path, crossing my fingers that my little car would make it out okay.

Deer 5
You ever feel like, somebody’s watching you?
Deer 1
Cute bum!

Back at the main road, I headed in the direction of home but stopped off at Colliford Lake. There was no one else around, the air deathly quiet except for the occasional bleat of a sheep. I walked through the fields to reach the lake side. By the clear water, there was a lot of evidence of waterfowl, but not a single one was in sight. Behind me, separated by fencing, rooks, magpies and jackdaws walked between the sheep, picking at the earth for their breakfasts. A sudden commotion broke out, and at first I thought the birds were arguing amongst themselves. I walked a little closer, watching the birds fly up, surrounding something. Through the entanglement of angry wings, a large buzzard was attempting to make its way out of the fray, not doubt simply looking for its own sustenance amongst the grass. The corvids worked together to push it out of the field and it rose higher, circling the area before heading off towards the horizon.

Bodmin 5
Buzzard

I walked around the lake a little more, the landscape appearing bleaker with every step. I stood for a while, staring across the flat, crystal water. There was no life in the water that I could see, but beneath that translucent still surface, there would have been a myriad of excitement going on, a whole other world that I wasn’t able to explore. I headed back to the car to continue the journey home, taking the back roads past fields and through woodlands, admiring the scenery and dreaming of the day when I would be able to buy my own house up here, surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but wildlife. By the time I was forced out on to the A30, the sun was high in the sky and even though it was still not yet midday, it felt as though I had been out for ages.

I STILL haven’t climbed Brown Willy, the crown of Bodmin and the highest point in the county, but I will be heading back to Bodmin as soon as I can. There is something so alluring about this area of Cornwall; the raw, rugged landscape has an air of mystery to it, as though you can never be sure what is around the corner. Steeped in history and tales of beasts and ghostly sightings, the moors have long been a source of fear-tinged obsession for many. In fact, the term ‘going Bodmin’ even means to be going a little crazy, thought to be from spending too much time alone here in the wilderness, the locals here were once described as being a little different due to their stark surroundings.

As soon when the weather warms up, I will be packing up the trail cam, jumping in the van and spending the weekend in the area; wildlife and tales of  ghostly apparitions, what more could you ask for?!

Bodmin 8
Windswept
No camera means fancy mobile shots only!

Over the weekend, my partner and I found ourselves with a couple of days off together. As the sun had decided to make a rare appearance, we agreed that we would spend as much time as we possible could outside. Our first excursion was over to Poldhu beach, also sometimes known Black Pool Cove, Mullion. The beach has a dog ban from Easter through to October due to how busy it gets, so we still get to enjoy it for the next month. The cove here and round the headland at Gunwalloe, both are quite changeable and when we arrived in the morning, a small pool had appeared further up the beach and the dogs spent a happy time paddling, dunking their heads underneath the chilly water to look for rocks at the bottom.

Whilst we entertained Lexus and Laika, Justin and I debated where to go and explore, and as per usual, settled on the decision of ‘lets just go and see what happens’. We dropped the dogs back at home; Lexi’s leg isn’t currently good enough for him to walk any distance, and headed towards Penzance. Travelling in a van can really change the perspective of journeys you have taken previously; being that little bit further up means you can suddenly see things you never could in a car. I forget sometimes, that even thought they don’t have the drama of the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall does have rolling hills, despite its unfair label of being ‘boringly flat’. We passed through Marazion and peered out at people walking the path to St Michael’s Mount, which is revealed at low tide, the castle appearing to glitter in the sunlight.

As we passed Penzance, a few ‘which turning?’ questions were fired out as we approached roundabouts and we eventually found ourselves taking the turning that led down the steep slipway to Sennen Cove. As it was half term, the beach on the right was fairly busy, with some brave souls even venturing into the water. First stop was the local café where we grabbed some cake and stood in the sunshine overlooking the water, eating thick slabs of rich tiffin and coffee cake. Not exactly the best idea before climbing the steps to reach the coastal path, but despite the feeling of having large rocks in our stomachs, we made it to the top and went to the watchhouse to look out across the water.

The West coast of Cornwall is famous for it’s fantastic bird watching opportunities, and Sennen is no exception. Along the shore line 3 egrets sat at random intervals, too far out for me to ID properly. An oystercatcher began to call when another flew to join it, before together they continued pecking around the rockpools for their lunch. In the sky was a mixture of gull species and I identified herring, greater black-backed and Glaucus gulls, and between them, large white birds with thick black wings tips. Every now and again, one of the circling individuals would suddenly dive downwards, reaching high speeds, their long neck outstretched. Their sharp beak would hit the water and the birds would disappear beneath the waves. Gannets are an honour to watch when they are hunting, they divebomb towards the ocean with the most incredible aerodynamics, reaching up to speeds of over 60mph. Their dives, which will start as high as 30m above the waterline, help to propel them under the water, giving them the opportunity to hunt deeper than most other species. The dives are powerful, but gannets have air sacs in their face and chest to help cushion the impact.

As we were watching the acrobatics take place, 3 dark shapes cut through the water, dorsal fins rising and falling with the waves. Bottlenose dolphins are seen fairly often at Sennen and whilst we only spotted 3 breaching the surface, pods of up to 15 individuals have been sighted in the area, and more may have been staying underwater. They seemed to be making their way in towards the shore, but a few metres out, where the water appeared shallower, we lost track of them, assuming that they must have changed direction.

Before we continued our walk, I let a couple heading up the headland brandishing large-lensed camera’s (something I had disappointingly forgotten to bring with me) know about the dolphins; sharing the excitement with others is something I always do, hoping that others can share in those special wildlife moments. Around the headland, we watched as two rock climbers scaled the rock face and another photographer dared herself closer to the edge to try and photograph the corvids which swopped around the crevices of the rock face. A pair of jackdaws argued as they flitted in and out of a hidden space. It is too early for them to be nesting already, but pairs tend to stick together, forming very strong bonds with each other throughout their lives, so it is possible that this pair was window shopping. Jackdaws like to nest in small spaces, and whilst it seems the majority of them seem to be in mine and my neighbours’ chimneys, rock faces are highly favoured spots to start a family in. They will start to lay around April time before babies fledge around June.

The sun was short-lived, and the rain set in causing us to make for home. The dogs had been alone for a couple of hours, so it was about the right time for another walk anyway, albeit a slightly soggy one, before the 4 of snuggled up under a blanket in front of a film as the came down outside the window.