Yesterday took me to Coverack. I have to confess that despite living in a county with some of the most beautiful coast on earth (not just my words, Botallack was voted one of the must see views before you die), I tend to spend more time in land. Woodlands, moors and meadows are more my thing. But when I head somewhere like Coverack, I remember what it is that makes Cornwall such a popular place. A tiny village with thatched-roof cottages, large stretches of golden sands and views that take your breath away.
I always keep my eyes peeled for wildlife wherever I go, but taking two overexcitable dogs with you on walks can often mean that it can be a little difficult – especially if you are trying to photograph something. We stopped at Coverack purely by chance, a muddy stomp across some local fields had proved to be a bit disheartening, so we swung in to let the dogs loose in the water.
As seems to be the current trend, the weather was quite mild, the sun was shining (of course, this was before storm Frank came barging in) and the tiny port was filled with seabirds, all bustling around waiting for the day’s catch to return, to see if they could pinch a morsel (I need to apologise for the photographic quality, I have a new lens and it is taking some getting used to!)
Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are an eye catching wader, their bright red-orange legs, eyes and bills are a stark contrast to their black and white plumage. Their bills are long to aid them in feeding, picking at the shoreline for mussels and cockles (not oysters, despite the name) or dig up worms and insects inland. The bills are powerful, they stab at shellfish, severing the abductor mussels, causing the bivalves to open and reveal the tasty treat inside. If this technique doesn’t work, then the birds will hammer at the shell until it breaks. This constant battering can sometimes leave their bills in a beaten state.
Oystercatchers live on the Cornish coast all year round, especially during the colder months. Some birds in the North of the country will head inland during the summer months and they have started to breed there more regularly in the last 50 years. Excitingly, they are a species which seems to have seen an increase in numbers in the last 40 years and there must be a correlation with their new found nesting habits.
Great Black-backed Gulls (Larus marinus) were another bird amongst the birds on the beach. To be honest, I don’t see many of them around so it was a treat to see a few in Coverack. Great black-backed are the largest gulls in the world and definitely have the gull attitude we have heard a lot about this summer, but their thieving often only occurs within other gull nests and colonies as they tend to steer clear of human interaction. In fact, some years ago it was suggested they might be the answer to Herring gull problems as the Great Black-backed began to move further into coastal towns. People had hoped they might bully the Herring gulls out of the area, decreasing the issues the Herring gulls cause. But this didn’t really happen and personally, I think this sort of behaviour would only cause further problems instead of fighting the problem at the cause: human-gull interaction. If people looked after their rubbish properly, stopped feeding the birds, stopped dumping fishing by-catch on the beaches and stopped destroying natural habitats, then maybe the problem would decrease (read more of my thoughts on Herring gulls here: (http://wildlifearticles.co.uk/the-gull-cull/)
Alongside the gull, there is another bird. This bird can sometimes be difficult to identify due to its similarity to another species.. so what is it? Well, here is a quick guide to telling the difference between the Cormorant and the Shag!
Both birds are members of the Pelican family. They are defined by their dark bodies, broad wings and long necks and at times, it can be quite difficult to tell them apart. a few quick tips are:
- Cormorants are bigger than shags. This is sometimes only useful if the two are together though!
- Cormorants have a thicker beak
- Cormorants have more skin between the face and the beak. This skin is often very yellow.
- In sunlight, Cormorant feathers have a blue sheen whereas Shag feather, a green sheen.
- When diving, Cormorants tend to slip smoothly beneath the water but Shags have a slightly more clumsy dive, often kicking out their back legs to increase the propulsion.
Generally, it is the beak that I go off and using that, you can see the beak of the bird above is quite thin and there is no extra skin. Therefore, we can surmise that it is a Shag. I took the close up below picture of a Shag in Falmouth. It was only a juvenile and it hopped out of the water and onto the step below me. It was quite a rare sight for me, as these birds often scarper before you can get close, so I was very honoured. It stayed for some time before slipping back into the water. I watched it dive in the area and it did have one quite unfortunate moment when it dove into a pillar…the mistake of a newbie. Thankfully, it was alright and continued on its way quite merrily.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS MY OWN