Cornish creatures: summer wildlife spotting in St Ives
21st July 2018
There was a blue shark spotted in St Ives harbour earlier this summer. Exciting stuff; but before we all get carried away with St Ives as the new Amity Island, the blue shark is not a typical summer visitor. However, our Gulf-stream climate and warm seas do attract some fabulous and fascinating creatures.
Who do we usually share our waters, skies and land with?
Summer sea visitors
We’re used to seeing sharks in Cornwall; however the typical cartilaginousvisitor is the basking shark, not its blue cousin. These harmless plankton-feeders arrive in May and swim around our shores until the autumn. With their huge size (up to twelve metres) and gaping jaws, they’re impressive-looking fish.
A fin doesn’t necessarily mean a shark. You may be lucky and spot an elusive sunfish in the Cornish seas, or even a shy minke whale – there were minkes spotted near Padstow a few weeks ago.
And of course, everyone loves to see the dolphins. We often see pods of bottlenose and common dolphins around the Cornish coast. Seals are another favourite sea mammal: we see them near St Ives, but the colony at Godrevy near Hayle is the best place to catch a glimpse of them. Peer down at their sheltered cove. If you don’t see any seals at first, be patient. Eventually, one of those smaller boulders will start to move, then suddenly you realise the whole rocky seashore is alive with slowly meandering seals…
You can find out more about who lives in the Cornish seas in Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay.
On the wing
Yes, we’re all used to St Ives’ famous pasty-loving gulls. However, there are many more birds to spot in West Cornwall than the cheeky herring gulls, from the turnstones that scutter along Lambeth Walk to the ghostly barn owls you may glimpse near Polmanter at night.
A boat trip from St Ives harbour is the best way to see sea birds. Believe it or not, most feast on fish not chips, so the sea’s the best place to find them. Look out for gannets, razorbills and Manx shearwaters; and shags and cormorants nest on the cliffs. If you’re lucky, you may even see puffins, or Cornwall’s elusive emblem, the red-legged chough.
There’s an RSPB reserve on the Hayle Estuary, where you’ll see some splendid wading birds including oystercatchers and little egrets. Birdies Bistrois an excellent place to bird spot (and grab breakfast). Wherever you are in West Cornwall, look out for buzzards with their cat-like mew. Curlews often gather in the fields around here, and they have a distinctive cry of “curleee!”
For easy bird watching, Paradise Park in Hayle has many varieties of parrots plus owls, flamingos, penguins, eagles, choughs and the gorgeously-named tawny frogmouths (it’ll make sense when you see them). Screech Owl Sanctuary in Indian Queens (up the A30 towards Bodmin) is a wonderful place to find out more about these beautiful birds.
Paths and hedgerows
Out here in the Cornish countryside, Polmanter often gets a few extra visitors! There are foxes, hedgehogs and badgers in the area, and on summer evenings, look out for rapidly circling bats. There are Greater Horseshoe bats in Penwith who like to hibernate in disused mines – how Cornish is that?!
The warm summer has been great for butterflies and moths. Cornwall has 35 resident species of butterfly, and we’ve consciously planted shrubs and flowers at Polmanter that attract them, as well as bees. Look out for lizards on the warm rocks on warm summer days.
You can find out more about Cornish creatures at Newquay Zoo, which has a Native Wildlife Centre as well as many exotic species.
We hope you catch a glimpse of some of Cornwall’s creatures while you’re staying at Polmanter – and please let us know if you meet anyone unusual! And the blue shark? Well, after becoming a brief media sensation, she or he headed back to deeper waters, leaving the harbour to boats and gulls once more.
(Dolphin surf photo credit goes to Karen O’Dell – what a shot!)