Wildlife top 7: What to look out for this summer on the Lizard

Common Dolphins break the surface

Now summer is here at last there’s no better place to spend time outdoors than around Lizard Point with its wealth of wildlife and protected habitats. To help make the most of your visit we’ve compiled this short guide to seven species that represent this diversity, and hope it will be useful for nature lovers of all ages and experience. Some of them will be easy to spot, but with others binoculars or a telescope will help with identification. Patience may be needed as animals and birds don’t always turn up when and where expected—it’s often just being in the right place at the right time.

1. Atlantic Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus): Grey seals are found along rocky shorelines and don’t seem to mind choppy sea conditions, which makes Lizard Point the perfect location for these engaging creatures. There is half a dozen seals that spend a lot of time here at Lizard Point, others stop off here on their way along the coast.

When and where to see them: At high tide they can be seen swimming around the Point, or at rest with just their heads above water, a pose known as ‘bottling’. At low tide they ‘haul out’ on to the rocks, where they may be easier to spot with binoculars or a telescope from the wildlife watchpoint. 

Identification: Males tend to be larger, darker and plainer with some white spots. They also have longer and broader noses. Females tend to have more delicate faces and lighter fur with black spots. Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT) volunteers monitor the grey seals here at Lizard Point and identify them by their individual fur patterns, which are as unique as human fingerprints. Grey seals are the biggest land breeding wild mammal in the UK; they can grow up to 2.5m and weigh up to 250kg (the weight of 3 adult humans!). 

An Atlantic Seal pops up at Lizard Point
An Atlantic Seal pops up above the water at Lizard Point
An Atlantic Seal pops up at Lizard Point

2. Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax): This year (2018) the pair of breeding choughs near Lizard Point successfully raised four chicks.

When and where to see them: Kynance Cove is a favourite destination for the chough family, but they are often spotted along the coast either side of Lizard Point. They also return to roost in the area where they nested making evenings and early mornings a good time to see them  just east of the lighthouse.

Identification: Look out for a medium sized crow that has a bright red curved beak and red legs. They also have broad wings and fingered wing-tips. On the wing they are acrobatic  and can often be heard before they are seen. Listen out for their distinctive call, a high-pitched ‘chee-ow’.

A Chough chick with its parent
A Chough chick with its parent near Lizard Point
A Chough chick with its parent

3. Clouded Yellow Butterfly (Colias Croceus): These hardy butterflies migrate to the Lizard Point area from North Africa and southern Europe.

When and where to see them: In warm weather on coastal fields, cliffs tops and heathland, such as the Lizard National Nature Reserve, where wild flowers provide food for the butterfly and its larvae.

Identification: They rest on plants with their wings closed, showing pale yellow-green undersides that have a few dark markings and a silver spot. It’s when flying that the clouded yellow shows off its eye-catching golden-yellow wings with the ‘clouded’ dark irregular border.

A clouded yellow butterfly seen in the summer near Lizard Point
A clouded yellow butterfly sits on a plant at Lizard Point
A clouded yellow butterfly seen in the summer near Lizard Point

4. Cornish Heath (Erica vagans): In Britain this heather only grows on the Lizard Peninsula where the underlying serpentine rock provides the perfect conditions.

Where and when to see it: At Kynance Cove and the surrounding area where it flowers in July and August.

Identification: A tall spikey heather that grows in clumps alongside gorse and bell-heathers. The pink bell-shaped flowers, that sprout dark red anthers, attracts bees and other pollinators.

Erica Vagans - Cornish Heath, growing on the Lizard.
Erica Vagans unique to the Lizard in Cornwall
Erica Vagans - Cornish Heath, growing on the Lizard.

5. Dolphines and Porpoises:

Where and when to see them: Around the coast at Lizard Point when the sea is calm. Watch out for fins moving quickly through the water or sleek bodies breaching the surface. The best place to try and see them is from the Wildlife Watchpoint where the volunteers will be on hand to help guide you. 

i. Bottlenose Dolphin (Tusiops truncates) Length: 2.5—4m. Greyish brown in colour with paler undersides. They have a short blunt beak and a tall dorsal fin that curves slightly backwards.

A Bottlenose Dolphin leaps from the water
A Bottlenose Dolphin leaps from the water
A Bottlenose Dolphin leaps from the water

ii. Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus) Length 3—3.5m. Greyish brown but older animals become pale and are criss-crossed with white scars. They have a blunt beak and a tall dorsal fin that curves backwards.

iii. Short-Beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) Length: 1.8—2.3m. The upper body is dark grey whilst undersides are white—these markings are said to resemble an hourglass. They have a short beak and a triangular dorsal fin that curves slightly backwards.

Common Dolphins break the glassy surface
Common Dolphins break the surface
Common Dolphins break the glassy surface

iv. Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) Length: 1.4—1.9m. The upper body is mainly grey whilst the undersides are whiter. They have a blunt head with no beak and its triangular dorsal fin is set farther back.

6. Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus): These birds spend the winter off the coast of Argentina, Brazil and south-west Africa. In spring they fly north tho thier UK breeding grounds, making the journey (approx. 13,000km) in under a fortnight. They are identifiable by thier dark backs and white bellies skimming the sea surface, with thier flap-flap-glide motion. Through it's migratory travels alone each manx shearwater will cover a minimum of 1 million km (621,000 miles) in its lifetime. 

When and where to see them: These summer visitors are frequently seen in groups flying out at sea from the Wildlife Watchpoint at Lizard Point.

Identification: They have black upperparts and white undersides with a dark underwing margin. In flight they glide and bank close to the waves on stiff narrow wings. Look out for their flap-flap-glide wing beat pattern.

A Manx Sharwater flies close to the surface
A Manx Shearwater flies close to the surface
A Manx Sharwater flies close to the surface

7. Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus mauretanicus): In the summer months some of these shearwaters wander north to the Cornish coast from the western Mediterranean. They are slightly bigger than the Manx and have sooty-brown upperparts and buff-grey undersides.

A Balearic Shearwater in flight
Balearic Shearwater in flight
A Balearic Shearwater in flight

By Bev Payton - Lizard Point Wildlife Watchpoint Volunteer