Phil Starkey’s views of Cornwall in Winter

I have lived in Cornwall for twenty six years after moving down from Cambridgeshire as a child with my family. We moved to the most southerly tip possible, The Lizard peninsula and to The Lizard village itself. To say that for the majority of the winter you couldn’t see the coastline for fog is rather an understatement, but when it was clearer it was quite something. I used to be able to walk from my house to the ever popular Kynance Cove and sit on the cliff tops, watching the huge waves batter the rocks in storms, golden light fall over the cove itself at the end of the day, and watch the wide range of beautiful wildlife there. From Peregrines and other wonderful birds, to Seals and even the odd Whale out to sea if you were lucky.

Kynance-Cove, Cornwall in Winter

Kestrel

I spent ten years on this peninsula walking the clifftops, often on my own, learning more and more about how the weather, landscape and it’s wildlife all worked in harmony, how it changed with the seasons, and I grew to know it well. As an adult I expanded the areas to which I visited in Cornwall, walking the coastal paths in all conditions and applying everything that I had learnt as a child, and this has helped me greatly with photographing it. I now know what to look out for, when and where, although at times it all doesn’t necessarily fall into place as I’d like it to. Mother Nature, as we all know, is very unpredictable.

Gunwalloe-Cove

For a landscape photographer Cornwall in winter can be a frustrating place. It’s well known that during this season it can be incredibly stormy, very wet, and also very grey, so trying to get those spectacular well lit photographs of the coastline is quite a challenge. You are forever watching the forecasts, listening to the radio, and looking at your favourite surf and tide apps on your phone to keep abreast of the ever changing conditions ready to grab your gear and pounce when you think it’s all going to come together at the right place and at the time. Quite often, it still doesn’t work out and you end up with nothing at the end of your efforts. It doesn’t put me off though, I love a good bit of stormy weather.

Porthleven

I have wedged myself between rocks, been buffeted as if in a rally car in an absolute gale on the cliffs, and got absolutely soaked by waves in order to get what I wanted photographically. However, one thing I must stress is that I never put myself in danger whilst doing so, and this is when using the knowledge that I’ve built up about the Cornish coast over the years comes into it’s own. Us coastal photographers are constantly faced with other issues too, like sea spray on lenses, salt on equipment, and tripods being rendered pretty much useless in the battle to shoot a sharp image. All of these things though simply add to the enjoyment, excitement, and challenge of photography in Cornwall during the winter. I for one relish it.

Sennen-Cove

It’s not always stormy however, and we do get some beautiful moments of calm and tranquility. One of my most favourite spots for photographing during the winter is where I live now in Penryn, on Exchequer Quay down by the tidal river. I tend to go there before dawn to set up my gear and simply sit, wait and take it all in. If you listen you can hear the familiar ‘pip’ of Kingfishers up and down the river, and are sometimes lucky enough to get a fly past or two. Plus as the sun begins to rise, and if the tide is right, other wading birds like Little Egrets, the amber status Redshank, and red status Curlew start waking up and feeding amongst the mud flats. Another lovely thing about photographing here during the winter is that for part of the season we get the sun rising directly down the river making for some wonderful reflections and colour.

Exchequer-Quay,-Penryn

I think what I’m trying to say in this little blog is, wherever you decided to photograph, to get the most out of it that you can, you need to take the time out to learn as much as you possibly can about it. Spend time on your own in it, read about it, walk around it, and most importantly keep your eyes and ears wide open in order for your mind to collect as much information about it as possible. This knowledge will then go on to help you immensely when on a mission to photograph it.

Many thanks indeed to Alice for inviting me to write a guest blog for her website, and don’t forget to check out her fantastic work and personal blog posts also.

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. Regards, Phil.

Perranporth

Phil-StarkeyLogoColorTextBelow

Phil is a photographer from Penryn in Cornwall, and has a great love for the county that she lives in and the surrounding south west. She enjoys walking all over Cornwall with her camera, in almost all weathers, in search of it’s stunning landscapes and fantastic nature. Her interest in photography started when her son was younger, and like any parent snapped away with a little compact. This soon progressed into wanting to know more about how to shoot for a better image. After a lot of reading up she decided to buy an old 35mm film Canon 100 SLR and this is where the journey began. She now enjoys photographing anything that interests her, however landscapes are a firm favourite. See her website for more beautiful images. She also tweets at @PhilStarkey and has her own Facebook page

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Cypriot spring – part 2

Last week I started to tell you about the joys of a Cypriot spring and some of the wonderful wildflowers and other wildlife that calls this magical Mediterranean island home. I realised that there was far too much to share in a single post and so I invite you to join me now for the second half of my trip. You will recall that I mentioned we were getting ready to move to our next hotel. We had already packed up but before breakfast I joined a couple of others on another early morning ramble where we saw Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Common Whitethroat and a flock of Corn Buntings. We came across a lovely patch of Gladiolus italics and watched a Violet Carpenter Bee feeding on some Prasium which prompted us to think of our own stomachs and return to the hotel for some breakfast of our own.

Having loaded up the vehicles we took a leisurely hour or two enjoying a nearby botanical garden and a coastal walk taking in swathes of Cyclamen among the Asparagus Peas and Turban Buttercups on the grassy banks beneath the trees. I also had a wonderful close encounter with another Sardinian Warbler in a bush beside the path.

 

Sardinian Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

 

Having enjoyed the gentle walk we were soon on our way to our next destination. We stopped on the way for some lunch and I came across a wonderful Black Morrel mushroom at our picnic site. Having eaten we also made a couple more stops, the first of which was at an enclosure where we could see some of the endemic Cyprus Mouflon. I can’t say I was pleased to see them in captivity, it would have been far more exciting to see them in the wild, but with so few remaining I was happy to see any at all and their enclosure was very natural so I didn’t feel too bad. An added bonus was finding the endemic Butterfly Orchid just outside the fence although it was in tight bud.

The next stop wasn’t far away in Cedar Valley which was completely different to what we had seen so far and very beautiful. As the name suggests the valley was lined with towering Cyprus Cedars, another endemic species, and it was wonderfully peaceful with no sound apart from birdsong. There were a few Prunus trees blossoming among the Cedars and we found two more endemic plants, a little white flowered cress (Thlaspi cyprium) and a pretty yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea juliae). In places the latter formed a delicate yellow carpet under the trees.

We were soon back in the cars for the last leg of our journey to our hotel in the village of Platres high in the mountains. We finally found it nestled between pine trees with Pallid Swifts screaming high above.

The following morning we made a couple of very local stops, the first of which was to learn about the geology of the island. It was fascinating to understand that it is unlike any other Mediterranean island and that this is one of the major contributing factors in the number of endemic plant species that occur here. The second stop was at a local visitor centre. The first thing we saw was a Cyprus Pied Wheatear and shortly afterward we caught sight of the endemic Short Toed Tree Creeper. We also found an endemic Spurge (Euphorbia veneris) which was being pollinated by tiny bees. I would have liked to investigate further but time was of the essence!

 

Euphorbia veneers

Euphorbia veneris

 

We continued uphill to the summit of Mount Olympus where we found a different Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea villosa) which had soft downy hairs up the stem. There were also patches of an endemic Buttercup and endemic Crocuses among the pine cones under the trees.

 

Crocus cyprius

Crocus cyprius and Ranunculus cadmicus var. cyprius

 

Along with the flowers we came across a Violet Oil Beetle which had extraordinary colouring like the sheen of a petrol spill, the endemic subspecies of Coal Tit feeding in the Black Pines above our heads, more Cyprus Pied Wheatears and a Large White butterfly making the most of every available nectar source in the cool mountain air.

In the afternoon we moved down the mountain to find stunning blue Scillas which had the most wonderful common name – Lady Loch’s Glory of the Snows (Chionodoxa lochiae). Despite my best efforts it was a struggle to photograph these little gems well, they were tucked in amongst the pine needles and other forest floor debris and in deep shade beneath the trees. Nevertheless it was lovely to find them and they were accompanied by budding wild Peonies and breathtaking views down the valley over the tree tops.

Our last stop of the day was further down the mountain again. It was fascinating to see how the flora changed with the altitude. There were a few plants which we had seen before but which were better specimens here, these included two that I particularly enjoyed; the endemic Thymus integer which had very long flowers, and the pretty candy-striped Vicia lunata.

 

Thymus integer

Thymus integer

Vicia-lunata

Vicia lunata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were orchids too including Dense Flowered Orchid, Yellow Roman Marsh Orchid, Giant Orchid, and a different subspecies, Ophrys alasiatica. Many of these were going over but there were lots of other lovely things to look at such as Tassel Hyacinths and yet another endemic Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum chionophilum). Of course we weren’t just after the wildflowers either, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth caught my attention feeding on the Thyme and we spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a Masked Shrike atop a nearby pine tree. The wildlife watching didn’t stop there either as we went out after dinner to see a Scops Owl in the car park of the hotel!

Our early morning walk the next day took in endemic subspecies of Jay and more Coal Tits as well as some lovely views of mist in the valleys below. The day began properly after breakfast as we set out down the mountain. We paused on the way to take in a wonderful close view of a beautiful male Masked Shrike just beside the road.

 

Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike

 

Our first proper stop was a flower-rich roadside track which yielded some incredible plants. I hardly know where to start but I will name a few to set the scene; Rough Poppies (Papaver hybridum) which have bright blue stamens, Ground Pine (Ajuga chamaepitys var. cypria) which is actually a rather pretty low-growing yellow Bugle, Squirting Cucumber (Ecballium elaterium) and a beautiful rare Vetch (Lathyrus clymenum) which has quite a large pink and purple flower. The star find though was a stunning Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida) which is also very rare and caused quite a bit of excitement among our little group!

 

Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida)

Purple Horned Poppy (Roemeria hybrida)

 

The number of orchid species there was also quite amazing – we found at least 8 different species on a small bank! There were three which we hadn’t seen before, Ophrys tricolour, the Four-Spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana) and the Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia), along with several others which we had seen elsewhere but were delighted to find again.

 

Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

Ophrys lapethica

Ophrys lapethica

Four-spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana)

Four-spotted Orchid (Orchis sezikiana)

 

After a lovely lunch in a local cafe we found a spot for a gentle walk near a monastery. Once again we found ourselves in a flowery haven with orchids and other lovely plants galore. There were lots of lizards around too and we seemed to be noticing more insect life such as White Spotted Rose Beetles which had a tendency to look as though they had fallen asleep in their dinner while face down feeding in the daisies! A particularly special find was Europe’s smallest butterfly, the Grass Jewel, which has a wingspan of just over 1cm!

 

Grass Jewel Butterfly

Grass Jewel Butterfly

 

Our final stop was at an unusual watermill where an aqueduct ran into a tower with a funnel inside directing the water onto a horizontal wheel. It was a lovely area with a few nice flowers but the highlight apart from the architecture was finding Cyprus Marsh Frogs amongst the reeds.

The next morning was our last on the island and I took the opportunity before we left to have a quick walk along the road from our hotel in the opposite direction to normal. I was most glad that I had as I came across the best specimens yet of Giant Orchids (Himantoglossum robertianum) which stand over a foot tall.

We made two stops on the way back to the airport, the first at a beautiful traditional village called Omodos where we stocked up on delicious treats from a local bakery. The second was more of a chance to stretch our legs beside the road. It was well worth it as we found swathes of Naked Man Orchids interspersed with Orchis syriaca and a superb specimen of Ophrys alasiatica. There were Cleopatra and Brown Argus butterflies flitting around in the sunshine as well as Snake-Eyed and Troodos Lizards chasing each other between sun-bathing spots on the bare rocks. The real treat came in seeing a Hoopoe and 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos competing for territory in a field by the road though. What a way to end a wonderful trip!

 

Ophrys alasiatica

Ophrys alasiatica

 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my account of a wonderful trip taking in the Cypriot spring. I will summarise by saying that while Orchids were not the sole focus of this tour they certainly made up a large proportion of it – we found a whopping 31 species in 9 days which is fairly astonishing in itself. As for all the other wonderful flowers, I couldn’t possibly begin to count! This beautiful mediterranean island is a holiday destination for many but the diversity of its flora and fauna in the spring time is under-rated or indeed missed almost entirely by most. Perhaps I’ve inspired you to take a trip and experience it for yourself – get in touch and let me know what wild wonders you discovered out there!

 

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