October wildlife watch with Cornwall Wildlife Trust

October is a fantastic month for getting about and discovering more about Cornwall’s varied and fascinating wildlife.


Like all mushrooms, most of the fungus is a mat of thread-like roots underground, and the toadstool we see is its fruiting body. The underside of the cap sheds tiny spores, too small to see, which may grow into a new fly agaric. The toadstool’s cap can measure up to 25cms across. It has tiny, hair-like roots, which attach themselves to tree roots so the toadstool can siphon off nutrients from the tree, yet this does not seem to damage the tree.

Be careful - the fly agaric is very poisonous. It can cause hallucinations, violent stomach upsets, muscle spasms and could even kill you! This toadstool was in fact once used to kill flies – hence its name. Small pieces of the fungi would be added to a saucer of milk and flies that fed on the milk were poisoned to death.

Hazel nuts

Hazel nuts will be very much in evidence across Cornwall in October. The common hazel, Corylus avellana, is one of the most common shrubs in the county, being found in a variety of habitats including hedges, woods, copses and along river banks. Hazel nuts are the fruit of this plant - they are also known as cobnuts. The nut falls out of its husk when ripe, about 7–8 months after pollination in the spring. They are roughly spherical about 15–25 mm long and 10–15 mm in diameter, with an outer fibrous husk surrounding a smooth shell. These nuts are an important animal food source, both for insects adapted to break into the shell in order to lay their eggs inside, and also for birds and mammals preparing for the long winter ahead and adapted to crack them open- such as dormice and bird species like the jay.

Indeed, one of the most reliable ways of identifying the presence of small mammals in an area is to look at the ways in which hazel nuts have been eaten, as this is unique to each different species of small mammal. Look for common hazel at any our woodland nature reserves, particularly places like Armstrong Wood Nature Reserve near Launceston, see: www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk.

Birds in Cornwall

October is a month notorious amongst birdwatchers as a month when virtually anything can, and will, turn up in Cornwall, most famously on the Isles of Scilly which are a well-known ‘twitchers’ haunt at this time of year. However, with thousands of birds continuing their southerly migrations around now, with the right weather conditions any number of rare and unusual species from continental Europe may appear in mainland Cornwall.

One of the most fascinating and unusual of these is the Wryneck (Jynx torquila). These close relatives of the woodpeckers once bred across Britain but are now largely extinct, mainly due to the decline in traditional orchards which provided an ideal habitat for their main prey species- ants. Wrynecks were originally named from the way that they appear to be able to twist their neck so that the head is pointing in the opposite direction to the body - however we know now that this is an optical illusion caused by the stripes on its neck and shoulders. Wrynecks can be identified by their cryptic grey and brown plumage. A bigger problem is actually seeing a wryneck for they frequently freeze and pretend, successfully, to be a tree branch!

Grey seals

October is the month when most grey seals give birth to their pups. Although Cornwall has an extensive coastline, suitable breeding sites are limited due to preference for small beaches in sea-caves and remote cliff-backed beaches, especially those that are inaccessible to humans. As a result, most of the breeding sites for the grey seal are located along the North Coast, from Cape Cornwall to Boscastle. Only a few sites exist on the South Coast, at Land’s End, The Lizard and Fal Estuary.

Grey seals are, excluding dolphins and whales, Britain's largest predators with males weighing around 230kg. They are mostly found on exposed coasts, hauling out on offshore rocks, remote beaches, sea-cave beaches and uninhabited islands. When not feeding or travelling grey seals haul out or rest at the water surface or underwater.

The colonies of grey seals in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly represent the largest and most southerly breeding colony of the world population. In contrast to other major breeding sites grey seal populations within the county do not appear to be increasing, though they are remaining stable Despite numbers dropping to only 500 in the early 20th century, it's estimated that there are now more than 120,000 grey seals in Britain, representing 40% of the world's population and 95% of the European population.

Look for them at any of our coastal reserves, perhaps like that at Looe Island Nature Reserve: www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is the leading local charity working to protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, on land and at sea. If you love Cornwall’s wildlife you can help them protect it by joining as a member, visit.

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