Cornwall is a paradise for birdwatching. The county’s position, stretching out into the Atlantic, surrounded by hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline, means that not only is it an ideal stopping off point for many migratory species but it often has unusual visitors. Birds that have been blown off course or over-shot their intended destination and end up staying in Cornwall for a while. Cornwall also boasts a milder climate than the rest of the UK and a surprisingly wide range of habitats – from high windswept cliffs to isolated moorland and lush farmland.
At this point I should add that despite the name of this blog I am not a bird expert! I am a bird lover however and so I have included a few of my own locations, places where I have been lucky enough to see Kingfishers, Choughs and a pair of Great Crested Grebe dancing.
Hayle Estuary is the most south westerly estuary in the UK, a Site of Scientific Interest and an RSPB reserve. It is home to a wide variety of wetland birds including Oystercatchers, Curlew and Little Egret.
I am told that winter is one of the best times for birdwatching here, when you can see a large flocks of Teals and Wigeons and maybe even the odd vagrant Ring-billed Gull from North America.
Much of the Lizard peninsula is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and for good reason. There are several reserves here too including Goonhilly Downs. The Lizard Point is the most southerly point in Britain and is a stunning place for a walk with a good chance of sighting some unusual visitors.
In early 2019 a Black-browed Albatross paid a visit and importantly the area is home to one of the UK’s rarest birds – the Cornish Chough. Other sightings here include the odd passing Puffin and Razorbill, also Guillemot, Chiffchaff, Wagtail, Wheatear, Hen Harrier and Peregrine.
Argal reservoir, and the nearby College reservoir, is one of my favourite places for a walk close to my home. A circuit of Argal lake is roughly 2.5 miles and there is a bird hide at the furthest end which offers great views across the water.
Well stocked with fish, the lake is also home to ducks, coots, moorhen, swans and lots of other visitors including Herons, Ergets, Great Chested Grebes, Teal, Canada Geese, Pochards and various gulls as well as many woodland birds.
Argal lake is very popular with dog walkers and fishermen and I find it is quietest early in the morning, at dusk and on rainy days.
Isles of Scilly
The incredible species list for this group of sub-tropical islands now stands at over four hundred. That is more than any other single site in Europe. Cornwall’s tiny archipelago is probably so popular with birds (and twitchers) because it is the first and last landfall for thousands of miles. It has therefore become one of the best locations in Europe to spot rare migratory birds.
The island of Annet, one of the Scillies off-islands, is home to one of Britain’s last remaining colonies of Puffins.
The island has long had a reputation for being haven for breeding populations of birds as illustrated by this description by Jessie Mothersole written in 1910:
Annet is known by the name of ” Bird Island” from the immense numbers that breed there. In the early summer the sea all round is black with puffins and razor-bills, their white breasts being hardly noticeable as they sit on the surface of the water ; and the air above is dark with clouds of gulls, and full of their ceaseless cry. Puffins (also called sea-parrots) have bred on the islands from time immemorial.
It has to be said that the numbers of breeding birds has, however, declined in recent years.
There are regular birdwatching boat trips from St Mary’s to Annet but it’s important to remember that the island is closed to the public between April and August to protect the bird life during breeding season. All of the Isles of Scilly offers great birding opportunities all year round though.
With the stunning backdrop of St Michael’s Mount the marshes close to Marazion are a perfect place to watch spectacular murmurations in autumn and winter.
As well as the gatherings of Starlings the reedbeds here also make an ideal habitat for lots of wetland birds. There are been sightings of Bittern here in the winter.
More regular visitors are the Grey Heron, Chiffchaff, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Swallow and Little Egret. It is also a known stopover spot for the globally threatened Aquatic Warbler.
Another of my favourite places, especially for an evening walk in the summer, Cudden Point is owned by the National Trust. I include it here because it is another place where I have regularly seen one of Britain’s rarest birds – the Cornish Chough.
There is nothing quite like seeing this illusive bird swooping across the sky and hearing its distinctive call. And this headland also is one of my ultimate sunset spots too.
Situated one mile off the Cornish coast Looe Island is a unique wildlife reserve managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust since the 1960s. Find out more of the history HERE.
Access to the island is restricted but well worth the effort. Expect to see large numbers of Cormorants and Shags as well as Fulmar and Oystercatchers and importantly the biggest colony of Great Black-backed Gulls in Cornwall.
This unspoilt, idyllic corner of Cornwall with its 14th century chapel has an impressive lists of feathered visitors. A walk here, I am told, should include Polhawn Cove and Penlee Battery, and some of the birds that can be spotted along the way draw ‘twitchers’ from all over the county.
So to name a few: Red-flanked Bluetail, Chimney Swift, Black Redstart, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Golden Oriole, Red Kite, Ring Ouzel, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Ravens, Peregrin and Turtle Dove.
Pendarves Wood Reserve
This little known reserve not far from Camborne is a favourite of mine for a number of reasons – I find the woodland here particularly haunting, because dogs aren’t allowed it gets few visitors so I am often completely alone and finally sitting in the small hide watching the coots and moorhens makes me happy.
The wood is looked after by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and owned by The Duchy. It was once part of the formal gardens of the Pendarves Estate. The beautiful overgrown lake started its life as an ornamental boating lake and the old boat house is still visible near the hide. As well as the usual wetland birds such as herons, geese and ducks and the numerous woodland birds, a summer visitor is the Spotted Flycatcher.
I would be remiss if I left Bodmin Moor out of this list. This wonderfully isolated part of Cornwall is ideal walking and birdwatching habitat. Miles and miles of peace and quiet with a mixture of grassland, woodland, lakes, rivers and high rocky tors.
For me the soundtrack of the moor is the call of the Skylark but you can also find many different birds of prey, woodland and grassland birds. Buzzard, Raven, Peregrin Falcon, Kestrel, Woodpeckers, Cuckoo, Golden Plover and Great Grey Strike to name but a few of the possible birdwstching delights!
Last but not least . . .
I hope that my birdwatching picks have given you plenty of inspiration. We are blessed with such a healthy bird population in so much of the county that you can have amazing encounters with our feathered friends almost anywhere. Whether it’s an overly friendly Herring Gull after your chips or an unexpected Kingfisher. Which leads me to my final bonus location. On a walk along the creek at St Clements near Truro I was lucky enough to spot a vibrant flash of blue out of the corner of my eye. I stood and watched for several minutes as a Kingfisher darted across the water, pausing occasionally in a dead tree. Pure magic!
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