The estuary at Hayle is the most westerly in the County and is renowned nationally as a great birding area, turning up many rarities in the past. The estuary is owned by the RSPB and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its wintering wildfowl and waders. The lower estuary is predominantly sandy, becoming muddier towards the western end and includes Ryan’s Field, an enclosed area to the south of the main estuary which can be viewed from a purpose built hide, best at high tide.
Carnsew Pool is a also a good place to look for waders and wildfowl at low tide. Best to park at the new Asda car park and walk across to view. You can walk right round the pool on the public footpath and the western end allows further views of the main estuary. At high tide, especially during the winter, the pool is often used by Divers, Grebes and sea duck for shelter during inclement weather.
The old railway station at Lelant is also a good vantage point to view the sandy banks exposed at low tides where smaller gulls tend to congregate. This is also a good spot for Greenshank. The adjacent Anne’s Wood holds Great-spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch and an array of woodland species can be seen visiting the feeders in the garden of the old railway station. Firecrest is a regular winter visitor too. This platform here is reached by turning right off the main St Ives road in Lelant, just after The Badger pub. At the bottom of the hill you will see the car park in front of you.
Copperhouse Creek is found to the east of the main estuary. From the main A30 roundabout at Hayle head into Hayle Town. Copperhouse creek runs the length of the town of Hayle and there is ample parking along its length. Parking at Home Bargains (opposite ‘Down The Line’ surf shop) is a good option as you can then walk through to the Creek via the footpath at the back of the car park. (There is a time limit, check the signs) This covers the eastern end of the creek and you can, if you wish, walk all the way round from here. This is usually the best end to view when the tide is high as waders and gulls gather on the exposed grassy areas. The middle part of the creek is best viewed from the Library Car Park which can be found on the right just after the a car sales garage and opposite ‘The Cornish Arms’ public House. This is a ‘Pay and Display’ car park so don’t leave your vehicle without getting a ticket first! There are public toilets in the car-park here. At the West end of the creek, parking is available near to the open-air swimming pool. (turn right, over the bridge just before the sharp left hand bend where ‘Philps Pasty Shop’ is located) Parking here is free at the moment and the creek is more accessible for people with disabilities here as St Georges Memorial Walk is very wheelchair friendly.
Copperhouse Creek looking east from the iron bridge and swimming pool Car Park
Gulls and waders are usually the main quarry at Copperhouse and numbers, like the rest of the Hayle Estuary, depend on the state of the tide. An hour before and after high tide are best for waders, gulls can be seen loafing around at most times of the day. The creek is sometimes purposely stopped from emptying so that it can be used for events such as Canoeing and raft racing etc. Although this does not happen very often. In winter, high tide is best for wintering divers, grebes and duck. It is advisable to check the Tide Times before planning a trip to Copperhouse.
Resident species include: Shelduck, Redshank, Curlew, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Herring Gull, Linnet and Rock Pipit. Winter usually produces Divers, grebes and good numbers of Teal and Wigeon aswell as white winged gulls. Spring and Autumn are the best times for Waders, especially on their return journey in late August/early september. These may include Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Greenshank, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Grey and Golden Plover nearer winter. Lapwing can also be found in good numbers during the winter. Summer is generally quiet with only resident species seen.
Copperhouse Creek is famous for a string of rarities, many of which commute between the creek and the main Hayle Estuary. These include: White-billed Diver, Long-billed Dowitcher, Laughing, Ring-billed and Boneparte’s Gull, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least, Pectoral, Buff-breasted and Baird’s Sandpipers, Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon . The vegetation along St Georges Walk has seen Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest in recent autumn’s.
From the Town of Hayle, head west out of the town along the B3301, the estuary opens up on your right hand side after the Tempest Factory Unit. Take the left turn onto Cheynalls Lane just before the old petrol station, signposted St Erth, then almost immediately right, (if you go under the railway bridge, you’ve gone too far!) into the car park at Ryan’s Field RSPB. Once parked you can walk down to view the main estuary from the causeway bridge and also scan Ryan’s Field from the Eric Grace Memorial Hide.
The Old Quay House public house has birder friendly Landlords who are happy for birders to use the car park to view from but we ask that you use the pub for refreshments. The pub has a new seating area on a raised platform overlooking the main creek on the estuary and is a great place to sit and have a coffee or your lunch whilst birding!
Alternative Parking and viewing, especially at high tide is the Park and Ride Car park at Lelant Saltings. Drive past The Old Quay House pub (on your right) towards St Ives then turn right onto the new housing estate (just after going under the railway bridge). Drive straight through the estate to the car park at the end of the road and walk up onto the railway platform to view the exposed mud at the western corner.
Although best known to birders as a stop off point for migrant waders, the first noticeable species are the Gulls. The larger gulls congregate along the main channel and are best viewed from the B3301 causeway bridge. Smaller gulls favour the sandy area at the northern end of the estuary off the west side of Carnsew Pool. The flocks consist of mainly Herring, Great Black Backed and Black Headed Gulls bolstered in late winter with the build up of Lesser Black-backs and Common Gulls. In more recent times, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls have become more abundant. Med Gulls are present in small numbers in most months and are joined on occasion by rarer Little Gull. Less common Iceland and Glaucous Gulls are recorded annually each winter.
Winter usually produces large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Wigeon on the Estuary and a Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon may be found amongst them. Divers, Grebes, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser occur annually in small numbers and favour the shelter of Carnsew Pool. Wader numbers in winter are generally low, with fluctuating numbers of Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing. Other wintering waders can include Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey and Golden plover, knot and Greenshank. Kingfishers are much more evident in winter on the estuary and can be seen fishing on Ryan’s Field or flying past the station platform at Lelant.
Spring passage usually includes good numbers of Whimbrel with the odd Little Ringed Plover and Wood and Green sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwit recorded. Occasionally an Avocet or two drop in. This is a good time for Terns too with Black, Sandwich, Little, Arctic and Common Terns seen annually,
Autumn is undoubtedly the best time for Wader passage with good numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover and Turnstones on Carnsew pool. Scarcer migrants include Wood, Green, and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover and Ruff. Little Egrets can be seen at all times of year and numbers can reach 20+ individuals in winter and late autumn. Resident species include, Grey Heron, Redshank, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Rook, Curlew and Meadow Pipit with Swallow, Swift and House Martin over during the summer months.
The Estuary is renowned for turning up rare and scarce species and the list is long and luxurious, it includes:
Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Great-white Egret, Least, Western, Spotted, Bairds, Broad-billed, Buff-breasted, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-winged stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklins, Laughing, Bonepartes and Ring-billed Gulls, White-Billed Diver, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Kite, Citrine wagtail, Common crane, Whiskered, Gull-Billed, White-winged Black, Forsters Tern and Royal Tern.
TIMING AND TIPS
The estuary can offer something to anyone at anytime of year, any time of day. Two hours before and two hours after high tide are proven to be best for waders. Ryan’s Field is best at high tide, particularly on extremely high tides when there is no where on the main estuary for waders to roost. Take care when crossing the road from Ryan’s field to the causeway bridge, many motorists drive like idiots along that stretch and once at the bridge, many think its very funny to use their horns illegally to make you jump. Best ignored!
At Lelant Saltings Platform, it is best to stand at the very western end to view the exposed mud as the platform can get very busy with tourists and the train will stop right in front of your view if you stand in the middle.