Situated in the far south-west of the UK, Cornwall offers a myriad of diverse habitats for birds, from majestic cliffs along rugged coastlines, sand dunes, beaches and estuaries to reed fringed lakes, rivers and streams, wooded valleys, open farmland and moorland peaks. We have some amazing reserves and protected marine areas too, The RSPB’s Hayle Estuary is the most southerly of its kind in the UK and their other reserve at Marazion Marsh is the most southerly reed bed habitat. There are other reserves managed by organisations like South-West Water and the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society, like Walmsley, Drift and Stithians Reservoirs, and St Gothians Sands LNR. The National Trust is also a large landowner in Cornwall and offers places like Godrevy Head, as well as many parks and gardens, for the visiting birdwatcher.
The valleys of the far west have long been synonymous with rare and scarce birds. Porthgwarra, Cot Valley, Kenidjack and Nanquidno are a must for those in search of migrants and vagrants form the West and East. Mid-Cornwall offers more diverse habitat. Bodmin Moor and the surrounding areas include large bodies of open water like Colliford Lake and Dozemary Pool. Mixed woodlands like the ones at Cardinham and Golitha Falls, with its fast flowing river, provide the county with specialist woodland species.
And of course we are surrounded by the sea on all coastlines. From late July, through August and into September, certain Cornish headlands are Mecca for sea-watchers in search of rare seabirds. If you catch the right wind direction, Gwennap Head, Pendeen Watch, Lizard Point or St Ives Island can be witness to some of the best seabird movement in the UK.
Here at Cornwall Birdwatching Tours we have come to expect the unexpected! There will be birds we will almost guarantee you will see, waders and gulls on the estuaries, common woodland and garden birds, certain species we seem to never fail to see like Stonechats! But, you just never know! Our last winter day tour saw our small group catch up with a Sociable Plover!! A species that is globally endangered and would never have been on our radar in a hundred years!
From mid November to mid March we would hope to see over 14 types of wader like Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Avocet, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Golden Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Snipe, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and possibly Ruff, Jack Snipe or something rarer! Gulls are not everyones cup of tea, but our day list can include up to 15 types including Yellow-legged, Caspian, Iceland, Glaucous, Little and Mediterranean. Offshore we have had all the worlds divers in a single morning in Mounts Bay! We will also see wildfowl and other seabirds. Common and Velvet Scoter, Eider, Shag, Cormorant, Balearic Shearwater and Great and Pomarine Skua have all been seen by our clients. Winter tours usually include an evening at a low moorland location where we will look for Hen Harrier, Merlin, Bar and Short-eared Owls. And winter is undoubtedly the best time to see Kingfishers!
In late March to early June our attention turns to returning summer visitors and early migrants. In the right conditions we could encounter European overshoots like Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike or Alpine Swift! Warblers return from their winter in Africa to our woodlands and reedbeds and the skies will once again be alive with Swallows and Martins and a bit later, Swifts. Passage waders may include Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper or maybe a rarity like Black-winged Stilt.
From the end of June towards the end of August it can be hard work birdwatching in Cornwall as we are left with just our breeding birds, so most birdwatchers turn to sea-watching. Southerly winds bring in large Shearwaters like Great and Cory’s, often in big numbers and with them, Balearic, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters. Puffins are uncommon off Cornwalls shores but can be seen hurtling past with Guillemots and Razorbills. Great and Arctic Skuas are most common but may be joined by Pomarine and Long-tailed later in the autumn. European Storm Petrel and it’s rare relative, Wilson’s Storm Petrels are also seen and we hope for both on our Seabird Special Pelagic trips. We offer our unique Nightjar tours throughout June too. These evening trips enable you to experience this mystical crepuscular species as they chur and wingclap close by. We also hope to see Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler and possibly Barn Owl during the evening.
Autumn is our peak time in Cornwall and from the end of September to Mid November we hit the valleys again with our tours in the hope of seeing and maybe finding rare vagrants and migrants. Wryneck, Common Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrikes, Richards Pipit, Firecrests and Yellow-browed Warblers will be our quarry in the trees and bushes of Nanquidno, Kenidjack and Porthgwarra. Other species we have seen at this time of year include Whinchat, Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting. Our real hope is for westerly gales, bringing over American passerines and other landbirds like Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Golden Plover, Semipalmated and Bairds Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs and who knows what else!!
If the above has wet your appetite, then please book a Cornwall based tour with us soon! Our day trips fill up fast so early booking is essential. Or you may fancy a more leisurely pace with our week long tour of West Cornwall? Hope to see you soon.