Throughout the year, rarer species of birds flock together on the rocky outcrops, sands, and cliffs off the Cornish coast. But have you ever wondered why Cornwall birding is the envy of birdwatchers in the UK?
Cornwall is a paradise of bird watching for many reasons. First, the county position is strategic and also has a very extensive coastline that stretches 86 miles right from the Land’s End to the north Devon border.
It is a narrow peninsula that extends into the Atlantic like a toe of a boot — being the best stopping point for a variety of migratory species. The area usually attracts unusual visitors.
Rare birds are often blown off course their intended destination and end up hanging around Cornwall for a while. Besides the beautiful coastline, the area boasts a milder climate, which differs significantly from the rest of the UK. This means it supports a wide range of habitats. In this guide we will look at various Cornwall birding sites and why this area is popular among birdwatchers.
The county is blessed with a series of granite outcrops that stretches down through the Isles of Scilly to Dartmoor. The lands have given rise to several moorland areas, the most spectacular being Bodmin Moor, which is found in the eastern part of the county. Owing to the short distance from coast to coast and the hilly spine that characterise the county, rivers here flow fast.
Perhaps one of the most outstanding terrains is the tall cliffs along the north coast. Elsewhere, the rias or drowned river-valleys form estuaries of the Fowey, the Tamar, Truro-Fal complex, the Camel in the north, and Helford in the countryside.
The Camel Estuary is one of the designated areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here, you will most likely spot the less common Osprey. Peregrine Falcons and Mute swans are common in this are too.
The best time for bird watching is during the winter because of the severe weather up-country chases a number of waders, thrushes, wildfowl southwest because of the milder conditions of the area. With that said, the country has become renowned because of its capacity to offer the most exciting birding experience during migration, which usually happens in the autumn.
Being one of the few areas in the UK that boast a huge list of birds, Cornwall has over the years rewards its devotees. This usually happens in October. During other times of the year, a majority of Cornish birders depend on the wind to bring along scarce migrants, but in October any species can turn up because of the favourable conditions.
Birdlife here is continually changing. Some bird species which were once considered rare can pop up in large numbers. One of the rare visitors is Cattle Egrets, but it now becoming more common. The best time to catch a glimpse of this rare species and other members of the heron family is during the end of the year.
Birdwatching at Sea
If you want to watch bird species that prefer the sea stack, cliffs, and islets, then going on a sea-life safari is an ideal birdwatching adventure. The waters of the Atlantic are a rich source of food for a majority of the seabirds such as Kittiwakes, which like to spend most of the winter months resting at the Cornish cliffs.
When you take a sea trip, you will also spot several cormorants and shags along the Cornish coast. For the uninitiated, differentiating these two species is not an easy task. Commorants are slightly bigger than shags, but they don’t have a well-defined round head like shags.
Most of the time, these two like swooping and diving for fish, so you will probably to find them hanging around your Padstow Safari boat as they hunt for fish.
Another species that enjoys flying around your boat is Fulmars, which belongs to the petrel family. These birds spend most of the time along the cliffs all year round. Sea trip offers one of the best birdwatching in Cornwall.
Birdwatching around Padstow
Cornwall is renowned for being the home of the largest species of seabirds. The islands near the west coast alone host a large colony of breeding puffins.
Watching these comical yet friendly creatures will be one of those cherishable moments. During April, May, June, and July, you will see quite several Razorbills and Guillemots. What makes these two are quite popular during sea trips is because of their close resemblance to the beautiful penguins.
The species we have mentioned so far are just but a few examples of what you will find in Cornwall. A two-hour sea life safari trip alone is enough to spot a range of beautiful birds; some of them soar above the rocky outcrops, while others hug the cliffs and sands.
Besides the wealth of diverse bird species, Cornwall’s resident bird population is also massive. From the waterfowl and waders to the spectacular birds of prey, Cornwall birding will interest everyone who enjoys observing birds in their natural setting.
There are several favourable Cornwall birding spots that birders have a good chance to find unique birds, but here are the top ones.
A considerable section of the Lizard peninsula has been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and there are many reasons to support this. The area hosts a number of reserves, which include Goonhilly Downs.
It is also the most southern part in Cornwall. Plus, it offers pleasant walking experience enabling visitors to sample some birds. A Black-browed Albatross was spotted in this area at the start of 2019. Albatross is one of the rarest bird species in the UK.
Other exciting sightseeing in Lizard Point includes the passing of Razorbill, Puffin, Chiffchaff, Guillemot, Wheatear, Peregrine, Wagtail and Hen Harrier.
Being the most southwesterly estuary in Cornwall, Hayle Estuary is an RSPB reserve and A Site of Scientific Interest. It hosts a wide variety of rare wetlands birds including curlew, Oystercatchers, and Little Egret. Most visitors like visiting the area in winter. During this time, numerous Wigeons and Teals flock the area. You may even spot the odd vagrant Ring-billed Gull.
Argal reservoir is another favourable spot, especially if you prefer walking as you sample the birds. It is popular among fishermen and dog walkers. This reservoir has a bird hide on its furthest end. It offers great views across the water.
Besides this, the area is home to coots, ducks, swans, moorhen and other rare visitors such as Herons, Great Crested Grebes, Egrets, Pochards, Teal, and Canada Geese. Perhaps what attracts these birds is the vast collection of fish in Argal Reservoir.
The Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly has over 400 bird species making the top site in Europe to host such a variety of birds. Being the first and the last landfall in the area, this Cornwall’s tiny archipelago is quite popular with birds.
Both Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have mild weather, so they support a variety of habitats ranging from the lush, subtropical valleys to exposed high moorlands to rugged cliffs. The Isles of Scilly has, therefore, become one of the best spots for birdwatching in not only Cornwall but the whole of Europe.
Ones of its off-islands, Annet is quite famous for being the home of UK’s last remaining colonies of Puffins. No wonder it has been nicknamed bird Island’.
During early summer the sea around the Island turns black because of the large number of Razorbills and Puffins. You will hardly notice their white breast because most of the time they rest on the surface of the water.
The best way to capture the many species the Island of Annet is to take a birdwatching boat trips. Fortunately, several boat trips are running from St Mary’s to Annet. The Island is usually closed from April to August because this is the breeding season for the birds. Other islands of Scilly offer the bird watching experience throughout the year.
Besides Hayle Estuary, another estuary that has RSPB Reserves is Marazion Marsh. Cornwall birding at the marshes around Marazion offer a perfect opportunity to watch amazing murmurations, especially during winter and autumn.
The area also provides excellent habitat for wetland birds. Some rare birds such as Bittern have been spotted here. More regular species in Marazion Marsh are Chiffchaff, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Little Egret, Sparrowhawk, and Swallow. It is also a stopover place for globally rare Aquatic Warbler.
Stithians Reservoir is one of the best spots of open water for birdwatching in Cornwall. It can only be compared to Drift Reservoir. It hosts the highest number of birds during passage time and winter.
A larger section of the reservoir is relatively shallow, so it attracts bird species such as Wigeons and Teal. Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Goldeneye, and Tufted Cuck are also present but usually in small numbers.
Other notable Cornwall birding sites include the Cuddle Point, Rame Head, Loose Island, Camel Estuary, Bodmin Moor, and Pendarves Wood Reserve.
Concluding Thoughts About Cornwall Birding
We hope that the above birdwatching picks have inspired you and perhaps give you a clear picture of how fantastic Cornwall is. The area is blessed with a healthy bird population making is easy to spot some of the rarest species. Whether you are here for unexpected Kingfisher or impressed by the overly friendly Herring Gull. Cornwall offers it all.