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6 places to see winter birds in Cornwall

Need some fresh air to clear your head but struggle to get on with a walk? How about trying a spot of ornithology instead (that's bird watching, to you and me). We've found six Cornish spots to try, just don't forget your binoculars.

No other month of the year stretches out quite like January, does it? Even getting outside sometime seems like a huge effort, so here’s a reason to plan leaving the house.

While human visitors might be waiting for the warmer months – or at least Feb half term – our feathered friends are here in their numbers at the moment, making the most of our empty beaches, moorlands, wetlands and estuaries before continuing on their long journeys.

Here’s some suggestions of places across the Duchy where you’re almost guaranteed to see some bird life, and can go for a walk at the same time – and pick up a coffee too.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Head for the hide at Heligan which is large enough that you – and the kids – can sit and watch what is going on outside (like this young Dunnock, above). We’ve seen all sorts of birds every time we’ve visited, even the more usual pheasants and robins are quite fascinating when watched from an up close vantage point that the birds aren’t aware of. Pick up a coffee in a handy recyclable cup which keeps it warm from near the entrance, and enjoy the walk down to the hide. And, when you’re done, you can look at the ducks and turkeys in the enclosures, and visit the gardens too.

Maer Lake, Bude

Known locally as ‘The Pool’, Maer Lake is 22 acres of wetland grazing meadows owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Viewing is strictly only from the private road above the reserve, but combine this with a walk along the beach and through the town (grab a coffee at the Electric Bakery), or along the coast path at Crooklets and you’ve a nice afternoon walk. If you’re lucky you might spot a Bewick or Whooper Swan, Long-tailed Duck or Black Brant, all of which are rare visitors that have been spotted in the winter months. Redshank, black-tailed godwit, golden plover, teal and wigeon are all regular visitors.

Photo by Nick Russill on Unsplash

Hayle Estuary

Up to 18,000 migrant and wintering waterfowl flock to the Hayle estuary every winter, from curlews to teals and wigeons – and they particularly like ‘Ryans Field’ at high tide, which makes an interesting walk and you’ll find a large open-fronted hide where you can pause to train your binoculars. Carnsew Pool is surrounded by a public footpath, so that makes a nice circular stroll, and then head through Hayle to look at Copperhouse Creek. (Map of the area here) where you can pause to pick up coffee or lunch at Lula (below).

Marazion Marsh, Nr Penzance

Marazion, near Penzance is most well known for St Michael’s Mount, but it’s also an important wintering site for bitterns as well as a regular stopover for the aquatic warbler. Somewhat easier to spot are the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of starlings, that gather in the winter to swoop in a murmuration at sunset before roosting in the reed beds. Time your trip right and you could visit the Mount too, then walk at sunset to watch the starlings, before dropping into the Cutty Sark for a drink.

Kingsmill Lake, Nr Saltash, Tamar Estuary

Shelduck, a large wintering population of avocet and thousands of wading birds are drawn to the mudflats on the Tamar Estuary – this part just north of Saltash is managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and there’s one of their bird hides at Skinham Point near the China Fleet Club from where you can watch unseen, or, just watch from the sea wall. Walk from Landulph Church to the edge of the estuary – just bear in mind the best time to see the birds is on a rising tide but part of the footpath is on the beach which is covered at high tide. You can also spot the birds from Cotehele Quay (see our suggested walk here).

Isles of Scilly

Some of the rarest visitors can be found on the Isles of Scilly – and the bird watching group lists the latest sightings – as they find land having been blown off course by Atlantic storms. If you don’t live on Scilly, The Scillonian (boat) doesn’t start sailing again until March, but the SkyBus (plane) runs all year from Lands End Airport. Juliet’s Garden is the place to go for an alfresco coffee, drink, or lunch.

On my recent visit to St Martins (below) last October there were birders everywhere, as that is the peak month for interesting birds, but in winter, you might also see Redwing, Lapwing, Golden Plover, or even a Great Northern Divers or something a little rarer like a Long-tailed or Eider duck.

Don’t fancy leaving the house at all?

Get prepped to count birds in your back garden for the RSPB’s The Big Garden Bird Watch 2022 between 28 – 30 January – sign up and order your spotting guide and report back on what lands on your land instead.

1 comment on “6 places to see winter birds in Cornwall”

  • Lucy Walker January 19, 2022

    I think Antony Woodland Garden is a pretty special place to watch birds from!


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