Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are great locations for birdwatching. With a beautiful coastline of 422 miles that stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean, rugged cliffs and coves, rocks, beaches, moorland and sub-tropical valleys combined with the mildest climate in the UK, Cornwall offers a great diversity of habitats to resident and migratory species of bird.
The South West Coast Path stretches around the coast of Cornwall for about 300 miles, with spectacular and diverse scenery it offers some amazing opportunities for bird watching on holiday in Cornwall.
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There are two RSPB reserves in Cornwall, Marazion Marsh and Hayle Estuary.
Marazion Marsh is near Penzance with views of the iconic St Michael’s Mount. It is Cornwall’s largest reedbed with over 250 species of bird having been recorded here, Marazion Marsh is an important wintering site for bitterns and the globally threatened aquatic warbler.
Hayle Estuary is the most south westerly reserve in the UK, in the winter up to 18,000 water birds flock here. The Estuary never freezes, so when the weather is bad elsewhere in the UK the number of migratory birds that flock here rises. Even though the winter is the best time to visit the reserve, during the spring and autumn there are migrant wading birds, terns and gulls and during the summer you might be lucky enough to see osprey.
The Lizard peninsula is the most southerly part of Cornwall and has a distinctive and exotic quality about it. It has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – AONB, it is a great place to walk and it has some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Cornwall. The Lizard is rich in wildlife and many sub-tropical plants thrive in its maritime climate. The Lizard is also home to one of the UK’s rarest birds, the Cornish Chough, the red billed and footed member of the crow family started to breed on this coast again in 2002 for the first time in 50 years thanks to habitat improvement by the National Trust and Natural England. The chough is used on the Cornish coat of arms along with a tin miner and a fisherman, it is also said that King Arthur turned into a chough when he died, the red feet and bill signifying his violent and bloody end.
Rinsey Cove near Porthleven, is a beach owned by the National Trust. On the cliffs above the beach sits the iconic abandoned engine house of Wheal Prosper tin mine. On Rinsey Head kittiwakes breed in the spring. The dramatic Predannack Cliffs near Mullion have a rich variety of wildlife, in the spring they are covered in flowers and it is here that you might get a glimpse of the rare Cornish Chough. Just off the coast is the uninhabited Mullion Island, this bird sanctuary is famous for its breeding colonies of Kittiwakes, Cormorants and the increasingly rare Guillemot which breeds on the rocky ledges. Razorbills which spend the winter out at sea, breed on the cliffs of Mullion Island between March and April. The Island is owned by the National Trust, public access is forbidden, but boat trips along the coast are available.
The River Fal and the Carrick Roads has a wooded shoreline and numerous shallow creeks which make it a haven for wildlife, especially water birds. The silted upper creeks of the Fal are good for watching waders such as the curlew and redshank, a couple of hours before high tide the incoming water forces the birds out of the small muddy creeks onto the open mudflats, the best places are at Ruan Lanihorne, Philleigh and Lamorran which is on the other side of the river near to Tregothnan House. Herons are also resident on the River Fal as are cormorants and shags which can often be seen drying their wings in the wind on the mooring buoys. A popular walk for bird watchers is a circular walk from Malpas to St Clement and along the riverbank to Tresillian, here you will see little egrets, curlews and dunlins all in search of molluscs and crustaceans in the riverbed.
Veryan Bay and Gerrans Bay on the Roseland Peninsula are great places to watch the winter visitors from Iceland, the Baltic and Scandinavia, especially when gales have driven the birds inland to find shelter. Gull Rock just off the coast is an important breeding place for seabirds, with cormorants, shags, kittiwakes and razorbills all breeding here.
In the east of Cornwall not far from Plymouth is the Rame Peninsula, this unspoilt area is also a great area for watching native and rare birds. A walk from the church at Rame to Rame Head and then back along the great crescent of Whitsand Bay is the perfect place to watch peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harriers and red kites. Penlee Battery is a nature reserve with wonderful views of Plymouth Sound, with wildflowers and famous for its dragonflies it is also an excellent place for bird watching.
Looe Island which is just a mile off the Cornish coast at Looe, is a marine nature reserve and is home to a diverse range of wildlife, many nesting birds including cormorants, shags and oystercatchers, the waters around the island are home to Grey Seals. From Easter until the end of September there are boat trips to the island, the trip takes about 20 minutes from East Looe. A guided walk around the island takes about 3 ½ hours, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust warden will give you a fascinating insight into the history and bird and wildlife of Looe Island. The spring is the best time for wildflowers and watching the breeding seabirds, including the largest breeding colony of the magnificent great black-backed gulls in Cornwall.
On the north coast of Cornwall is the Camel Estuary, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its large area of salt marsh and mudflats is an excellent place for wading birds, it is also the place to spot peregrines, osprey and kingfishers. Along the Camel Trail from Padstow to Wadebridge there are purpose-built bird hides, this 18-mile disused railway line which is great for cycling and walking passes through some of the most beautiful Cornish countryside.