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It’s winter and it might seem cold out there, but Cornwall usually experiences the mildest winters in the UK and noticeably warmer conditions than most of Europe. For this one reason we can guarantee an abundance of birds will spend the winter in West Cornwall and I have a few suggestions for places to go to see them.

The colder the weather the busier the Hayle Estuary will be with wading birds and wildfowl. If you are ready for a walk, it couldn’t be easier. Head south on the coast path and it’s about three miles to North Quay, Hayle. There is birdlife to be seen around the estuary just before North Quay. You should already see wigeon, little egret, curlew, cormorant, little grebe and maybe kingfisher.

At the swimming pool take the quiet road called King George V Memorial Walk which follows the edge of Copperhouse Creek. You can walk along the road or on the footpath through the gardens, either way you get great views over the estuary. In winter there can be many thousands of birds in this part of the estuary but avoid high tide when the mud is all covered by water. Look for wigeon, teal, Canada goose, curlew, redshank, grey plover, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, lapwing, golden plover, little egret, grey heron, rarer birds might include spoonbill. Take special care to look for kingfishers especially around the two bridges over the weir near the swimming pool and again near the Black Bridge at the far end of the creek.

You can extend your visit either by walking to Asda and then exploring Carnsew Pool where you might find more grebes (sometimes including black-necked) and maybe divers, most often great northern divers (especially after stormy weather). If you want to drive, try parking at the RSPB reserve car park and there you can visit the hide and walk to The Causeway. Timing is important here. Try to get to The Causeway a couple of hours before high tide and wait for the tide to push the birds closer, then walk back to the hide at high tide.

Wherever you go around the Hayle Estuary you will need binoculars to get good views of the birds but there are places where binoculars are not necessary (though still recommended!). Try a visit to St Ives in the winter to be charmed and sometimes alarmed by the tame wildlife. 

Around St Ives harbour a large flock of turnstones returns every year and spends the winter trotting around on the roads, pavements and harbour walls looking for crumbs of food, they even come to bird seed. Watch out, though, if you are trying to feed turnstones be aware that it is an offence to feed the herring gulls which have become a bit of a menace. Some of these birds will swoop down and pinch the pasty out of your hand, but please remember it is our fault that they do this because we have trained them to associate us with food. 

At high tide the harbour sometimes plays host to grey seals and if you spend some time on The Island it is worth looking out to sea (with binoculars) to try your hand and whale and dolphin spotting.

Starlings and house sparrows are two more species which are incredibly tame in St Ives. The starlings, in particular, are amazing to watch. Their iridescent plumage is sensational in the winter sun and the range of tones and mimicry in their song is a delight.

If starlings are your thing then you might be interested in seeing their murmurations. Starlings gather together at communal roost sites at dusk and sometimes perform an elaborate flight pattern, almost a sky-dance, before they descend to their roost, this is known as a murmuration. 

Murmurations are unpredictable. Even if there is a large roost it doesn’t mean there will be a murmuration and from one year to the next starlings might change their mind about where to roost. What I’m saying is: ‘Don’t blame me if you follow my advice and see nothing!’. Generally the colder the winter the more starlings we have in Cornwall and the better the chance of success. 

One good place to try is Marazion Marsh. Simply park in the station car park, adjacent to the beach, just west of Marazion. From here cross the road and look over the marsh. This is a location which tends to be best in early winter, maybe up to Christmas.

Another spot that has been good in the last few years is near Pendeen. Immediately south of Pendeen on the B3318 there is a coniferous plantation at Carminowe Farm/Portheras Common. There is limited roadside parking where a track emerges onto this road at SW 390 338. Park considerately and walk along the track towards the woodland. 

Starlings tend to gather after sunset, so get in position just before sunset and wrap up warm. At Marazion the starlings might be more distant so take binoculars, also have a camera to hand. Enjoy getting cold, rain-lashed and wind-burnt, it’s in conditions like these that you know you’re alive and when you get back to your chalet at Three Mile Beach you can have a warming tot or a hot cuppa.


See more of David’s images on his website.