Please note this holiday starts and ends in Penzance
Day 1: Friday - Arrival, meet up and Marazion Marsh
We meet at Penzance station at 13:30, or at our accommodation at 14:00 if travelling by car. You can leave your vehicle parked here for the duration of your holiday. Please contact our office for travel tips by road, rail and air. Once gathered and settled into our comfortable accommodation, we head straight out birding to make the most of the day. We’ll start close to base, visiting local sites, target a rarity or have an early visit to the excellent Marazion Marsh RSPB reserve near Penzance. This wetland site is super for wildfowl and waders, and Little Egret and Kingfisher are likely to get us off to a good start. Cetti’s Warbler are resident in the reed-beds and a walk through the reserve and into other scrubby areas should add other migrant warblers plus Reed Bunting. We also plan to visit adjacent Mount’s Bay with majestic St Michael’s Mount as a backdrop. The beach can be especially productive, flocks of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone and Sanderling often harbouring Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Migrant Wheatear, Rock Pipit, White and Yellow Wagtail feed in the tide wrack, with hirundines likely to be seen over both the marsh and seaweed areas. A great place to start!
Day 2: Saturday – Porthgwarra and St Levan
We head to the valleys starting at Porthgwarra, the most south-westerly point in mainland Britain, and a famed birdwatching site with an excellent track record for rarities. We will search the area extensively for migrants, checking patches of trees and bushes in the “60ft cover”, around the “Doctors Garden” and up on the moorland. Passerines such as Skylark, Meadow Pipit, wagtails and finches should be numerous with African bound migrants including Whinchats, Redstarts, Pied or Spotted Flycatchers, and a range of warblers likely. Firecrest are regular and scarce species recorded annually include Wryneck, Melodious, Barred and Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Common Rosefinch and Serin. A mouth-watering array of Nearctic rarities have occurred in this famous valley in recent years including Red-Eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Hermit Thrush, while Brown Shrike, Syke's, Radde’s and Dusky Warbler are just a few examples of eastern origin. Will we get lucky? The possibilities are endless!
Sea-watching can be exceptional too and if conditions are favourable we’ll spend time watching birds passing the legendary Runnelstone Buoy. We should see a range of seabirds with Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill abundant. Balearic and Sooty Shearwater are both often commoner than Manx at this time of year, with Great and Cory’s Shearwater, European and Leach’s Storm Petrel, all four skuas, Grey Phalarope and Sabine’s Gull among the rarer possibilities. Cetaceans including Harbour Porpoise, Common and Bottlenose Dolphin are also often seen regularly. Depending on conditions, we may head over to nearby St Levan or Porthcurno valleys, or to work the fields around Polgigga or Treen.
Day 3: Sunday – Land’s End and Sennen
Land’s End is not just a tourist attraction, it’s one of the best birding locations in the country! Coastal bushes and scrubby cover is sparser here than in the valleys, and it is one of the best places in Britain to watch visible migration as birds pour out to sea, not making landfall again until France or even Spain. A day to really find our own birds, we explore the habitat thoroughly searching for freshly arrived migrants in the willow bushes, Cornish hedgerows and fields. The cycle path allows for easy walking and is the best place for a Wryneck. It also offers a good vantage into the fields for pipits, Yellow and White Wagtail, while the short cropped turf of the coast path is attractive to Wheatear, Black Redstart, Stonechat and Chough.
Just inland lies the village of Sennen and more great birding habitat. Rare pipits are something of a speciality of the whole area - Richard’s is regular, while Blyth’s, Tawny, Buff-bellied, Red-throated, Olive-backed and famously Britain's first Paddyfield Pipit have all been recorded in recent years. The lack of cover may not always suit rare warblers but regular coverage has unearthed Paddyfield, Syke’s, Western Bonelli’s, Sardinian, Subalpine, Melodious, Radde’s and Dusky Warbler in the past, so high quality birding is very possible. A magnet for shrikes too, Red-backed and Woodchat are the most regular hereabouts, and Britain’s seventh Turkestan Shrike and tenth Brown Shrike occurred here; both found by Heatherlea Guide Mark Warren! In the evening we can perhaps consider visiting Bartinney Downs or Men en Tol for the Hen Harrier roost. We might see Barn and Short-eared Owls too while Merlin take advantage of an abundance of prey at this time of year.
Day 4: Monday – Hayle Estuary
After a few days exploring the valleys and fields for passerine migrants, a visit to the Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve offers a nice contrast in habitats. The most important site for wildfowl, waders and gulls in the region, many thousands of birds feed on the tidal mud depending on the tide. Wigeon and Teal will be the most numerous of the ducks with Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Knot and Redshank the commoner waders. Rarer American waders are recorded annually, so there’s a real chance of something special, such as Baird’s, White-rumped or Semi-palmated Sandpiper. If not, Little Egret will entertain while the low tide gull roost can serve up thousands of birds and a good scan will certainly yield Mediterranean, or perhaps a Yellow-legged Gull or any late tern. A site with many good vantage points from which we could easily spend the whole day here.
If we do have time to spare we can visit nearby Godrevy to look for Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone roosting, storm driven seabirds and to see the large Grey Seal colony. Alternatively the pools at St Gothian Sands are another great site for waders to finish the day.
Day 5: Tuesday – St Just and nearby valleys
The sheltered valleys situated right next to this former mining town will give us another chance to seek out resting passerines. Nanquidno, Cot, Kenidjack and to a lesser extent Kelynack are all well known by birding reputation, and we enjoy our time birding and walking in these beautiful areas. Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler will be top targets again among commoner warblers and land birds. The calls of overflying Chough and Raven will draw our gaze skywards and away from the bushes from time to time. The local Golden Plover flock often contains other waders such as American Golden Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper or Dotterel. We have already seen Red Eyed Vireo in this area on a previous tour, and with luck and the right conditions could get lucky again - a repeat of Britain’s first and only Yellow-throated Vireo, or an American Redstart, Northern Parula or Blackpoll Warbler would do nicely!
Day 6: Wednesday – The Lizard
A day trip to the most southerly point in Britain and the area where Choughs first returned in 2001 to re-claim their traditional territory, as featured on the Cornish coat of arms. Practically guaranteed on th Lizard we should see this smart member of the crow family and visiting the sheltered valleys and bays at Kynance, Caerthillian or Church Cove could give us migrants. Open ground and coastal scrub at Bass Point can be one of the better sites for Dartford Warbler, and sea-watching has yielded some great sightings over the years in favourable conditions. Windmill Farm LNR and farmland around the village itself also offers great birding and there’s lots of potential in a relatively small area. Sympathetic farming practices ensure good numbers of finches are present and any Linnet or Goldfinch flock will be worth checking. Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew also feed in the fields, and raptors will be on the lookout for an easy meal. We could also visit Stithian’s Reservoir on this day if something good has been reported, or take the chance to try under-watched sites such as Prussia Cove or the Tresillian River on our way home.
Day 7: Thursday – Drift, Pendeen, Northern Valleys
Cornwall really does offer a bounty of birding sites and range of possibilities. If we haven’t yet visited Drift Reservoir we may do so today, this new freshwater habitat potentially adding a number of new species. Great Crested and Little Grebe are likely as are diving ducks such as Tufted Duck and Pochard. Muddy inlets give us the best chance of freshwater waders such as Greenshank and Common and Green Sandpipers or maybe a late Osprey. A walk to the hide might add a Kingfisher, and Dipper sometimes show from the dam. American waders such as Pectoral Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs have been recorded numerous times as has Ring necked Duck and Lesser Scaup. If the wind is strong and from the north or west then sea-watching from Pendeen is definitely worthwhile. From a sheltered position by the lighthouse wall, Gannet, Kittiwake, shearwaters, and skuas can pass just under the cliffs, and it’s the best place in the county to observe Leach’s Petrel, Sabines Gull and Grey Phalarope in the right conditions. We may decide to explore neglected valleys on the north Penwith coastline or venture further into north or east Cornwall for any rarities on offer – will we find that big American rarity and put a new Cornish site on the map!
Day 8: Friday - Final birding and depart
Our final day and the chance to mop up on any species we might not have connected with. With migration in full swing a visit to any of the already visited headlands, valleys, reservoirs, beaches, estuaries, plantations or sea-watching sites could yield a completely new set of species. Exact plans for the day will be based around clients travel arrangements but we’ll be sure to get as much birding in as possible to conclude our time in Cornwall.