Win­ter warm­ers

The warmer cli­mate of south­ern Bri­tain means there are still plenty of great birds to see dur­ing the colder months

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: MATT MER­RITT

Head for the warmth of Corn­wall this win­ter and en­joy a range of great birds

CORN­WALL A COU­PLE of weeks be­fore Christ­mas has a lot to rec­om­mend it. It’s warm. Warm enough to use the hot tub on the ter­race of our lodge, com­fort­ably, while gnats swarm around the porch­lights. There’s a great Christ­mas mar­ket in the streets of Fal­mouth. And there are birds, lots of them. In fact, if I learn any­thing from a week­end based at the Gwel An Mor re­sort, near Portreath, it’s just how dif­fer­ent from the rest of the coun­try the warm south-west of the UK can be.

Those in­sects should have been a clue. They’re a source of food for species that, in the rest of the coun­try, would have to head to south­ern Europe to sur­vive, and the warmth also means that they don’t have to eat quite as much as in colder climes. So, as we leave the lodge on an over­cast but very

mild morn­ing, there are plenty of com­mon finches, Robins, Black­birds and Dun­nocks in the grounds of the re­sort, plus Yel­lowham­mers along the hedges out­side. And stop­ping for the lat­ter, five min­utes’ watch­ing pro­duces both Chif­fchaff and Black­cap. While in­creas­ing num­bers of both

species are win­ter­ing all over Eng­land and Wales, in the course of the week­end it be­comes clear that the south-west is a par­tic­u­lar win­ter strong­hold. Later, watch­ing from the quay­side in Fal­mouth, I also come to ap­pre­ci­ate how rich the es­tu­ar­ies of the south-west are in birdlife at this time of year. In fact, it’s true of the es­tu­ar­ies of the whole of the south of Eng­land – species that the field guides will tell you should be a lot fur­ther south, such as Green­shank and Spot­ted Red­shank, are al­ways around in small num­bers if you look for long enough. On oc­ca­sion, it’s even been known for a young Osprey to linger through­out, while un­sea­sonal records of the likes of Com­mon Sand­piper aren’t un­heard of. And it’s also great for good num­bers of species that we do ex­pect round our shores in win­ter. So, I start by pick­ing out a group of dis­tant Black­necked Grebes, then a Black-throated Diver, and fi­nally, a cou­ple of Great North­ern Divers. Car­rick Roads and its as­so­ci­ated in­lets is the per­fect shel­ter for bird such as these – deep enough to of­fer plenty of feed­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, but pro­tected from the pre­vail­ing winds and warmed by the Gulf Stream. That’s true of many of the es­tu­ar­ies of Corn­wall and Devon. An­other es­tu­ary we visit, the Hayle, is some­what dif­fer­ent. You can watch large sec­tions of it from the car, and it’s north-west-fac­ing, rather shal­low, and flanked by mud­flats and dunes. Gath­er­ings of Lap­wings and smaller groups of Curlews are the main at­trac­tion here, as well as Oys­ter­catch­ers, and plenty of Black-headed and Her­ring Gulls. It’s much more like the es­tu­ar­ies that you find from Poole Har­bour east­wards – at such places, you can ex­pect a good va­ri­ety of waders, plus Brent Geese and other wild­fowl, but again the warmer tem­per­a­tures than you’d find even a lit­tle way fur­ther north (thank the Gulf Stream, again) mean that sur­prises are pos­si­ble, or even likely. We miss out on the Ring-billed Gull that has been seen in the area, and the Spoon­bills, but it’s a glo­ri­ous lo­ca­tion to wan­der around any­way, and again there are Chif­fchaffs to be found in the nearby hedges and scrub, flit­ting around as though it were late April. Around Marazion Marsh RSPB, a Siberian Chif­fchaff has been re­ported, but al­though we dip on it, we hear Firecrests, usu­ally some­thing of a bo­gey bird for me, and watch more Black­throated Divers off­shore. We fin­ish by head­ing to The Lizard in search of Choughs, but leave dis­tinctly un-choughed. That’s no mat­ter, though, be­cause the whole week­end has been an ed­u­ca­tion – in this part of the UK, au­tumn can seem to segue seam­lessly into spring, with birds to match.

HAYLE ES­TU­ARY A mag­net for Lap­wings and Curlews, plus Oys­ter­catcher and gulls

 BLACK-NECKED GREBE Matt saw a flock off Fal­mouth  SPOONBILL They are there, even if they eluded Matt this time  BLACK­CAP An in­creas­ing win­ter vis­i­tor, es­pe­cially in the warm south-west

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