Where and Why?
The most southerly tip of Cornwall is not always the first place in the county that springs to mind during the seawatching season but with the right conditions the rewards can be better than it’s more westerly competition. This, combined with numerous coves, valleys and heathlands that cover The Lizard, should make for an interesting and varied bird watching experience.
The rugged headlands of Southerly and Bass points are the favoured spots by locals for observing seabird movement and both provide excellent viewpoints. Whilst Porthgwarra and Pendeen rely heavily on southerly and South Westerly winds, the Lizard locations produce birds when conditions are from a south/south-easterly direction.
Commoner species like Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Razorbill and Guillemot can be seen throughout the season in all conditions, but south-easterlies give improved chances of Terns, Phalaropes and Petrels. Low visibility is also useful, with fog or showers pushing birds closer to land and first light to mid-morning appears to be the most productive time, although gale force winds can force birds past all day. Great Skuas are the most common of that family with Arctic and Pomarine also recorded. Great, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters are all possibilities and occasionally pass in good numbers. European Storm Petrels should be scrutinised as the rarer Wilson’s Petrel is sometimes amongst them.
The dramatic scenery and beautiful beaches around Kynance Cove, situated on the west side of the peninsular, are a huge draw to tourists, so be prepared for some disturbance and car parks being full! Early morning or late evening visits are the most fruitful and are your best chance of seeing resident, but secretive, Dartford Warblers. Choughs are regularly seen in the cliff top fields around Kynance and family groups are often encountered. The scrubby valley can be hard work and sheltering migrants in early autumn such as Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Black Redstart, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers can be overlooked. The heathland on the main road into the cove is worth a scan for Wheatear, Whinchat, Meadow and Tree Pipits and Larks and the chance of migrating raptors like Hen and Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Merlin. Peregrine and Kestrel are both resident.
Situated on the east side of the Lizard, the sheltered valley of Church Cove is a great place to look for autumn migrants. The sycamores at the church have produced some of the Lizards rarest birds including Bonelli’s, Pallas’s, Subalpine and Black and White Warblers and Red-eyed Vireo. Parking can often be difficult in the narrow access lanes and it is advisable to park in the main Lizard Village and walk the short distance to the Cove, being careful not to overlook some of the gardens! Early autumn migrants can include Wryneck, Icterine and Melodious Warblers and possibly Red-backed or Woodchat Shrike.
From the town of Helston follow the A3083, signposted to Lizard Point. For Church Cove take the road that forks left just before Lizard Village and follow signs for the church. Parking is limited here and as previously mentioned, it may be worth parking in the centre of Lizard Village to walk to the cove. Kynance Cove is signposted off the A3083, follow the toll road down to the main car park.
For seawatching, Bass Point is reached by walking from the head of Church Cove along the footpath to the lifeboat station then continuing along the coastal path to the point for approximately 1 mile, to the Coastguard Station. Southerly Point is easy. Simply drive until you come to the sea! There is plenty of parking provided by the National Trust at the point and the grassy car park is a good place to see Choughs!
OS Landranger 203.
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Where to Watch Birds in Devon and Cornwall (Norman and Tucker 3rd Edition 1997)A Lizard Bird Diary (Cave 2016)