Shorebirds and waders

The boldly coloured black and white Oystercatcher is common both on the Fal estuary and all along the seashore. They can often be seen on the rocks at low tide hammering and chiselling open mussels with their orange bills on Falmouth beaches. The busy little Turnstone is less obvious as it feeds amongst seaweed and rock pools flicking over stones searching for small invertebrates.

Purple Sandpipers are mainly a winter visitor that can turn up almost anywhere along the coastline in small numbers. They like rocky shorelines where they can feed and shelter such as Pendennis Point. Small numbers of Ringed Plover are commonly seen both in the estuary and along the shoreline of Falmouth Bay particularly during the winter and while on their spring and autumn migration. Those passing through in autumn include many juvenile birds fresh from their northern breeding sites.

Small numbers of Sanderling may be seen during the winter on mud flats or sandy beaches. They are always entertaining little birds to watch as they scurry back and forth on the waters edge with the advancing and retreating water. The Knot is another occasional winter visitor with the one pictured seen on the rocks at Pendennis Point.

During the spring and late summer flocks of Whimbrel drop in for a few days whilst on passage between their wintering sites in North Africa and breeding sites in the far north of Europe. They can often be seen in flocks of over fifty feeding on the Falmouth Bay shoreline and along the estuary as well as on coastal grasslands. They can be distinguished from the similar but larger Curlew by their call and the stripe on the crown of their head.

The upper shorelines of all the beaches in the Falmouth area also provide a ready source of food for a variety of other birds. This is particularly true out of holiday season when seaweed left on the strand line hold a lot of insects. Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails are two of the most common birds to be seen feeding all year round on the beaches.

The brightly coloured male Stonechat and his less glamorous wife can often be seen feeding along the high tide mark amongst the seaweed. These little birds will be familiar to those walking the South West Coast Path. They often perch on fences and gorse bushes from where they deliver their distinctive chipping call that sounds like two stones being hit against each other.

All the muddy estuarine creeks support a rich diversity of wading birds throughout the year but as on the seashore numbers fall in the summer when many birds head north or inland to breed. The largest numbers of waders are often found high up the Fal estuary in shallower water where a falling tide exposes large areas of mud flats on which the birds can feed. Devoran is an excellent place to view waders from and, closer to Falmouth, muddy creeks such as Gorrangorras at Penryn are well worth checking.

One of the most commonly seen wading species is the Redshank. Its name refers to its red legs which helps with its identification. It can either be seen on its own or in numbers as it probes the mud for worms. It is an extremely nervous bird that often takes flight with a shrill call which can unsettle more confiding species. Another common wader between the winter and spring is the dumpy little Dunlin. These are often seen in flocks feeding on mud close to the waters edge. Their winter plumage is a dull grey but begins to brighten up in the spring as their breeding plumage breaks through showing a rusty back and more defined black chest stripes and blackish breast.

Common Sandpipers can be seen at most times of the year in small numbers. The best time to see them is when migrating birds are passing through in the spring and autumn. Individuals can be seen on the shoreline of freshwater streams, in estuarine creeks or on the sea foreshore. They are never numerous and not easy to spot, often the first indication of their presence is a shrill piping call as they fly away low across the water. It is also possible to see both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits on the estuary mud flats with numbers fluctuating between autumn and spring.

In winter large numbers of diving ducks and grebes may be seen within the sheltered waters of the estuary and creeks. At this time of year one of the largest concentrations of over wintering Black-necked Grebe in the country can be found feeding in the estuary. Scarcer Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes are also recorded most winters. However, the birds are often far out in the middle of the estuary and it’s not always easy to find places with good access close enough to obtain good views. One of the best places to try is from Loe Beach, Feock but even here a telescope is recommended.

The large diving ducks that can be seen both in the estuary and on inshore waters are Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-throated, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. Small numbers of Eider Duck and the occasional Long-tailed Duck may also be seen.

Links to other parts of the Illustrated Guide to Falmouth Birds

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 3 – Swanpool