The estuary at Hayle is the most westerly in the County and is renowned nationally as a great birding area, turning up many rarities in the past. The estuary is owned by the RSPB and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its wintering wildfowl and waders.
The lower estuary is predominantly sandy, becoming muddier towards the western end and includes Ryan’s Field, an enclosed area to the south of the main estuary which can be viewed from a purpose built hide, best at high tide. (see also Copperhouse Creek Site Guide)
From the Town of Hayle, head west out of the town along the B3301, the estuary opens up on your right hand side after the Tempest Factory Unit. Take the left turn just before the old petrol station, signposted St Erth, the almost immediately right, (if you go under the railway bridge, you’ve gone too far!) into the car park at Ryan’s Field RSPB. Once parked you can walk down to view the main estuary from the causeway bridge and also scan Ryan’s Field from the Eric Grace Memorial Hide.
The Old Quay House public house is under new management and the current landlord is happy for birders to use the car park to view the estuary, in return we ask you to consider having a drink in the pub. Alternative Parking and viewing, especially at high tide is the Park and Ride Car park at Lelant Saltings. Drive past the Old Quay house pub (on your right) towards St Ives then turn right onto the new housing estate (just after going under the railway bridge). Drive straight through the estate to the car park at the end of the road and walk up onto the railway platform to view the exposed mud at the western corner. (Note: If you tell the man taking the money for the car park that you are birding and not using the train you wont be charged for parking, they are very good like that!) There are other areas to view the estuary but the ones mentioned are best for high tide.
Although best known to birders as a stop off point for migrant waders, the first noticeable species are the Gulls. The larger gulls congregate along the main channel and are best viewed from the B3301 causeway bridge. Smaller gulls favour the sandy area at the northern end of the estuary off the west side of Carnsew Pool. The flocks consist of mainly Herring, Great Black Backed and Black Headed Gulls bolstered in late winter with the build up of Lesser Black backs and a few Common Gulls.
Med Gulls are present in small numbers in most months and are joined on occasion by Little Gulls. Less common Iceland and Glaucous Gulls are recorded annually each winter.
Winter usually produces large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Wigeon on the Estuary and a Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon are usually found amongst them. Divers, Grebes, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser occur annually in small numbers and favour the shelter of Carnsew Pool. Wader numbers in winter are generally low, with fluctuating numbers of Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing. Other wintering waders can include Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey and Golden plover, knot and Greenshank. Kingfishers are much more evident in winter on the estuary and can be seen fishing on Ryan’s Field or flying past the station platform at Lelant.
Spring passage usually includes good numbers of Whimbrel with the odd Little Ringed Plover and Wood and Green sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwit recorded. Occasionally an Avocet or two drop in. This is a good time for Terns too with Black, Sandwich, Little, Arctic and Common Terns seen annually,
Autumn is undoubtedly the best time for Wader passage with good numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover and Turnstones on Carnsew pool. Scarcer migrants include Wood, Green, and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover and Ruff. Little Egrets can be seen at all times of year and numbers can reach 20+ individuals in winter and late autumn. Resident species include, Grey Heron, Redshank, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Rook, Curlew and Meadow Pipit with Swallow, Swift and House Martin over during the summer months.
The Estuary is renowned for turning up rare and scarce species and the list is long and luxurious, it includes:
Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Great-white Egret, Least, Western, Spotted, Bairds, Broad-billed, Buff-breasted, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-winged stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklins, Laughing, Bonepartes and Ring-billed Gulls, White-Billed Diver, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Kite, Citrine wagtail, Common crane, Whiskered, Gull-Billed, White-winged Black and Forsters Tern.
TIMING AND TIPS
The estuary can offer something to anyone at anytime of year, any time of day. Two hours before and two hours after high tide are proven to be best for waders. Ryan’s Field is best at high tide, particularly on extremely high tides when there is no where on the main estuary for waders to roost. Take care when crossing the road from Ryan’s field to the causeway bridge, many motorists drive like idiots along that stretch and once at the bridge, many think its very funny to use their horns illegally to make you jump. Best ignored!
At Lelant Saltings Platform, it is best to stand at the very western end to view the exposed mud as the platform can get very busy with tourists and the train will stop right in front of your view if you stand in the middle.
More info on the tides and weather here
Paul Freestone ©Cornwall Birding 2008
Green-winged Teal – B.McGeough; Pied-billed Grebe, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs – J.H.Johns; Spotted Sandpiper and views of estuary/Ryans Field - P.Freestone.
Where to Watch Birds in Devon and Cornwall – N.Tucker
Birdwatch Magazine (numerous)
Sennen Cove Birdwatching Website
CBWPS Cornwall Bird reports (numerous)
Images from Hayle Estuary RSPB: