Winter birds around Trelissick

Teal watercolour by Sonia Hensler

It’s tough out there for birds during the winter – food is scarce, temperatures plummet and the days draw in. On the plus side, as the leaves fall birds will suddenly become much easier to spot in sparse canopies, out on the water or etched in stark relief to the early morning frosts.

Winter can be a fantastic time for bird watching. With the daylight hours slashed to their minimum our feathered friends are making the most of every minute to find enough food for survival. Down at Trelissick’s beach; make sure you keep an eye out for large numbers of migratory ducks, geese and swans, many of which are present in their highest numbers over the winter months. Alongside these regular characters, there are shelducks that dwarf the tiny teal as they cruise up and down the creeks and the scarce Slavonian grebe, which makes a home of the Fal for the winter.

Cormorants are a common sight on the Fal
Comorant - courtesy of
Cormorants are a common sight on the Fal

Even during the comparatively bleak period of January and February, there can be a real wildlife spectacle going on in the water, with drakes flashing their bright plumage and calling out emphatically whilst the sleek shapes of cormorants dive for fish. Over on a quiet shoreline you can often see the solitary, silent form of a heron as it stalks the shallows on stilt-like legs.

Out on the greater Estate, at the wildlife fields of Tregew, you might spot redwings and fieldfares. These birds are both types of thrush that often travel and feed together in large flocks, foraging around hedgerows for berries or darting out over the fields to find insects and worms. Meanwhile, predatory raptors such as buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks hover and soar high in the air, scouring the ground for unsuspecting mammals.

Buzzards survey the landscape from their perches
Buzzard - courtesy of
Buzzards survey the landscape from their perches

As part of our wildlife management in the Tregew area, we planted a crop of barley that has now been left as winter provision for farmland birds. On our last visit we spotted groups of skylarks, goldfinches and linnets that were all making the most of this bounty. Many species of farmland bird are becoming scarce as a result of intensive agriculture so it is wonderful to have the chance, as a conservation charity, to provide for our native wildlife.

The late afternoon or early evening can be the best time to spot birds during the cold months – a silver lining to the shortening days! Many birds can be seen at this time flying in the same direction to roost for the night. Birds roost together in large numbers for warmth and safety, usually choosing a place of cover, such as the dense crown of a large, veteran tree. Rooks, jackdaws and carrion crows are the classics when it comes to watching roosts at sunset. Look out for their pitch-black silhouettes and listen for their earthy croaks as they convene en masse in the tree tops.

Why not see how many you can spot as you walk around Trelissick?


Bird calls

It is often easier to find birds with our ears rather than with our eyes. Bird calls – once learnt – are distinctive and often unique to individual species whereas a briefly glimpsed bird can easily be mistaken for one of many types.

We have two classic and unmistakeable bird calls to get you started. First up are tawny owls, which are handily at their noisiest in December. This is because, very much like our next example, these birds actually begin their courtship rituals in the winter. We all know what an owl hoot sounds like so keep an ear out if you are going for a late afternoon stroll.

Tawney owls can be heard hooting in the treetops
Tawney owl - courtesy of
Tawney owls can be heard hooting in the treetops

The other culprit for shattering the woodland hush is the greater spotted woodpecker who begins his famous drumming in January and February. The ‘drumming’ you can hear is actually the bird taking advantage of the ample amounts of standing deadwood in our woodlands and seeking out the tasty grubs that are hidden within!

- The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford