Birdwatching and nature spotting in West Cornwall at Godolphin Hill


For my birdwatching article this month I thought I would break with tradition and take you on a walk, writes DAVID CHAPMAN. This route follows a short section of the River Hayle and leads to the summit of Godolphin Hill in West Cornwall and is a walk that I do regularly myself because I live nearby. It offers a lovely variety of habitats and views and I will help you look for birds along the way.


From the National Trust car park for Godolphin House head down the track to the road, turn left on the road and after 100 yards, where the road bends left, go straight on down the track. At this junction it would be possible to divert into Godolphin Woods to the right. The woodland here is attractive and well worth a detour but my route leads down to the small ford and footbridge where you turn left and follow along the left hand side of the River Hayle.

Close to this ford listen for birds in the scrub. Most years I see garden warbler here but be careful because the garden warbler sounds very similar to the blackcap. If you are not confident in identifying by song then stand and wait, eventually the bird will reveal itself. Both species are warblers about the size of a small house sparrow, the male blackcap has a black cap, the female has a distinct brown cap whilst the garden warbler is just plain brown. On the wires over the river look for linnets, goldfinches and swallows.

There are scattered pine trees and areas of open ground in the flood plain of the river. This is an old tin-streaming area where workers once sifted through the sediment to search for tin ore. It has become good habitat for the green woodpecker. Listen for the yaffling laugh of this bird or watch for its typical undulating flight. It is a large green and yellow bird with a red head, so difficult to miss.


Along the river side is a great spot for warblers. Here you might come across willow warblers and chiffchaffs, another pair of birds which are best separated by song. The chiffchaff is easy since it calls its name, the willow warbler has a fluid attractive high-pitched song. Also along the river in the willow trees look for flocks of long-tailed tits and goldcrests.

There are a couple of pools on the opposite side of the river and every year in August I see green sandpipers here. They pause on their migratory route from Eastern Europe to Africa and unlike most wading birds the green sandpiper has a preference for fresh water pools rather than estuaries.

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The path leads to a stile up onto a road, turn left on the road but then immediately right onto a smaller road. After another 50 yards turn left through a gate, then through a second gate and up the left hand side of a field. This path comes to another gate and a track, turn right on the track and after 20 yards turn left through another gate. Follow the left hand side of this field too. You are climbing steadily up Godolphin Hill, pause every now and again to look back at the view and overhead for buzzards which will be soaring on the thermals. In August the noisy juvenile buzzards will be calling continually begging their parents to bring them food.

The path now leads over an impressive stone stile over a large wall, climb over this and turn right on the path which levels out, skirting the north side of the hill. This is open moorland with bracken, gorse and heather, the National Trust have instigated a regime of grazing which keeps the paths open and encourages wild flowers to grow. Anywhere around the hill you will come across meadow pipits, which breed on the ground in the rough vegetation. The meadow pipit resembles a small thrush with speckled brown breast but it has a 'tsip-tsip' call which makes it easily identifiable.


After a couple of hundred yards there is a well trodden path to the left which leads to the summit of the hill. This path goes past a small old quarry where there is standing water in all but the driest conditions. It is worth pausing here and looking for birds. The extra scrub which grows in the moist ground attracts whitethroats to breed. They can be quite secretive but during August will have young which are more easily observed. Look for a drab brown bird with a white throat.

At the same spot look for linnets, these are a type of finch and because they eat mostly seed they need to drink more than many other birds and so regularly come to the quarry to drink. They nest all over the hill in the gorse bushes and the males in particular are well worth a close look with their beautiful red breasts.

Listen carefully for bird song particularly if you visit in the evening or early morning you might be lucky enough to hear a grasshopper warbler. The grasshopper warbler is a difficult bird to find because it tends to stay fairly low down in the bracken but it does come up to perch on top to sing in the evenings. Its song is similar to a grasshopper but travels for hundreds of yards and is difficult to pinpoint.

Soon you will be at the top of the hill and admiring the views of the coast to the north and south west. From here you can see in anti-clockwise rotation: St Ives, the hills of West Penwith, Newlyn, the top of St Michael's Mount, The Lizard, Carn Brea and St Agnes Beacon.

There are three paths leading down from the top of the hill, the shortest route back to the car park is to take the path to the left (as you approached the summit). This leads down the hill roughly in an easterly direction. Go straight across another path and down through a gate, this attractive path then leads through a small meadow and through a gate and continues down through woodland.

Keep an eye out for sparrowhawks as you descend the hill. They love the woodland fringe and can be seen either soaring high like a buzzard or hurtling through the trees in pursuit of small birds. I have seen spotted flycatchers in the woodland and great spotted woodpeckers are often present.

As you approach the house turn left through a stile onto an open field. At the other end of this field pass through another stile onto the track and turn right back to the car park. From here I recommend visiting the house for refreshments before heading home.

The Godolphin Estate and House is owned by The National Trust. The estate and parking are free. There is a charge for non-members to look around the gardens. The house is open only on certain days so have a look at the website for details. There is a cafe near the house.Access: from Townshend take the road to Godolphin Cross, down the hill over the river, the road bends left then right and on the next left hand bend turn right onto a small track sign posted to the car park.www.nationaltrust.org.uk/godolphin