Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, spotting the wide variety of sea, shore and river bird species within the VMCA is a rewarding pursuit, so why not have a go at ‘twitching’! Here are our top tips for birdwatching in Looe.
- Spring and summer: Looe Island is important for its colonies of breeding seabirds, including cormorants and shags and Cornwall’s largest colony of great black-backed gulls, while the Looe rivers are home to a colony of grey herons and little egrets.
- Spring and autumn: migrating waders, terns and gulls on the rocky shore.
- Winter: the sheltered water between Looe Island and Hannafore is an excellent place to see divers and grebes. The estuaries at low tide are usually thronged with large flocks of gulls.
Best Locations & Birds to Look Out for
- Hannafore (SX256525) is the starting point for the coast path leading west to Polperro. Birds can be observed from the road, and are easier to see on an incoming tide, when they move closer to the esplanade. In winter there are usually turnstones, ringed plovers and oystercatchers on the rocks, and other waders may turn up, and great northern divers and slavonian grebes are regularly seen offshore. There are always several species of gull. At the western end of Hannafore the low cliffs are a good place to see small passerine birds in winter (with occasional rarities), and there are usually pipits and wagtails on the beach.
- The West Looe River runs alongside the Millpool car park (SX250538). You can walk upstream from the Millpool through Kilminorth Woods to Watergate (SX235545). Along the river you can watch herons and egrets wading in the shallows at low tide, or clustered in the heronry in Trenant Woods on the far bank. If you are lucky you may see a shelduck or a kingfisher or, in early autumn, a migrating common sandpiper. Overhead look out for buzzards.
- Looe Island is one of the South West’s key breeding sites for the great black-backed gulls (the world’s largest gull). A substantial colony of herring gulls live here and two other colonial breeders have their main site here – the cormorant and shag. Both birds can be seen throughout the year fishing in the bay and estuary. The fulmar‚ a graceful flier related to the albatross‚ is a fifth breeding seabird, with a few nests on the island. A boat trip around the island provides plenty of opportunities to see the resident seabirds, or perhaps a visiting gannet.
Parking & Facilities
- Hannafore: Free parking; easily accessible by car. Toilets (near Coastguard Station); variety of refreshment outlets.
- West Looe River: Extensive parking at the Millpool Car Park. Public toilets; Cafe/takeaway outlet.
- Looe Island: owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, can be visited by boat on pre-booked day trips in summer though some of the main nesting areas are closed to visitors (Full details from CWT website.).
- Looe Bay boat trips around the Island can be booked on the quay in East Looe.
- Binoculars are essential (preferably 8×40) and a telescope is a bonus for seawatching at Hannafore.
- A good identification guide.
- Suitable footwear for possibly muddy walking by the river and for uneven paths on the Island.