Stithians Reservoir - an overview
Lying roughly equidistant between Falmouth, Redruth and Helston on the granite backbone of western Cornwall, Stithians Reservoir is one of the classic Cornwall birding locations. Due to its elevation and exposed position it can seem quite bleak and harsh at times, but it neverthless usually holds a fair selection of interesting birds and has recorded some good birds over the years; there will always be something to see whatever the season and weather.
Constructed in 1967 and at c.350 acres and with a 5.5 mile circumference, it is one of the larger water bodies in the south west. It is jointly owned by SW water and SW Lakes Trust, and open to public amenity use (watersports and with a popular dog walking footpath around much of the perimeter), with the designated nature reseve areas at the northern and southern ends being jointly administrated and managed by SW Lakes trust and CBWPS.
There are three main nature reserve areas - to the north western corner at the northern cutoff (by the Golden Lion pub), and in the south, the southern cutoff and the southern arm of the reservoir itself, with accessible hides at the latter two (Stuart Hutchings and southern cutoff hides). A feeding station is run in the winter months from the southern cutoff hide and affords good photographic and observation opportunities. A private nestbox recording scheme is jointly run in conjunction with the BTO, and the site is a registered BTO bird ringing site.
Stithians has a good track record for rarities with long-staying breeding Pied-billed Grebe in the mid '90s (hybridising with Little Grebe), Cornwall's only twitchable Caspian Tern and White-rumped Sandpiper in the historic birding past. More recent rarities include 1-2 Cattle Egrets in 2008, with Ring-necked Duck and Long-billed Dowitcher in the last few years, the rather rarer 2012 Lizard Bufflehead paid a fleeting visit, and in 2009 a Golden Eagle, of unknown, but quite possibly wild origin, was seen well and photographed by one lucky observer (a major rarity in England as a whole), with birds such Purple Heron and Bonaparte's Gull also having dropped by briefly. Aside from the Pied-billed Grebe, the sites main claim to ornithological fame is in having hosted Britain's first Crag Martin as recently as June 1988. (A full list of the birds seen at Stithians will be available in due course ... )
Overwintering Bittern, interesting diving ducks such as Long-tailed Duck and the chance of interesting birds such as Mediterranean Gull or more unusual waders on the exposed shoreline will brighten up any birding day; the last few autumns have seen a good selection of waders including Ruff and Little Stint in addition to the more regular sandpipers and shanks, with waterbirds including Slavonian Grebe, Garganey and Mandarin Duck having spent prolonged periods at the cutoffs or the main water body. Low water levels in autumn are a prerequiste to enjoying a good wader passage and the last few years haven't disappointed - along with the correct atlantic weather systems and vagrant yank waders may also grace these shores.
Early spring usually brings among the first of Britain's migrating Sand Martins, with other passerine migrants such as the resident Common Whitethroats gradually filtering through as the waterfowl numbers fall back, and although it can seem relatively disturbed, the extent of the shoreline and perhaps lack of proper coverage means that good and interesting birds could well pass through unobserved at all seasons - common uk migrants and scarcities alike. More visible seasonal wanderers such as Osprey, Black Tern and white-winged gulls all pass through in suitable conditions.
Locally resident and breeding birds include Marsh Tit, with Stonechat and other heathland species around the perimeter, and breeding Little and Great Crested Grebes on the waterside itself. Winter brings Tufted Duck and Wigeon flocks (included amongst which a hybrid with American Wigeon has regularly been seen in recent years), with smaller number of Goldeneye and Pochard; other ducks and even geese regularly occur, with the ubiquitous Grey Heron and Cormorants naturally ever present. Kingfisher and Water Rail may also be regularly seen, and Barn Owl has bred nearby. The regular denizens of the countryside include Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, with a regular wintering flock of Lapwing in the area.
All in all, there will always be something to see at this site, and well worth a visit when passing through, or as part of a local birding trip.
Care should be taken with parking and crossing the roads at either cutoff - visibility and traffic speed especially poor at the southern end. Facilities (food etc) available at the Golden Lion and the Watersports Centre at the NW side. There is a public (pay and display) car park on the NE corner by the dam wall which provides another access point to the reservoir.