Although Porthurno valley may look still and less full of life during the winter months, especially during lockdown, there are still many species choosing to spend the colder part of the year here. The stonechat is one of these. This robin sized bird is a UK resident all year round, with the UK having over 50,000 pairs. Living in heathlands throughout summer and spring, these birds prefer to move closer to the warm southern coasts during winter. The stonechat gets its unusual name from its “chak” call, which sounds like two pebbles being hit together!
Wintering birds in Porthcurno
Females and juveniles have cream coloured feathers and a dark patch on the head. The male stonechat is slightly different, with a white area on their neck, a rust-coloured breast and a white chest. They also have a stark black helmet on their heads.
The Stonechat’s diet is quite diverse, as they are omnivores. They snack on grubs and worms, which are their favourite, but in winter months when those foods are scarce, they will also eat seeds and berries. With breeding quite early in the year, by March their eggs are laid. Nests are built at ground level or up to one metre above and are usually hidden deep in bushes. Four to six blue speckled eggs are laid and after two weeks when they have been incubated, they hatch. The chicks fledge the nest at only 17 days old! It is not uncommon for these birds to have two broods, with four or five chicks surviving each time. Their ability to reproduce large numbers of chicks makes up for the fatalities they face in colder weather, especially if they decide to over winter in the colder areas of the country.
The stonechat is not shy
My experience photographing the stonechat in Porthcurno was very interesting. Although quite fast, they were easy to get close to as they did not seem overly bothered by mine and the cameras presence. As seen in the pictures they were happy to perch on branches next to me for a few seconds before taking flight again. Furthermore, after watching them for about half an hour, I noticed that the couple I was observing had a pattern of flight, flying back and forth to several different points in the landscape, and then back to where I was standing. Because of this I was able to move around and roughly predict around where they were going to land to watch them and snap some shots.
Maeve Cushla, Young Curator, PK Porthcurno