Wildlife Gems of June in Cornwall and Devon

No, that’s not me

Although it’s been a bit of a disappointing month as far as paddling offshore in search of marine megafauna is concerned, there’s been plenty of other nuggets of natural history to enjoy. The sea has been very quiet in terms of surface activity and despite churning out a lot of offshore miles I have only seen a couple of pods of Common Dolphins dashing past.

Dolphins approaching…fast. (Brixham)

Just one came over to say hello, very briefly.

A single friendly dolphin

I think they were chasing mackerel but at least one pod were after Launce. The gulls tidied up the leftovers.

Herring Gull with launce (greater sandeel). Dolphin behind. (Penzance)

Porpoises are still thin on the ground as well… just four encounters at three locations along the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall.

Simon and hasty Porpoise (Brixham)

However this quietness is typical for the time of the year. It’s all part of the annual cycle of the sea. The plankton bloom of the spring fuels the baitfish boom which is currently in the process of kicking off.

Maybe it already has. A couple of weeks ago off Fowey my heart missed a beat when I saw a huge dark brown shape just below the surface ahead of me. What I initially thought was a Basking Shark turned out to be a vast baitball of sandeels. They had been herded together by a shoal of Bass that were lurking nearby.

June got off to a cracking start on the very first day of the month with my first ever Otter along the open coast in Cornwall or Devon (having seen hundreds in the rivers/estuaries), and a juvenile Minke Whale during the same trip. Reported in my last but one blog.

Minke Whale, Penzance. June 1st

For the action for the rest of the month I’ll let the images do the talking.

All pics taken from the kayak seat, as usual.

Puffin (Lamorna)
Puffin (Lamorna)
Shelduck Family (Torridge)
Pair of Seals bottling (Dartmouth)
Oystercatchers (Taw)
Motley Crew. Tim, Jess, Becky, Mark, Emma (Bude)
Mousehole

This month has started off well too. My ultra early start for a bit of otter spotting on the Tamar paid off with a view of my first ever July Otter in Cornwall this morning. Just as it was getting light, through the mist of dawn (and bleary eyes).

Otters are very much more difficult to observe during the summer because they are essentially nocturnal and there are more people about (in kayaks!) to make them even more reluctant to venture out during daylight hours. So I was very pleased with this. I would have completely missed it if I hadn’t heard it crunching a fish in the middle of a bush!

Whitenose the Otter…July 1st

Looks like a dog otter and it’s got a white nose. Hopefully I will see it again sometime.

The Puffins of Boscastle

Short Island, Boscastle

Boscastle is not often kayak-friendly. Any swell is reflected back out to sea by the vertical cliffs and if you throw in a bit of wind chop and tidal swirl, the ride is more akin to the Calgary stampede.

But Thursday was one of those rare days when the surface was as flat as a lake.

Puffins were top of the agenda for myself, Suzanne and Paul. Legend states that there are a handful of pairs nesting on the islands and over the last fifteen years I have had fleeting glimpses of one or two birds on the water, or zipping passed as my kayak has been bounced around.

I didn’t see them at all last year.

The islands were raucous with the chatter of hundreds of Guillemots and Razorbills which thronged the cliff ledges and sat about in large groups on the sea. A really fantastic spectacle in what is arguably the most scenic and dramatic coastal location in the whole of Cornwall.

Guillemots

Take a look at these birds up close and they really are staggeringly exquisite, especially the Razorbills….

Guillemots
Razorbills

Time for a coffee…

Second breakfast?

Although the handful of Puffins were vastly outnumbered by their fellow auk cousins (Guillemots and Razorbills), they were easy to spot from afar with their white faces.

World-class seabirds in a world-class location.

Enjoy this Cornish mindful moment:

Boscastle Puffins

So there they were, the gems of the sea, three of them. A pair and a singleton. We sat around watching them for half-an-hour. It was a bit of a struggling to drag ourselves away from this stupendous location in such perfect conditions. Wall-to-wall blue sky as well!

Shy Puffin
Boscastle Puffin
Boscastle Puffin Perfection
Puffin Pair

We paddled past the extraordinarily craggy and eroded Long Island and on down the coast.

Long Island

Then we witnessed another major ornithological spectacle, only a few minutes after the images of the Puffins had faded from our retinas.

A Peregrine Falcon came streaking down towards the cliffs in a shallow stoop, and struck at a small pigeon which had appeared from nowhere. Somehow the pigeon avoided a full hit although it left a few feathers behind.

There then ensued the most incredible pursuit as the pigeon twisted and turned as close to the cliff face as it could, with the Peregrine repeatedly gaining a bit of height and stooping again as its victim, which somehow managed to avoid being caught by a whisker on several occasions, even when another falcon joined in with the hunt. The pigeon disappeared behind a rock close to the water and the Peregrine perched above.

Here it is:

Juvenile Peregrine

I was very surprised to see this is a juvenile bird, recently out of the nest. It still has some downy feathers on the back of its neck. An usually early brood.

You can see how close it came to securing a meal…pigeon feathers are still stuck in its talons!

We found the terrified pigeon just around the corner, cowering on a tiny ledge close to the water. Actually very clever, because it’s about the only place the Peregrines can’t reach.

Collared Dove

Not for the first time today I was totally amazed. What on earth was a Collared Dove doing along a super-exposed open cliff? They prefer a more cosy life of parks and gardens and are very much resident and reluctant to wander. I have certainly never seen one in this sort of environment before.

The most likely explanation is that the second falcon, the juvenile Peregrine’s parent, had caught the Collared Dove some way inland where it lived, and ‘live-dropped’ the poor bird for the youngster to chase.

Nature in the raw, but a happy outcome for the Dove…just. (Unless it got caught when it tried to escape its ledge)

Incidentally, I have no idea why the dove has a feather in its beak. Perhaps it doesn’t know either, and probably doesn’t care. It will be majorly traumatised…but relieved to still be alive.

Phew, lunch on a beach was in order after a surfeit of excitement:

North Cornish beach…not too shabby.

Of course we had to have a quick look at Tintagel, and the new bridge to the ‘island’, a couple of miles further down the coast. As Paul pointed out, the vast number of tourists on the island were packed in like the Guillemots on the cliffs.

Better to visit by kayak, that’s for sure.

Tintagel

The paddle back was super-enjoyable and just a little less eventful.

However I was very pleased to see a trio of Puffins on their ledge high up on one of the islands. I have never managed to locate this ledge before and suspect that nobody ever has, because looking with binoculars from a boat is impossible on 99 days out of 100 here, due to swell.

Puffins on their ledge

Puffins usually breed in burrows but do occasionally nest on ledges, such as in Dorset. These may have been ledge-nesting or have a burrow in one of the few vegetation-covered patches on the island nearby. Who knows, it is just great to see them apparently doing well here.

In fact we think we saw five Puffins in total, so there are probably three pairs here at present.

I must stop using so many exclamation marks…but I can’t help it!!

Puffin at Boscastle, 2 June 2022

Yet another TOP TRIP.

Dreamland Cornwall…Whale and Otter in a Single Trip

Classy glassy

After my Sunfish sensation a couple of days ago I couldn’t resist another trip to the far west of Cornwall yesterday. Especially as the sea conditions looked absolutely perfect for a nice and relaxed day out on the water…no wind and hardly any swell.

I paddled directly offshore for an hour and regularly stopped to listen for a blow or a splash. Absolute silence, in fact I kept trying to unblock my ears by doing that yawny thing, because I could not quite believe the complete absence of audio input. A few seabirds maintained the interest. This little posse of Guillemots…

Guillemots

And a lone loafing Gannet. What a cracker…

Gannet

As usual, it was during my coffee break that it all kicked off. A modest blast of air was followed by a dark back, with fin attached, rolling at the surface fairly close by. Whaaat! I think that was a whale!

It wasn’t that big, and the lack of the usual huge blast of a breathing whale threw my brain cell into turmoil. When it surfaced again the id was still not clinched…

Is that a whale?

Fortunately it opted for a third breath and the more typical profile of a Minke Whale appeared.

Looking good for a whale
Yes, defo

I might be tempted to say the back is a bit ‘flat’ for a Minke, and maybe more like a Sei Whale, but the absence of any visible blow makes me fairly certain this was a juvenile Minke. Although it looks quite big in the pic!

I waited around for it to surface again, but it rapidly sloped off and I could hear it blowing in the distance with just a glimpse of it from afar.

Blooming excellent, but better was to come, if you are a fan of otters.

Lunchtime break was provided by an absurdly curious bull seal who was entertaining an entourage of teenage paddleboarders from the nearby beach.

To complete my circuit for the day I followed the coast closely for the return trip.

Cornish Paddling Perfection

I was so deep into that post-lunch soparific state that I didn’t immediately register the significance of the three-humped creature on the surface in front of me…

The classic three-hump profile

Oh good grief…it’s an otter. My first-ever otter along the open coast of Cornwall (and coasts don’t get any more ‘open’ than where I was now). And the last thing I expected to see at 1pm on the first day of summer.

I slammed on the brakes and watched from behind a rock. The otter surfaced after every dive with a crunchy snack as they always do. Fantastic to watch.

Otter

It then surfaced with something very much bigger and headed shorewards. I was expecting it to clamber out onto the nearest rock to consume its prey as I had seen in Scotland many times only a few weeks ago,but instead it just completely disappeared towards a jumble of boulders on the shore. Mmmm, was it feeding a family?

Dunno, because I didn’t see it again and I kept well away.

Not a bad day, all in all.

Sunfish!

My first visit to the Land’s End peninsular since January started off quietly. In fact the sea was totally silent for the first two hours apart from three brief ornithological noises: the yip of a Common Tern (which aren’t very common), the yelp of a passing Bar-tailed Godwit, and the squeak of wings of a Great Northern Diver which probably had Iceland or Greenland as destination on its satnav.

Things livened up when the sea started to get a bit swirly in the tidal current off the Lighthouse. Thousands upon thousands of Manx Shearwaters were flying about, shallow diving at the the surface, or having a bit of a social and a preen. Sitting right in the middle of them, with them cooing and crooning all around, is quite a phenomenon. One of the great natural wonders of offshore kayaking in Cornwall.

Manx Shearwaters
Manx Shearwaters

The Scillonian passed right through the middle of the flock.

Scillonian surrounded by Shearwaters

I took a coffee (and curly-wurly) break in amongst the birds before I a hefty shower was about to hit and saw a fin sculling across the surface. Sunfish!

Sunfish
Ocean Sunfish amongst Shearwaters

It was carving through the water at quite a speed, and then did a rapid u-turn and headed straight towards me. I scrambled my go pro just in time.

Ocean Sunfish

This was quite a large fish…about a metre across. Although they can be very much bigger than this in their tropical home, the ones I bump into during the summer around SW England (which is when they appear) are usually smaller.

A really extraordinary creature…

The permanently open mouth does little to improve the image.
Slimline profile
Ocean Sunfish

It disappeared for five minutes and then popped up again right beside me. It obligingly signed off with another close flypast…and then was gone into the depths.

Sunfish: Bizarre, weird, unique and totally tropical.

Otter vs Octopus

Anyone for a swim? Stunning west coast of Uist

Although there was a sniff of sunshine between weather fronts which brought the true colours of the Outer Isles to life, much of our two week to Barra and North Uist was monochrome grey with plenty of rinsing.

A touch of weather

Remembering that their is no such thing as bad clothing, only unsuitable weather (or something like that), we ventured out despite the deluge and were rewarded with a smorgasbord of signature birds.

Ringed Plover…quiet and polite
Great Northern Diver…check out that bling!
Arctic Terns…relentlessly chatty and cheerful
Short-eared Owl…eye don’t come more penetrating than that
White-tailed Eagle (juv)…a great slab of a bird

Becky and I paddled silently up a tidal channel hoping to see an otter, and hastily parked up on the weedy rocks when we glimpsed a chocolate-brown back rolling at the surface in front of us, with tail flicking up before it disappeared.

Unfortunately we then found ourselves in the thick of the otter action. One climbed out on a rock just in front of the kayak. A bit too close.

Otter close encounter

This turned out to be a pup and as its mum huffed its disapproval of us from a nearby rock, the youngster started to call out for its parent. Video:

Chirping Otter Pup

Becky and I remained completely still, and the two were soon united and continued fishing on the other side of the channel, coming up with a crunchy snack after every dive, as usual. So we didn’t give them too much of a fright.

My most remarkable otter sighting was saved till the last day on the islands. It was windy again and I was tempted to remain on dry land. Paddling against the wind was virtually impossible, with significant forward progress only achievable during lulls in the gusts. I ventured downwind to some islands yet to be explored. Not a good idea maybe, as I usually go upwind first to ensure the trip back is easy.

Navigational concerns evaporated when I saw a mother and pup otter fishing in the choppy water beside a low-tide islet. Staying downwind of the pair was no problem although I had to paddle hard just to stay in the same place.

Teeth whiter than Rylan Clark and Jurgen Klopp

I watched them for over half an hour moving between the small islands, climbing out onto the highest stone and ‘marking’ them with urine or faeces. They stuck together closely although occasionally the pup seemed to get lost and would chirp to its mum, who replied with a softer contact call.

Mum emerged with a crab and deftly manoeuvred it around so she could prise off its carapace in one piece, like taking the lid off a tin. Wouldn’t want any nasty little bits of splintered shell in her seafood lunch.

Impressive, but not so good if you are a crab. You can see it all here:

Otter eating crab

I was beginning to get a bit edgy about the long paddle back into the wind when the mother popped up with a large octopus whose legs were flailing about all over the place. OMG!!

She swam directly to the nearest dry land, as otters always do when the catch a sizable meal.

She emerged onto the weed and passed the flapping octopus to the excited pup, who carried it across the rocks in front of me before settling down to consume it out of sight behind a weed-covered boulder.

Otter plus octopus

At one stage the octopus had an arm wrapped completely round the pup’s nose, and one around its neck.

Otter plus octopus

Video:

Otter vs Octopus


Tremendous, can’t wait for my next visit to the Western Isles to check out their most magical mammal.

Hebridean Otter

An Hour with a Family of Otters

North Uist

Our fortnight in the Outer Hebrides got off to a thunderous start with a mindboggling haul of marine megafauna from the Oban to Castlebay ferry. Six Minke Whales, six Basking Sharks, a pod of Risso’s Dolphins, hundreds of Common Dolphins and porpoises. Plus a couple of Puffins.

The flat conditions of the crossing were the only calm day we were going to get, however. From then on the wind blew, hard and relentless.

Common Dolphin (taken from ship)

I don’t like strong winds, but eagles do…

White-tailed Eagle attempting a lunar eclipse

So kayaking was limited to sheltered creeks. A bit dull, unless you are a fan of otters. Because slinking around tidal inlets in complete silence in a kayak is the best way to observe the Hebrides’ most magical mammal.

I glimpsed this family consisting of mum and two pups from afar, so had plenty of time to get downwind and drive my kayak up onto a bed of seaweed so I could enjoy the show at leisure without spooking them.

The pups stayed close to the security of their little rock while mum went off to look for their lunch. Pups are even more restless than their hasty parents so they couldn’t resist passing the time with a bit of a wrestling match…

Otter pups playing

They seemed to sense when mum was returning long before she showed up. I had heard one of the pups ‘chirping’ loudly earlier, and a more soft call in response from the mother, but I didn’t see what was drawing the pup’s attention…

Otter pups, North Uist

They were in no doubt that lunch was being delivered imminently, and dashed down to the water as fast as their short legs would carry them:

Otter pups out of the blocks
Otter pups at max speed

When mum emerged carrying a spectacularly large fish, a Three-bearded Rockling, there ensued a chorus of chattering and mewing from the pups as they followed her back up the little island. The fish was long enough for all three otters to grasp at the same time. She released the fish, still very much alive and flapping, for the pups to grapple.

You can see it wriggling as one pup makes a dash for a bit of solo munching.

It wasted no time in demolishing a large part of the fish, before its sibling could stand by watching no longer, and snatched the remains for itself.

Otter plus (shredded) Three-bearded Rockling

The excitement had attracted an audience. A Hooded Crow arrived to see if it could steal a snack. Bold, cunning and caution all rolled into one feathery package.

Hooded Crow waiting for its moment

At last it spotted a chance of a mouthful of fresh fish:

Hooded Crow and Otter

The fish was nothing but a skeleton after a few minutes and the little family slithered off towards the main island. I shadowed them at a safe distance and had my final sight of them as they came around a seaweedy corner heading directly towards me.

This little clip sums up otter family life quite nicely. You can see super-wary mother briefly checks me out before deciding I am not a threat. Otters don’t have great eyesight and the subdued colour of my kayak undoubtedly helps with the stealth.

The pups really don’t have a care in the world and caution is not big on their agenda. They just seem to have a great time…all the time.

One of the best wildlife videos I have ever taken from my kayak…pleased with that one.

More Hebridean otters coming in the next blog…watch this space.

Otter, North Uist

Mayday Magic: Risso’s Dolphins off Berry Head

It was a cold, grey and wet Mayday morning in Torbay. But at least it wasn’t windy. I decided to make the considerable effort to go to look for fins off Berry Head when I awoke at 05.15.

It was certainly worth it. As I approached the headland I saw an enormously tall fin break the surface. A real OMG moment, and that usually means a Risso’s dolphin (because I havn’t seen an Orca in SW England yet). This individual also had an Orca-like grey patch behind its tall fin to make identification even more confusing (and pulse-raising)

Risso’s

Its mate appeared nearby and this was a more typical Risso’s with a very blanched body. They get whiter as they get old, apparently.

Risso’s number 2

I have learnt during the dozen or so encounters I have had with Risso’s dolphins that they are hard to observe from a kayak. They are very large and very robust and spend a long time underwater when they are hunting their favourite meal of cuttlefish. They can surface many hundreds of yards from where they submerged, and today this was complicated by a choppy sea off the headland where the tide was swirling.

Although they started off in the smoother water of the bay…

They very quickly headed south past the headland. Their little posse of four contained one juvenile which could not contain its ebullience and hurled itself about in typical dolphin style.

They were hunting along the tideline where the static current from the bay meets the main moving body of water further offshore. This is usually the domain of the resident porpoise pod, but these did not appear to be around today.

The local gulls were very pleased to feed of the remains of the cuttlefish the dolphins left behind. More than just remains in reality; the Risso’s just seem to eat the squidgy vital organs and leave the rest behind…

Cuttlefish remains

There were very few boats around as it was early and unpleasantly wet, but the Risso’s have such big fins they attracted the attention of what little boat traffic was around:

I left them disappearing off to the south, but ten minutes later heard a blast of breath behind me as they had u-turned and come back for more:

One had an unusual colour scheme of very white in front, and dark behind:

Berry Head Risso’s

Another had more extensive white, with many scars which is a feature of Risso’s. They are toothed dolphins and get into a lot of dolphin-style bar-room brawls.

Before I departed after enjoying their company for the best part of two hours (although most of it at very long range), they put on a very satisfactory show, complete with some nice big whale-like blasts of breath:

And the white one surged high enough out of the water to catch a glimpse of its beady eye:

The first time I have ever seen Risso’s dolphins in Torbay. In fact the first time I have ever seen Risso’s dolphins in Devon.

Risso’s Dolphins, Torbay

Cool.

Seville and its Hidden Wildlife

Escaping the wind and rain of the Mediterranean coast we drove a couple of hours north through the mountains and found a lake which looked like it was purpose-built for a kayak trip.

Becky and I made a leisurely day of it with a ten-mile circumnavigation of the lake punctuated my frequent tea stops and a lengthy lunch break. Vultures circled round the backdrop of mountains and a selection of smaller eagles, Booted and Short-toed, put in an appearance.

Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce

Wildlife sighting of the day was a posse of seven Black-winged Stilts. Extreme avian elegance.

Black-winged Stilts

After tackling the Caminito del Rey, which involves walking (shock horror) we headed west to Seville. Clear blue sky, light winds, pleasantly warm. Absolutely perfect.

Kayaks launched, we looked forward to a relaxing few hours investigating the centre of the city. Unfortunately we paddled past the start line of the national kayak sprint championships at precisely the moment the firing gun went off and the entire width of the river exploded in a maelstrom of flailing blades from dozens of racing kayaks.

Seville National Kayak Championships

Somebody shouted to (at) us but I looked dumb and we cruised on, being bounced around by the wash of the regatta, who were receding into the distance fast.

We tried to ignore the smirks of onlookers as we hugged the bushes of the shore to avoid getting tangled up in the race.

Becky in Seville

It was a relief to get off the course and start to enjoy what we were here to appreciate…the appeal of downtown Seville.

Downtown Seville

It was a buzzing place with shrieks of enjoyment from swimmers, paddleboarders, partygoers backed by thumping music from restaurants and wedding receptions.

We lunched midriver beside a replica of a tallship, the first ship to circumnavigate the world, in 1520.

I was very pleased to see the underside of the main bridge through the city plastered with housemartin nests, with the birds themselves chattering around our ears. A sadly disappearing experience back at home.

The bushes which overhung the river, even in the middle of the city, were alive with wildlife. Hundreds of Terrapins sunned themselves on low branches and watched us pass in a rather haughty manner (the Terrapins, not us).

Haughty Terrapin

A Purple Heron was unbelievably well camouflaged in amongst the dry branches…

(spot the) Purple Heron

Quite few Night Herons as well.

Black-crowned Night Heron

As we loaded our kayaks back onto the roof of the car in the carpark, I noticed a Hoopoe fly to a hole in a nearby tree. I spent twenty minutes watching a pair feed their brood which were just visible in the dark of the hole.

Hoopoe, Seville
Hoopoe
oi, what about me!

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

A couple of days later we were back on the ferry heading north across the Bay of Biscay to Plymouth. No Beaked Whale this time, unfortunately. Just a few hasty dolphins.

Enjoy this little video of a Corn Bunting I took in central Spain. It is an unremarkable little brown bird that is overlooked by most. Its song is modest as well, described by birdbooks as a jangling bunch of keys.

Corn Bunting being cheery

However the Corn Bunting is a symbol of a healthy countryside and used to be as widespread in England as it is in Spain. Not any longer, it is fast going the way of the Corncrake and the Grey Partridge.

It’s lovely to see them thriving in this land where there are still enough large patches of rough ground for them to enjoy.

On a brighter note, hopefully we will see White Storks nesting in England for the first time in 600 years following reintroduction projects. Such as the many we saw in Spain..

White Stork

Spain

I was itching to see a whale from the deck of the Pont Avon, the Plymouth to Santander ferry, as it crossed the Abyssal plain where the continental shelf drops off from 200m to 4000m in the middle of the Bay of Biscay.

It’s not really whale time of year but we thought there was no harm in looking and the deep-diving whales that feed on squid are probably present year-round. No looky, no findy.

Common dolphins maintained the interest as they sped over to leap in the wake.

Common Dolphin

As usual every one on deck whooped with excitement as the dolphins jumped. Those that weren’t engrossed in a phone or dog or a plateful of tapas, that is.

I could hardly believe my eyeballs when a long brown back, with a small fin set at the rear, surfaced for about a second very close to the rear of the ship. OMG, that must have been a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. A beaked whale is the holy grail of all whale-watchers and something I never thought I would see, as they only live over enormously deep water. One of my greatest wildlife sightings ever and it lasted for a split second…such is the nature of watching creatures of the deep. No time for a pic, unfortunately…just more dolphins!

Common Dolphins can’t wait to say hello

Becky and I thought the 600 mile drive down across Spain to the Mediterranean coast might be a bit of a drag. But we needn’t have worried. Every second of exploring an unfamiliar country is fascinating, and not a moment went by without a new nugget of nature to check out.

In a thermal above LIDL’s carpark on the outskirts of Santander circled two Black Kites, a Booted Eagle, an Osprey and half-a-dozen Griffon Vultures. Never seen anything like that over Holsworthy Waitrose.

Griffon Vulture

Our journey down through Spain was a bit of an ecological eye-opener. Empty roads. Lots of wide-open spaces, lots of rough ground and lots of wildlife. Black and Red Kites everywhere with buzzards, Harriers and Vultures floating around.

By far the most engaging, however, were the White Storks. We came across one huge flock of several hundred which were circling upwards in the first updraught of the day.

White Storks

These were migrating birds, probably en route from Africa to their nesting areas further north in Europe.

The local birds were already sitting on eggs in their enormous nests of sticks which were plonked on top of telegraph poles, pylons, church towers and many purpose built nesting ‘cups’ on the end of tall poles. Lovely to see that they are so welcomed here.

At our first night’s stop in the town of Tordesillas on the River Douro there were three nests in the middle of the town on the tallest buildings.

Kayaking in Tordesillas
White Stork

I had been very much looking forward to a bit of a paddle on the Douro River. Unfortunately it was a disappointment with huge amounts of rubbish, mainly plastic bottles, all along the shore. The city of Valladolid is only fifteen miles upstream so I guess this is where all the garbage comes from.

Even so, I managed to find a bit of a gem. A Nightingale was singing from the middle of the darkest shrub along the riverbank. Have a listen to those loud and liquid notes in this video. Don’t expect to see the bird, because although I spent half-an-hour staring into the thicket with the bird apparently only a few feet away, I saw not a hint of a feather.

The Song of the Nightingale

The promise of some nice and relaxed sea kayaking along the balmy Mediterranean coast was squashed flat with one glance at the weather forecast, which looked more like what you might expect for Bude in mid-winter. A thumping swell as well, so not a hope of getting in the sea.

So we opted for a bit of a mountain walk near Cordoba in the sunshine before we hit the coast. It’s nice to know my legs still work just about OK.

Some impressive orchids…

Becky and the Orchids

And some really cracking butterflies which had probably just emerged…

Swallowtail
Spanish Festoon

When we hit the south coast of Spain after four days the scene was even more hostile than we had expected. Major damage along the beach front with palm trees, which are generally resistant to hurricanes, washed away.

Mediterranean coast of Spain. No thankyou.

A Kestrel was looking non-plussed and ruffled as it battled out the storm:

Kestrel (female)

After a couple of damp days along the coast we headed back north and were looking forward to the promise of warm sunshine, and exploring Seville…by kayak.

Seville

Next blog coming soon….’Seville and its hidden wildlife’

Enjoying the Dawn Chorus and a Pair of Otters in the Tamar Valley

As usual it was a bit of a struggle to roll out of bed an hour before sunrise this morning, but as usual the effort was worth it.

The dawn chorus was really kicking off, with the charge being led by Song Thrush, Robin, Wren and Blackbird at full volume. More modest were Chaffinch, Dunnock and Stonechat. Charming, but quite tuneless, were Great Tits and Nuthatches.

Woodpeckers provided the drums.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard three species of warbler singing prior to the end of March before. Chiffchaff, newly arrived Blackcaps and a couple of Cetti’s Warblers singing from a patch of dense waterside scrub.. Although all of these species overwinter in England now, so maybe it’s not so much of a surprise.

The Blackbird is definitely my favourite. it’s got just enough melancholy to really grab your attention. (audio-bombed by a Song Thrush here)

After a couple of false alarms which turned out to be the swirl of ducks on the surface, I saw a big bow-wave approaching about a hundred yards away, close to the bank. Otter!

It was fortunate that my camera was already out of it’s dry bag and sitting on my lap, because this otter was moving exceptionally quickly, directly towards me.

I always get caught out by how fast they move, why don’t I learn? There is hardly any time to react, so it’s essential to have the camera set up on the right setting and all ready to go. At least I was in mid-river so it might slink past without getting spooked.

Fantastic, it wasn’t one otter but two!

You can see the second one looks hard at me as it swims past, but it didn’t see me as too much of a threat because I followed them for a further few hundred yards down the river.

Otter pair, Tamar Valley


This next clip is not the greatest video in terms of otters, but it gives you some idea of how fast they move when underwater and certainly shows how slinky and slithery they are. I just love the background audio which features the songs and calls of Woodpecker, Mallard, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Robin and Blackbird plus more I can’t disentangle from the melodic melee.

Sensurround sound and unobstructed vision. Only from a kayak.