The Sensational South-West Coast (part 2)

My second series of assorted images taken from the kayak seat from all around Devon and Cornwall.

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Gig boat race at Fowey
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Starfish, Fowey
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Autumnal Calstock on Tamar estuary

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Am I getting paranoid or did this Newlyn trawler really pile on the power as it approached me to throw up as big a wash as possible for me to negotiate? It certainly throttled right back after it had gone past:

 

 

A few offshore seabirds for the serious ornithologists:

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Manx (top) and Balearic Shearwater
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Sooty (top) and Manx Shearwater
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Dipper

….listen to the electrifying call of the fastest creature on the planet, the Peregrine Falcon.

 

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Kingfisher
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Oystercatcher
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Flying Scotsman, Teignmouth
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Common Dolphins and St.Michael’s Mount
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Common Dolphin calf
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Minke Whale, Mount’s Bay

 

Autumn is definitely upon us, so offshore paddling is replaced by exploration of the rivers. Tough.

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River Tamar
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River Tamar

 

 

 

Kingfisher Sparkling in the Autumn Sun

The Lone Kayaker

I’m starting to head back up the creeks now the open sea is becoming more disturbed with autumn storms not far away.

I had actually planned an offshore trip out of Fowey but when I nosed my kayak out of the mouth of the estuary I didn’t like the look of the surface which was more chopped up than I thought it would be by combination of moderate swell and light wind. I knew I could be paddling up the estuary on glass-calm waters and have guaranteed enjoyment, so turned round and did precisely that.

P1190621 Penquite quay, Fowey

As usual I was soon completely absorbed in the sensurround sound of calling flocks of small birds in the waterside trees, and waterbirds scattered about on the banks and in the water. Sensurround sight as well, of course.

Quite a few Little Grebes had arrived for the winter.

P1190664 Little Grebe (Dabchick)

The…

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Kingfisher Sparkling in the Autumn Sun

I’m starting to head back up the creeks now the open sea is becoming more disturbed with autumn storms not far away.

I had actually planned an offshore trip out of Fowey but when I nosed my kayak out of the mouth of the estuary I didn’t like the look of the surface which was more chopped up than I thought it would be by combination of moderate swell and light wind. I knew I could be paddling up the estuary on glass-calm waters and have guaranteed enjoyment, so turned round and did precisely that.

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Penquite quay, Fowey

As usual I was soon completely absorbed in the sensurround sound of calling flocks of small birds in the waterside trees, and waterbirds scattered about on the banks and in the water. Sensurround sight as well, of course.

Quite a few Little Grebes had arrived for the winter.

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Little Grebe (Dabchick)

The upper estuary echoed to the piping of Redshank and a handful of Greenshank.

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Redshank
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Greenshank

I was paddling upstream against an ebbing tide so tucked in close to the bank to keep out of the current as much as possible. I disturbed a Kingfisher which had been sitting on an overhanging branch, but it resumed its hunting on another branch a hundred yards ahead. As I drifted closer I was hopeful that this was going to provide me with my first decent kingfisher pic, but my efforts were messed up by a badly positioned branch;

 

Its next hunting spot was a post out in the estuary. I knew it would not allow me to get too close before it flew off ( and I didn’t want to keep disturbing it) but the bright autumn sunshine made for a very pleasing scene anyway.

 

A little further on I spotted another Kingfisher sat amongst a cluster of autumnal oak leaves. Nearly always the first you know of  a kingfisher’s presence is the turquoise flash as it speeds off, or its  monotone whistle which is far-carrying. So I was pretty pleased to see this one in hunting mode before I spooked it and my camera has never been so quickly, or quietly, removed from its dry bag.

 

On the way back down the estuary there were plenty of other feathered fish-hunters loitering with intent on the mooring buoys.

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Shag
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Fowey Estuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There She Blows! Minke Whale (and dolphins and porpoises) at Fowey.

Two days of light winds were forecast so it was time to head offshore again. The first trip was to Penzance with Dave and I was under pressure to deliver some cetacean sightings. We had a good thirteen mile paddle out of Mount’s Bay and along the coast to Lamorna, and managed fifteen porpoises which put on a very good puffing show, but I was just a little disappointed (and surprised) that we didn’t see any dolphins because spotting conditions were ideal.

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Dave (porpoise-spotting) in front of St. Michael’s Mount

There was a nice scattering of seabirds however: Razorbills, Guillemots, Eddie the Eider, a passing Great Northern Diver (my first of the autumn), and lots of Kittiwakes.

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Kittiwake (juv)

The next day was a stunner with clear blue skies and virtually no wind. I was on the water at Fowey as the sun had just peeped over the horizon, and paddled directly out to sea once out of the estuary.

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Fowey

Almost immediately I saw a large milling mass of seabirds circling low over the surface about a mile out, with a dozen Gannets intermittently dropping in. A very active ‘work up’ and there was going to be some big fish-eaters beneath, for sure.  As I steamed at full speed towards the action I could see dolphins jumping clear of the water, but as usual the frenzy had tempered a bit when I eventually rolled up. The gannets had moved on but there seemed to be plenty of fish left over for the dolphins, and gulls,to pick off at a leisurely pace.

 

I just sat still in my kayak taking in the scene. Dolphins passed within inches.

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Common Dolphin

I was sure my attempt at underwater footage with the GoPro would be a success, but the clarity of the water wasn’t great so the result was a bit disappointing. However it’s interesting to hear the dolphin clicks and squeaks in this video clip:

 

Suddenly all twenty-five (ish) dolphins were off at top speed, lured away by a China Clay ship which had emerged from Fowey docks and was starting to crank up the speed. The dolphins sprinted towards it and I could just see them leaping out of its bow wave as it receded into the distance.

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Dolphins sprinting off to see the ‘Ventura’

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A good start to the morning….and it wasn’t even nine o’clock.

I was just settling into my usual breakfast of 50% muesli, 50% Jordans Country Crisp (with raspberries), when I caught sight on an even bigger ‘work up’ at the limits of vision with hundreds of circling white dots of Gannets which every so often plunged into the sea en masse. Wow, this was a biggy.

Putting my muesli/country crisp on hold I paddled hard towards the action, but knew it was going to take at least twenty minutes to get there as it was probably two miles away, and knew I was going to be on the point of meltdown because I was already hot in my waterproof coat in the windless and sunny conditions. However if this was going to be my first big Gannet feeding frenzy I had observed up close, being a liquefied sack of sweat was the price I was willing to pay.

From long distance I could once again see large creatures jumping clean out of the water. I got the impression that some of these looked a bit like giant Tuna as I fancied I saw some spiky fins, but it was just too far away to tell and they might have been dolphins.

From what I have observed, these feeding frenzies evolve very rapidly. A pod of dolphins  herds fish into a baitball and pins it against the surface, reducing the fish’s options of escape. Passing Gannets don’t hesitate to seize the chance of a meal and dive in onto the larger baitfish (probably mackerel). The flash of white wings draws in other Gannets from afar, while below the surface the dolphins strike the baitball from below and frequently burst from the surface, as do the Tuna (if they were there!).

 

 

One reliable feature of these events is that the main action finishes just before I arrive on the scene. I think the Gannets (and maybe Tuna) move off when all the bigger fish have been eaten, leaving the dolphins and gulls to concentrate on the bits and pieces. Such was the case, again, as I rolled up with temperature gauge well into the red.

But today there was a bit of a treat in store because a rather larger predator had been attracted in to all the commotion. As I sat still watching all the splashing action as dolphins criss-crossed around and the juvenile gulls were squealing, there was a big prolonged breath and a much larger fin appeared at the surface….a Minke Whale. It disappeared in towards Fowey and then turned to come back. I was hopeful of a very close pass but it came to no nearer than about a hundred metres, and as usual very difficult to photograph because you really don’t know where it is going to appear next, and they cover large distance between breaths. They are in fact very like a giant porpoise in that they roll surprisingly quietly at the surface, and keep changing direction.

Anyway, I was quite pleased to get this clip of it as it surfaced, with Fowey five miles away in the background.

 

Ironically the closest it surfaced was when I was struggling to take off my jacket and drop my core temperature out of the critical range, and my face was covered in sweaty goretex.

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Minke Whale, Fowey
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Minke Whale , fowey

For a final push I paddled just a little bit further out, and was joined by another (or maybe the same ones as earlier) pod of dolphins as I headed into the sun. When they disappeared it went quiet enough for me to finish my breakfast which was  not surprisingly quite soggy.

 

The paddle back in was moderately uneventful (in comparison to the paddle out) although the sea had smoothed off even further which allowed me to hear, and then observe, ten porpoises which were dotted about in ones and twos as they usually are.

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Fowey porpoise

My final ‘encounter’ was at the mouth of the estuary where I had a chat with a kayak fisherman who was in an extremely well-equipped craft.P1190434

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Stoatally Amazing!

The Fowey Estuary is good. It has clear water (unlike the Torridge and Tamar estuaries) and is packed full of scenic interest, and usually good wildlife.

On a cool, grey day in October it offers a very pleasant half-day paddle from Fowey to Lostwithiel and back. Flat water, well-sheltered from the wind and a bit of assistance from the current if you have bothered to look at the tide tables. About twelve miles in all.

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Penquite Quay, Fowey

If you like wading birds, it’s particularly good for ‘shanks’. The loud, piping calls of both Red and Greenshanks resound around the wooded valleys. Superb sensurround sound, better than any IMAX cinema.

Listen to the evocative ‘teu,teu,teu’ of these Greenshank. Rubbish video, I know, but it’s worth it for the calls.

 

 

Just a month or so ago these birds were probably nesting in some bogland far away from civilisation in the far north of Scotland.

At high tide the waders loaf about on dead branches waiting for a bit of mud containing their lunch to be exposed.

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Resting Redshank

Today there was enough water in the river Fowey to enable me to paddle right through Lostwithiel and beyond , battling through a couple of sets of small rapids.

I then drifted back down, cup of coffee in hand, as Dippers and Kingfishers zipped past.

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Upper Fowey River
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Autumnal tints in Lostwithiel

On the way back downstream I was surprised to see a couple of Mandarin ducks, the first I have observed here.

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Mandarin duck

Then I saw a little posse of Mallard ducks close to the shore, acting very strangely. They kept swimming towards the bank and then suddenly turned away. My eyes came out on stalks when I saw a Stoat jumping about on the mud just beyond them. It was leaping about all over the place and lashing its tail around like a lure, and clearly trying to mesmerise the ducks in the same way it would for a rabbit, so it could nip into the shallows and grab one.

Its dance certainly seemed to be working because the ducks were enticed to within a couple of feet of the crafty carnivore. It is so wrapped up in the performance that at the end it even grabs a leaf in its mouth and rushes off with it. You can see that (just) in this video:

Now give yourself a bit of a slap to ensure you have not slipped into the Stoat’s hypnotic trance. Then look at this bit again in slomo. It’s a window into something that goes on all the time but that we hardly ever see (pity I didn’t have time to set the camera up to allow for the dark conditions. Good lesson….always be prepared).

 

 

Clever little devil!

It then took the branches of a tree. Another first for me, I didn’t know Stoat’s climbed trees.

 

 

For its finale it apparently just went berserk along the bank. I’m not entirely sure for whose benefit this was because there weren’t any ducks around that area. Maybe it was trying to catch something by surprise or perhaps it had just eaten an orange Smartie.

 

 

Action over…..a serene paddle/drift back to Fowey with wind and tide in my favour.

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St. Winnow, Fowey Estuary

Fifty Years of Trainspotting

My friend Alan Hornall from platform 4 at Reading Station used to say ” Once a trainspotter always a trainspotter” and although I dislike these kind of snappy convenience phrases, I think he might have been right. You just can’t shake it off.

Whenever I glimpse a thundering locomotive it causes my head to turn whether I want it to or not, and yes, I always see if I can get the number. Extraordinary I know, but having spent thousands of hours watching trains and recording their identification when I was a little lad , it’s ingrained in my DNA.

I’m not quite sure why being a trainspotter is supposed to be so embarrassing. Our black plastic shoes we used to wear were cutting edge at the time because plastic had only just been developed, and I’m pretty sure we invented the lunch box. There was no better sight than parkas and ankle-swingers flapping and billowing in the draught created by a passing train…..they were like sails in an autumn breeze. There was no greater camaraderie than a cluster of eager spotters huddled at the end of a platform, straining eyes to be the first to spot the rare loco appear through the heat haze, and diesel fumes, when it first came into view around the corner past the gasworks.

Just to prove my credentials, here’s my Loco Log Books ( and a trainspotting platform ticket) dating back to 1967:P1190151

Even though I used to be more of a diesel locomotive enthusiast, the Flying Scotsman coming to Devon and Cornwall was a temptation I could not resist. Of course I had to observe it from the comfort of a kayak seat and established that the sheltered waters of the Teign estuary would suit the bill nicely in terms of a steady platform for photography and nice long view.

As usual I arrived far too early but while twiddling my thumbs waiting on the water  I was treated to a couple of diesel locos, one of which was probably as old as I was. It was just like old times. Amazing, as I thought that this type had been scrapped ages ago. I’m sure they struggle to pass emissions tests.

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Ancient Class 37 loco
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Marginally less ancient Class 47 loco

A couple of minutes before the ‘Scotsman’ appeared, one of its (relatively) modern counterparts, the (iconic) 125, swept past.

 

The shore  was dotted with very excited ‘Scotsman’ watchers. A photographer within talking distance of me had driven all the way down from Yorkshire to see it. He was thrilled when the sun emerged from behind a cloud just before the train was due as the light would have been absolutely perfect, but unfortunately the sunlight had disappeared again when the smoke of the engines appeared above the distant houses of Teignmouth.

There was a prolonged, and much louder than I had expected, cheer from the scattered throng as the two steam engines appeared beside the water….The Flying Scotsman backed up by a ‘Black Five’ locomotive. Wow! What a sight!

 

A couple of days later the Scotsman ventured across the Royal Albert Bridge into Cornwall for the first time EVER.

On the Cornish shore Mr Brunel seemed to be standing  (despite being cast of bronze) very tall and proud  in anticipation of this legendary locomotive about to cross his 159 year old bridge  for the very first time. And the number of people who had turned out to watch would have given him goose bumps.

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The Best of British: Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Unfortunately for those observing from kayaks (er….it was actually only me) it was an appallingly cold day with savage northerly wind and rain and the only way I could get a steady platform for photography was by reversing my kayak up onto a mud bank.

Despite this, the Scotsman announced its arrival into Cornwall with gusto.

 

The steam engines are now gone so it’s back to a bit of wildlife watching in the wilderness, at least until the China Clay train rumbles into the docks at Fowey when I happen to be passing:

 

 

Mousehole Magic

WHALE,DOLPHINS,PORPOISES AND EDDIE

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Penzance Harbour

A couple of recent trips to Mount’s Bay have been sensational. They both got off to a good start with views of Eddie the Eider who seems to have made Penzance Harbour his home. He has just completed his autumn moult. When I saw him on 24 Sept he still had blotches of brown transitional plumage and looked a bit scruffy, but by 7 Oct he was looking very smart and ready to impress for the winter:

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Dowdy Eddie 24 Sept
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Immaculate Eddie 7 Oct

Mount’s bay is a very exciting place and I am always full of expectation as I head out into the open sea beyond St.Michael’s Mount.

Gannets appear after a mile or so where the offshore current shears past the still waters of the bay.

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Sub adult Gannet

On my September trip a large flock of Kittiwake that had been resting on the surface all took off in a panic as a couple of Great Skuas (Bonxies) piled in to the group to cause a bit of trouble, which is what Bonxies do best.

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Bonxie

On both these trips I have seen a Minke Whale, but only fleeting views when the whale’s exhalation draws my attention. They travel so fast that they can be almost out of sight when they surface again, especially if the surface is a bit choppy. No photos, unfortunately.

I saw a handful of porpoises on the second trip because the surface went so flat for an hour or so I could hear them puffing from a long distance away.

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Porpoise in front of Praa

On my second trip I got very excited because I could see a wheeling group of about a hundred Gannets a mile or two ahead of me and every so often a they peel off and plunge into the sea. This could be my first close encounter with a major Gannet feeding frenzy although I knew from previous (dismal) experience that during the twenty minutes it was going to take to get there the action might be over. However, the bigger the frenzy, the longer it will last…..

As I approached I could see big creatures jumping out of the water beneath the Gannets. I was too far off to see whether these were Bluefin Tuna or dolphins, but I suspect they were probably both. And….groan….I couldn’t believe my bad luck when the Gannets suddenly wheeled away just as I was drawing close enough to get a pic….blooming typical. I suspect the bigger fish had been hoovered up, there were just sprats left. However there was a nice school of Common Dolphins remaining to provide a bit of a spectacle. They were busy milling about feeding so for an hour I just sat about and watched.

 

 

 

 

 

I was joined by the Marine Discovery yacht from Penzance who had presumably, like me, seen the feeding frenzy from afar.

 

 

Every so often some dolphins would speed off and put in some fantastic leaps. This one would have ended up amongst the enthralled guests aboard Shearwater II if it had put in one more jump.

 

 

After coffee break I paddled slowly off along the coast, but kept a mile or so from the shore, which is where the action seems to happen. Another pod of about twenty dolphins crossed my path and one really started to leap about. By enormous good fortune it jumped right in front of the circular hole in the cliff which gives the coastal village of Mousehole its name. The perfect image.

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Mousehole dolphin

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Then, just in case I had missed its first performance, it did a slightly less energetic leap with Mousehole itself as the backdrop.P1190049

The dolphins then dispersed and I was left to admire the supporting cast of characters and views. However every so often I would see a sizeable splash which was not followed by a show of dolphin’s fins. Tuna for certain, but I never actually saw the fish.

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Reluctant Razorbill
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Mighty Tanker
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Another mighty tanker
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View down the coast to Logan rock

Yet another astonishing day, with every second filled with excitement or anticipation. No more offshore paddling for the foreseeable because the wind is on the up (BIG time).P1190021