Humpback Match!

Humpback, 2 Aug 2019

This is just the best story.

It embraces everything that I have always liked about wildlife, and the people who are enthusiastic about wildlife. And you will not find a more enthusiastic person on the planet than those who are fans of the Humpback whale.

‘Once seen, never forgotten’ doesn’t quite do justice to the experience of an encounter with a Humpback. It is complete sensory and excitement overload.

(watch Becky’s double take in this video, as she sees the fin just underneath the kayak!)

Becky and the inquisitive Humpback calf, Antarctica 2020

There are several groups of whale enthusiasts around the UK and Ireland who have set up photo ID catalogues of Humpback Whales. The markings on the underside of the tail fluke of a Humpback give each whale a very individual signature which gives the opportunity of making a match between sightings. The biggest challenge is getting that photograph.

You need a whale for a start. This isn’t a problem in the Humpback hotspots around the world such as Antarctica and California, but it is an issue here in Southwest England, because there are so few about. Just a handful seen around the coast of Cornwall each year before 2020.

I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to stumble across this Humpback lungeing about engulfing huge mouthfuls of sandeels and sprats off the coast of West Cornwall last year. The chances of me being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, three miles offshore in my little kayak, to watch the whale which was only in the area only for a couple of hours, are miniscule.

Penzance Humpback, 2 Aug 2019

I managed to get a half decent pic of the underside of its tail, which I sent in to Emer at ORCAIreland at to see if they might have a match to any of the Irish-seen whales in their catalogue. No, this was a new whale so I gave it the nickname Cream Tea, given it’s Cornish location and colour of its flukes.

Fast forward to last week, and I was contacted by Lyndsay Mcneill from Scottish Humpback ID to tell me that Cream Tea had been photographed again! Just before Christmas in the Isles of Scilly by Martin Goodey. Here’s one of his pics:

Matin Goodey’s pic, Xmas 2020

This is the first EVER match of a Humpback whale in southwest England. On the face of it you might not think that is a surprise for a whale to be seen twice in areas which are only forty miles apart. But if you throw into the mix that these records were sixteen months apart, and getting a decent fluke shot is virtually impossible because there are hardly any whales around and when they do raise their flukes the chances of it being at the right angle for you to snap it is small, this is astonishing.. Not to mention the challenges of photography from a moving boat……or tippy kayak!

Martin, incidentally, named the Humpback ‘Pi’ because of the markings on the base of the fluke that resemble the mathematical symbol. Nice one, rather more carefully thought out than my ‘Cream Tea’….

So what has Pi/Cream Tea been doing in the sixteen months between sightings? You might be tempted to think he/she has been hanging about in the fertile and fish-filled waters of SW England, gorging on the seasonal abundance of various shoaling fish. If that is the case you might have expected more sightings, because Humpbacks quite like to fish close to the shore, unlike most other whales.

And they are a migratory species. The North Atlantic population breed in the tropics during the northern winter, and then swim north to feed up towards the Arctic for the northern summer.

Scottish Humpback ID have matches between Scotland and arctic feeding grounds such as Norway, Iceland and Svalbard, as well as between Scotland and the breeding areas of Cape Verde and the Azores. One whale has even been seen in Shetland and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

Migration map of North Atlantic Humpbacks

It is likely that this Humpback was born in the Cape Verdes, so may well have wandered back down there during the time between sightings. Either to breed if it is an adult, or just to socialise if is a youngster. Or maybe, if it is an adolescent, it has in fact hung around the shores of the UK, as some whales are seen unexpectedly out of season. Who knows?

And then….just after Christmas I was contacted by Humpback expert Michael Amos who told me another match had been made.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group had photographs taken by Nick Massett off the coast of Dingle, Co Kerry, taken in August and October this year that matched Pi/Cream tea! Incredible, because this is the first EVER match made between Ireland and Cornwall.

So TWO match ‘firsts’, both involving the same whale, made within a week or two of each other.

Humpback ‘Cream Tea’ and St.Michael’s Mount

If you are half-interested in marine megafauna the significance of these repeat sightings cannot be understated. They hopefully mean that everybody’s favourite whale, and arguably the world’s most charismatic creature, will now once again be a regular visitor to SW England.

This really DOES seem to be the case because in the last couple of months there have been a couple of Humpbacks regularly seen around the coast of west Cornwall, and up to seven off the Isles of Scilly. Together with several sightings of the giant Fin whales.

So this story is all good, good, and good. A blend of citizen science, dogged detective work and oodles of enthusiasm and excitement from everyone involved.

I have been very pleased to be part of this series of groundbreaking ‘firsts’, and am thrilled that whale-watching from my kayak has progressed from ludicrous (in terms of almost guaranteed failure each time I go out) pastime to having some benefit to science.

Humpback mother and calf. Antarctica Feb 2020 (from the kayak!)

Terrific Torbay: A Dozen Dolphins, Score of Seals, Pair of Porpoises, Loads of Loons

Torbay was a winter wildlife wonderland today. It’s hard to believe you can see this variety of mega sea creatures from your kayak, right here in Devon, on a day which is as close to the darkest depths of winter as it is possible to get. During a five hour, ten mile circuit of the southern half of the bay.

There she blows!…..(sort of)

A small pod of quietly cruising dolphins were well within the bay in the calm water in the shelter of Berry Head. So absolutely perfect for a bit of relaxed observation, although the dolphins did seem to want a bit of sport and came over to bow ride so Mark and I felt obliged to pile on the paddling power from time to time.

These were Mark’s first kayak-seen dolphins, and I think several hundred, possibly thousands, of miles will pass under his OK Prowler before he gets another view as close up as this…….

That one’s almost on your lap, Mark

This was as good a Christmas show as we could have ever expected, and it had all the ingredients of a full-on festive panto:


The calm of the early morning was slowly swept away by a steadily increasing offshore breeze, so we didn’t nose our kayaks far out into the more lumpy sea off Berry Head. Just far enough to have a couple of close-up views of a pair of porpoises. I was hoping that Mark would hear the classic porpoise ‘puff’, and told him to sit absolutely still with ears on red alert. Then a porpoise surfaced within a few feet of him and almost blew his beanie off! ( a wee bit of exaggeration, but you get the gist).

The three-mile offshore stretch to the sheltered beaches of Paignton were a bit of a slog as the headwind was increasing and the sky was leaden. However the sea felt very alive and Gannets were circling and Kittiwakes were dipping to the surface. Lots of Guillemots and Razorbills about too. We didn’t see any more fins, but a very acceptable substitute were the number of Loons we passed.

Mostly Great Northern Divers (Common Loons), several of which were in family groups of three. Mum, Dad, and offspring. I’m sure that’s what they are because they talk to each other, using a very quiet little laughing call, like a family. I find it amazing to think that they manage to stay together during migration from their breeding lakes in Iceland, or somewhere like that, to here in Devon.

Great Northern Divers (Common Loons)

More of a surprise were the pair of Red-throated Divers closer to the shore. They prefer the north coast of Devon and Cornwall and are not so frequent down here.

Not that easy to distinguish from the Great-Northerns, but the upturned beak is distinctive.

Red-throated Divers (loons)

We had lunch on a beach in the drizzle. A token tasteless ham sandwich followed by a much more exciting biscuit, chocolate and fudge fest.

Then we followed the coast back to the slipway.

And came across this extremely inquisitive seal pup. I suspect it is one of the pups I saw as a few day-old bundle of white fluff on a beach five miles away.

If Mark starts to think that this sort of close up encounter happens every time he goes out in his kayak, he is on a collision course with disappointment…..

Seal pup
Inquisitive seal
sniggering seal

Family of Otters on the Torridge

River Torridge

Another sensational view of an otter family, this time on the River Torridge. The last couple of encounters have been on the Tamar in the south of the county.

The Torridge has a stronger link to otters than other other UK river, both in legend and in reality. It was the home of Henry Williamson’s ‘Tarka the Otter’, and it was the last stronghold of the species when they were nearly wiped out by organochlorine pesticides (and persecution) during 1950s to 1970s.

So a Torridge otter is even more special than a ‘normal’ otter.

Torridge dawn

And on this particular day last week it was a really exceptional prolonged view, which gave a rare glimpse into ottery family life.

As I approached a weir and was hauling my kayak out of the water for the portage, I could hear an otter chirping above the roar of the water. The call is like a really loud and piercing contact call of a Moorhen.

So I crept along the bank past the weir, and saw three otters slithering their way upstream close to the far bank. Undoubtedly a mother and two well-grown pups. The pup in the video below can’t resist exploring across to the other side of the river, but isn’t quite brave enough to lose contact with the security of mum. So it chirps the entire time.

otter pup

After its little expedition, the pup sped back across the river to the join up with its sibling, and they worked there way back down the far bank. I’m pretty sure this is Mum on the shore in this clip. Her movements are a bit more measured than the more frantic behaviour of her offspring, and her coat is more sleek than the more unkept appearance of the adolescents.

otter on the shore

I really like this next clip. as mother tries to maintain control of her exuberant pup. The youngster is busy champing over his last snack and is delayed by the distraction of a branch. Mum comes back to chivvy him/her along, but even then it gets held up by something else of interest, with back foot planted on the trunk of a tree.

Here’s the three of them together. Mum is first to climb out onto the tree branch. I think she can sense my presence, twenty-five yards away across the river. A sort of amber alert. A pup barges in beside her and can’t resist boisterously snapping at its passing sibling as it glides past.

And finally. before they disappeared off down river, here’s the busy little family doing what otters do best. Mum in the middle looking alert, pups fooling about behind.

It’s no surprise that the Torridge is such a good place for otters. It is pretty remote country with hardly any disturbance from humans or wandering dogs. And there is loads of cover to make otters feel secure. Heavily wooded banks, loads of fallen trees, tangles of roots.

Typical Torridge bank

They certainly seem to like it.

Otter pup

First Dolphins for Blinking Ages

Queen Mary 2, Torbay

I havn’t had a good encounter with cetaceans for over two months, mainly because sea conditions have not been conducive to paddling offshore. So I’ve been getting a bit twitchy. Especially as my efforts to see the Humpback whales near Land’s End recently were a spectacular failure.

I flogged fifteen miles from Penzance to Tater Du lighthouse and back, and the whales were a few miles further down the coast. And I missed a pod of Bottlenose dolphins which were close to shore……typical! Although as a consolation I did see ten porpoises and a couple of breaching tuna.

Winter paddling is harder work than in the summer. You are wrapped up in thermals and a drysuit which restrict arm movements, and the cold doesn’t enhance muscle function. Not to mention the lack of feelgood factor with the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck. The end result is that the mileage at the end of the day is a bit lower.

Today was forecast to be the last day of lightish winds for a while, so I opted for Torbay. There is always plenty going on to keep a kayaker amused. Brixham is constantly busy.

Brixham Trawler

And the seals around the harbour are always entertaining:

Brixham Seal

I paddled out to Berry Head, expecting a porpoise or two in the more swirly water off the end of the point. However instead I saw a couple of dolphins hurling themselves about in the distance. I ratcheted up the speed and paddled towards them, but after half an-hour I hadn’t really closed the gap. This is part of the frustration/fun of watching dolphins from a kayak. Pods typically cruise along at about 4mph. So no problem if you are in a boat with an engine, but when you are paddling a kayak which only goes at 4mph when you really push it, and 5 (or possibly 6 in smooth conditions) if you give it everything you’ve got, the best view you might get is a load of fins disappearing off into the distance.

(very) distant dolphin

I was a couple of miles off the headland and beginning to lose heart, but fortunately the dolphins suddenly changed direction and charged towards me, apparently to say hello. A couple of youngsters surged about in my insignificant bow wave, and continued to splosh about, apparently out of curiosity, as I did a bit of filming.

juvenile dolphins

Excellent. Great to see them again. Interestingly, two of the adults were launching their noses well out of the water during each breath, and falling back with a splash. I have previously thought this was some kind of abnormal surfacing action, possibly as the result of an injury, but having seen it quite often (including in Spain), I think it is the adults taking a look around above the surface. It is very possible that this is complete rubbish, and it is just the way they sometimes swim. See what you think…..

This pod of about eight then moved on, but I bumped into another little group of five, which appeared to be all adolescents, as I headed back towards Berry Head. Being young and inquisitive, they spent a long time sloshing about around my kayak.

It was a long haul back to the headland, against the tide and wind, which was fortunately still quite light. But it was spiced up with four interesting nuggets of wildlife, three very good, and one very bad.

Here’s the good:

1, A Great Northern Diver flying past:

Great Northern Diver

2. A couple of Porpoises:

Harbour Porpoise

3. A couple of huge silvery fish leaping, accompanied by a mighty splash…..Giant Bluefin Tuna!! Wow! Not a hope of a photo. Far too quick.

Here’s the bad:

A freshly dead Common Dolphin.

dead dolphin

But overall a very enjoyable day:

Have You Ever Heard an Otter Chirp?

Otter Country

Going back to see otters where they were a few days ago usually results in disappointment. They are more than likely somewhere else, or sleeping up, or they spot you before you spot them. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever done it before.

It’s a bit different if you are in a hide on the bank of the river because time is on your side. When you are in a kayak sitting around in one particular place when there is nothing happening, you get a bit twitchy to move on. I do, anyway. There might be something amazing just round the corner.

So I was staggered to see a couple of small otters roll at the surface in just about the same place as three days ago.

Otter pup

The instant I saw them I slunk in amongst the trees on the bank as stealthily as possible, far enough away for them not to detect me. When I saw them again only one was still visible, and it just didn’t stop chirping!

This is undoubtedly a pup and it is presumably chirping to maintain contact with its mother, who was probably the other otter I saw initially. I suppose it could have been a sibling. This is the nature of otter-watching…..piecing together fragments of the briefest of glimpses before they disappear.

However today, like a few days ago, I had a prolonged view of this little otter swimming in the open, and even better I didn’t cause it any concern at all. (it seemed to be concerned enough already!)

I think this next clip is quite unusual. In nearly two hundred sightings I have only heard otters vocalising on a handful of occasions : one ‘shrieking’ in Scotland, and two or three times family groups chirping in the rivers of Devon, but always fleeting sightings of disappearing brown bodies.

Otter pup chirping

It swam around and chirped for at least five minutes. The call seemed almost frantic and I started to think that maybe it had lost its mother, but eventually it disappeared into the reeds and all went quiet. Hopefully a happy family reunion.

Otter pup (still) chirping

So if you had never heard an otter chirp, you have now!


Would you believe it? I have spent quite a lot of time paddling silently up estuaries in 2020 just as day is breaking, in complete stealth mode, so have felt that I am long overdue for a sighting of an otter. My previous two encounters this year have been typical….a glimpse of a brown back slithering through the water beside the bank, and then gone. Literally just a couple of seconds. Not a hope of getting the camera out of its dry bag in time.

This morning I was more expectant than usual. It felt like an ‘ottery’ type of day. The tides were perfect for a start just before dawn, and the sky was leaden and a light rain was falling. Otters seem to like the rain.

Also it was dead still so the surface was glass smooth so I would be able to see the slightest ripple.

But I never expected to have my two best otter sightings EVER in SW England, within an hour of each other. Only my prolonged view of a dog otter crunching its way through a crab in Western Scotland would better these views.

But first I want to get you in the groove. Enjoy the serenity of the local swan family.

They look like slow motion, but are in real-time.

Now fasten your seatbelts for a bit of otter action.

I was paddling absolutely silently up the middle of the river and was completely in the wildlife watching ‘zone’. Hearing the peep of a flock of redwings overhead, the incessant chattering of a flock of long-tailed tits, scrutinising every inch of the bank for a flicker of movement.

A pair of roe deer slunk off through the trees.

Then an otter swam started to swim across the river right in front of me. Just a bit too close perhaps, but I slammed on the anchors with as little swirling as possible, and grabbed my camera out of its bag. And here’s the result, warts and all. You will see I am trying desperately to follow the trail of bubbles of the otter that has just dived in front of me. As usual I am badly adrift of the action, because otters swim so fast the bubbles reach the surface WAY behind where they actually are. You can see I do a bit of a double-take when I spot it staring at me from the bank….

Dog otter

I am sitting about twenty-five yards away from this otter, a fairly chunky dog otter (looking well!). Otters don’t have great eyesight but you can see it is right on the edge, or just over its comfort zone, trying desperately to work out what that thing is floating in mid river. Perhaps it was going to go up the watery culvert behind it, but opted for the safety of the deep water. It was a pity if I disturbed it, but I watched it working its way along the bank a little further up. So it wasn’t that rattled or it would have disappeared completely. A lot less unsettling than a powered boat, or a dog along the bank, anyway.

I couldn’t expect a better view than that today, but was about to get one. About an hour later as I was on my way back down with the outgoing tide. This time I saw the humped backs of a pair of otters as they dived several hundred yards ahead, on a wide bit of river, so I had plenty of time and space to slink into the bank and keep a low profile, without them detecting me.

Here’s the initial view. As usual this otter, which I think is a bitch, comes up crunching something tasty after every dive…….

Otter hunting in mid-river

The second otter appeared just in front of me and slunk into the reeds. I then saw what looked like a pup crawling up the bank, but it may have been the second swimming otter. A quick glimpse, which is more typical of otter-spotting!

I sat watching the otter fishing in midriver, and occasionally disappearing into bushes on the far side, for the best part of half-an-hour.

otter hunting

Then, as I was sitting in amongst the trees with the back end of my kayak jammed into the mud of the bank, the otter came right on past……!!!


Fortunately it seemed to virtually ignore me as it re-emerged just behind my kayak and carried on its way.


If you enjoyed that as much as I did, here’s the action again, in slomo.

Look at those webbed feet. No wonder they move so fast.

Dog otter

2020 Paddling Chums

thelonekayaker has had a bit of a lull in paddling activity and exciting water-based wildlife encounters recently, partly because of the windy weather and unpleasant sea conditions, and partly because of an unpleasant neck condition. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

In the meantime here’s a gallery of most of my paddling companions for the year. It’s great to get out on the water to share that packet of Jaffa Cakes with some like-minded fun seekers.

You will see a lot of teeth on display in these photos because EVERYBODY loves kayaking…..

……although Becky had every reason not to be smiling on this particular day, with a twenty knot wind, an air temp of one degree centigrade, and a sea temp of two. However we had just been showered by the blow of a Humpback whale, and that’s got a lot of grin factor.

Becky, Antarctica
Hezzer and Kim, Tamar
Tim and Jess, Fowey
Peggy and Max, Looe
Tabzer, Oxford
James, Thurlestone
Dave, Torridge (and novelty hat)
Dave, Torridge
Paul, Tintagel Head
Suzanne and Paul, Berry Head
Simon, Berry Head
Jane, Oli, Jeremy….Cotehele
Austen and Jack, Lundy
Simon, Hartland
Claire, Austen, Keith….Tintagel
Josh, Teignmouth
Krysia and Marianna, Fowey
Bex and Stefan, Mevagissey
Emma and Mark, Marazion
Bron and Pete, Antarctica
Dave and Sioux, Leanne and Carl, Antarctica
Humpie and Dave, Antarctica
Tom and Geoff, Antarctica
Mark, Paul, Dave, David, Oscar…..Tamar
Darren, Portmellon
Dave, Bob, Simon, Brixham
Becky (and guide), Patagonia
Noselifter the Dolphin

Breeding Oystercatchers along the Cornish Coast

Everybody loves Oystercatchers. They are large, and they are loud, and they are very black-and-white. That’s why they are called Sea Pies.

And they are sufficiently common along virtually all stretches of coast, both open sea and estuary, to always be relied upon to brighten up a potentially dull day of kayaking when other wildlife are being elusive.

They clearly weren’t paying attention when their creator might have suggested that cryptic brown-coloured plumage would be the best approach to long life, to avoid catching the eye of a passing Peregrine.


With their uncompromising colour scheme they seem to have chosen the opposite extreme, and perhaps keep predators at bay through sheer bullishness and strength of personality.

It is certainly a strategy that seems to work, because they are a long-lived species with the current record standing at forty years. My own Oystercatcher record is currently four (or maybe five) years…..I have seen this one, nice and easy to spot with its aberrant white plumage, around the Teign estuary since 2015/6.

leucistic Oystercatcher, Teign estuary

Ground-nesting waders have a tough time in Devon and Cornwall, especially those that nest along the coast, like Oystercatchers. There is just so much disturbance from people. Even a paper written in the mid seventies stated that nesting waders suffered from the increasing number of ‘trippers’.

So it is no surprise that their most successful breeding location around the Cornish coast is Looe island, owned by Cornwall wildlife trust, where access is closely regulated. Very few people. No dogs.

Oystercatcher relaxing

Dogs off the lead worry the birds even more than their relatively slow moving owners.

So I have been very pleased to come across quite a few Oystercatcher chicks along the (mainland) coast of Devon and Cornwall over the last couple of years. And this season in particular I have been specifically looking out for, and listening to, Oystercatchers and can identify when they have a nest youngsters nearby.

Not only do the adults ‘mob’ me, by flying out across the sea directly towards me and veering away at the last minute, calling loudly all the time, but they also have a very specific warning call when chicks are around. From what I have seen this short, sharp call makes the chicks go and hunker down beside a rock somewhere.

Here’s an adult shouting a warning to its chick which is a hundred yards away. It is a sort of amber alert, because I am supping a cup of coffee, and downing a cherry bakewell, on their beach.

This is very different to their usual contact calls when they are in a group…..

I have also worked out the sort of places they like to nest. They would prefer to lay their eggs on the shingle at the top of a beach, such as they do at Looe Island, But virtually every beach along the coast is accessible to people and an increasing numbers of kayakers (!) and paddleboarders.

Oystercatcher chicks chilling on the beach

Too much disturbance.

So they choose mini coastal islets which have a bit of vegetation on top, and above the reach of the highest tide and biggest wave. Away from people, away from dogs, and hopefully protected from other predators like foxes and rats. I have yet to see one sitting on a nest, but don’t go looking because I remain seated in my kayak, watching from the water.

Because Oystercatchers are unique amongst waders in that the adults bring food to their chicks, there doesn’t need to be direct access to a beach around the nest site, so these little rocky islets are ideal. This is in contrast to waders such as Ringed Plovers, which have to nest on the beach, or very close by, because their young feed themselves from the minute they emerge from the egg.

I really got in the groove this year, and spotted quite a lot of Oystercatcher families along the coast of Cornwall, and sent in my photos and the location to Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society, most of which are previously unknown because they are unviewable from the coast path.

It would seem that paddling quietly and unobtrusively along the coast is probably the best way to survey Oystercatchers. It causes minimal disturbance (no worse than a passing crow) and the kayak can certainly get to places where few other craft can reach.

North Cornwall oystercatcher chick

Even though I didn’t start till late, I found nine young Oystercatchers (eight on the south coast, one on the north), and was mobbed at another three territories.

Newly hatched chicks

Now I know that ‘pik’ alarm call , I am hopeful of finding a load more next year.

Juvenile Oystercatchers resemble their parents, but can be recognised by a black-tipped bill and blueish, not pink, legs. They also lack the orange iris and eye-rim.

Adolescent Oystercatcher
juvenile and adult Oystercatcher

From what I observed over the summer they stay together as a family around the nest-site until the end of July, and then disperse along the coast to meet up with other families and non-breeding birds. Numbers are expanded further later in the year with the arrival of migrants from Northern Europe.

Providing a focus of interest for a large number of Oystercatcher fans, such as myself.

Oystercatcher looking good

This bird is doing what Oystercatchers don’t often do….swim. But it probably doesn’t want to. It is trying to lure the bloke on the beach away from its chick. You can hear that specific short sharp alarm call again quite nicely.

We’ll finish with another Sea Pie social. Guaranteed to make you smile.

(all photos and videos taken from the kayak seat)

Dreamy Days of Summer

They already seem a long time ago.

Toasting sun, T-shirt ‘n shorts, light winds, relaxed paddling, smiles all round, lounging about on the beach.

The only downside is that the heat melts chocolate-based snacks. My Double-Decker Duos turn to gloop.

Here’s a trio of superb day trips along the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall , which never got as far as thelonekayaker blog because they were sideswiped into drafts by the mega marine wildlife bonanza that occurred during late summer this year.

1 Marazion

First up is a section of Mount’s Bay from Marazion to Prussia Cove. There’s not many islets more scenic than St.Michael’s Mount:

Emma, Mark, St.Michael (at rear)

Lots of seals loaf along this bit of coast, providing regular wildlife entertainment.

Mark and friend

And there are some great little hidden sun-soaked beaches for a spot of lunch.

Idyllic lunch beach

On this particular day the most interesting wildlife were the scattering of waders chilling out on the rocks around Marazion. Curlew, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Ringed Pover, Dunlin, Redshank, Oystercatcher and the odd Common Sandpiper. Although some of these would have been non-breeders, some would have been migrants, heading south after their breeding season was over.

Maybe a bit of a surprise, as this was the middle of July. In fact I usually see the first returning waders in June, before mid-summer’s day!

Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin

This little chap is definitely a migrant, because it was only born a month or two ago, on a boggy moorland……possibly even Dartmoor. It’s a juvenile Dunlin.

Juvenile Dunlin

2 Ladram Bay

The second trip was the super-scenic, and very understated, coastal paddle beneath brick red cliffs between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. With Dave and Simon.

Launching from the steep shingle bank at Budleigh can be tricky if there is any sort of groundswell around, but on this particular day it was flat.

Heading east the red sandstone cliffs provide a very scenic backcloth for two or three miles.

And today were enhanced by the snickering of a fledgling Peregrine, echoing down from a mini amphitheatre in the cliff.

juvenile Peregrine

Its father was watching from a bit higher up the cliff. Absolutely nothing escapes the eye of the Peregrine. You can sense the scrutiny as you paddle past.

Adult peregrine

Ladram Bay is extraordinarily scenic. The cliffs disintegrate into a number of sandstone stacks, which can be admired from a conveniently located shingle beach, Ideal position, and ideal timing, for the first coffee break of the day.

Ladram Bay

We continued on to Sidmouth but avoided the temptation of an ice cream amongst the throng, and retraced our swirls to a deserted sandy beach just east of the Ladram stacks.

Sidmouth and beyond

TOP TIP: make sure it is high tide when you arrive by boat so you can enjoy the stacks to their full potential.

Ladram Bay

And watch out for the tourist boats.

3 Thurlestone Bay

Stunning day trip number three was in the South Hams, Hope Cove to Burgh Island. On one of the hottest days of the summer so minimal clothing was necessary. Although James opted to wear a shirt more suitable for a day in the office.

James’ unorthodox style
Hope Cove

The highlight has got to be the extraordinary Thurlestone rock. Hard to believe it is a natural feature and not a polystyrene model provided by Thurlestone Fun Park Inc., because it is so perfectly positioned right in the middle of the bay to provide entertainment for a horde of kayakers, paddleboarders and swimmers from the adjacent beach who have to queue up to get through.

Fortunately we were early enough to avoid the jam.

Thurlestone Rock, James and Dave

There’s some good rockhopping en route to Bantham beach, which is always busy. It is the best surfing beach in south Devon and catches any swell that is around. Today the swell was small but provided a little bit of entertainment and generated a few whoops of excitement.

Simon heading out
Avoiding the crowds at busy Bantham beach

Surfing a kayak is a good way to make yourself very unpopular with board surfers so we kept well out of the way. Maybe they’ve got a point…an out of control kayak bouncing sideways down a wave can wreak a fourteen foot swathe of destruction. I’ve seen it happen, up close. (oops).

We took a slingshot around Burgh Island after dragging the boats across the sand bar which had just been exposed by the receding tide. Lots of rocks to sneak behind around the exposed side of the island, and a lot of fellow kayakers and paddleboarders.

The Pilchard Hotel on Burgh Island

The trip back to Hope Cove was leisurely and included an exceptionally warm and pleasant lunch stop. Good beach, good company, Eccles cakes (good choice James, resistant to melting), lots of chuckles….

I was wondering why everyone on the beach gave us a wide berth….until I saw this pic…

Dave, yours truly, Simon, Paul

A fantastic day.

As the days darken, the wind roars, and the rain lashes, these dreamy summery trips are already ancient history.

Cruise Ship Car Park

Marella Explorer near Dartmouth

Since the first phase of lockdown in the early Spring the horizon off the south Devon coast has been broken up by a load of gigantic ships. They draw the gaze because they are just so BIG….like the side of a cliff.

Although I would sooner be looking at a nugget of nature, these mothballed monsters provide a good target for a bit of an offshore paddle. They are at anchor two to three miles offshore, so perfect for a nice leisurely trip with a good chance of seeing some deep water wildlife.

Ventura (and Gannet)

Back in the late summer this Manx Shearwater flock chose the smooth water in the lee of the Marella Explorer to have a bit of a rest, a bit of a social, and a bit of a preen.

Manx Shearwaters

In amongst the hundreds of Manx was a single Balearic shearwater, a visitor from the Mediterranean. Not easy to spot with its rather unremarkable plumage, which is a variety of shades of brown (more like you might expect a British bird be). Nonetheless if you are a birder you will know that this is a very special creature.

Balearic Shearwater (and Manx)

There have been about ten of these mighty ships moored along the coast from Dartmouth to Teignmouth over the last six months.

Recent arrivals in Torbay are a fleet of four modestly proportioned cruise liners owned by Holland America Lines. The Niew Statendam hiding behind Brixham breakwater…….

Niew Statendam

And its slightly smaller sister ships Zaandam and Volendam sheltering a bit further into Torbay.

Zaandam and Volendam

Around the northern rim of Torbay, past Hope’s Nose into Teignmouth Bay, a couple of real whoppers lie at rest.


This great slab of luxurious liner could accommodate the entire population of Holsworthy.

Ventura and Teignmouth

Ventura is big…….116,000 tons and nearly 300 metres long.

But not as big, and as grand, as the one behind.

Ventura and Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2 and Ventura

The Queen Mary 2 is my favourite of all these moored-up monster ships. Not just because it is the biggest (nearly 150,000 tons and 350m long), but because it is owned by Cunard and has classic lines, looking a bit like a giant Titanic. So all a bit iconic.

It also has a bit of poke underneath the bonnet……it can slice through the sea at 30 knots….amazing.

Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2
Ventura and Queen Mary 2

These ships provide an unlikely backdrop to the normal sort of activities that go on a long this bit of coast…….

Carnival Breeze and Hope’s nose fisherman

So although I’d sooner be absorbed in the thrill of watching a pod of splashing dolphins, these big boats provide a bit of eyeball entertainment.

Common Dolphins

Better than jetskis, anyway.

Queen Mary 2