Super Scilly

The magic of The Isles Of Scilly somehow conjured up a week of almost constant sunshine as the mainland was battered by relentless rain. We could see the enormous billowing clouds, and rainfall, over Cornwall only thirty miles to the east.

It wasn’t without wind however, and the crossing from Penzance was quite bouncy as Scillonian III punched through the swells. There were a lot of green faces on board, and even the dogs were sick.

I hired a couple of kayaks, a single and a double, from Ravensporth Sailing Base watersports centre on Tresco island. They were waiting on the grass when we arrived.

The first day was a bit of a battle against the wind but the next two were perfect to enjoy Scilly at its best. Clear turquoise water and a perfect white sandy beach in every direction. And not another soul in sight!

Classic Scilly Beach (Samson)
….and another

We renamed this sandbar Belgian Bun Beach. Can’t remember why…..

Belgian Bun Beach

And this became Popmaster Point:

Oystercatchers were, as usual, the most evident seabirds because they were (are) so loud and cheerful. One pair was nesting close to the shore beneath a tree.

Scilly Oystercatcher
Oystercatcher nest

Whimbrel were the second most obvious bird. Not many hours went by without hearing the tittering whistle of a flock as moved to another shore to poke about amongst the weed. They are the classic May bird along the coast as they stop off on migration to their breeding grounds in the north.

Whimbrel

It was great to see a few pairs of Ringed Plovers running (and repeatedly stopping, in typical plover fashion) along the sand. These beaches are quiet enough for them to find somewhere to nest without too much disturbance.

Ringed Plover

A handful of Great Northern Divers were fishing off Pentle Beach. Some in non-breeding plumage (left), some nearly in breeding plumage (right):

Great Northern Divers

In Tresco Abbey gardens the wildlife was as exotic as the amazing plants from all over the globe. At least it was trying to be. This Blackcap has a face covered with yellow pollen which makes it look very tropical.

Blackcap

The jury was out whether the Red Squirrels, which had been introduced, were a benefit to the gardens. Whatever the verdict, they are very cute and photogenic. This one’s ear tufts are being blown by the wind.

Red Squirrel, Tresco

The butterflies appreciate the limitless supply of nectar. This is a Common Blue.

Common Blue

If you are like me and like beaches and birds, the Isles of Scilly are the place to go.

Lisa and Roge
Pete and Bron

The farmland and garden birds are exceptionally tame because there are few predators to worry them.

Scilly Robin

Unforgettable.

Baby Bird Boom on the River Wye

River Wye

Riverbanks in early May are hard to beat for birdsong. Within ten minutes of setting off downstream from Ross-on-Wye Hezzer, Kim and I had heard the song of over twenty species. Supporting the more familiar garden birds such as Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Song Thrush and Blackcap were the slightly less familiar Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Reed Bunting. High overhead were Skylarks and the first screaming Swifts of the year.

The small heron perched amongst the bushes close to the water made Hezzer gasp in amazement when he recognised it as a Night Heron. I was similarly dumbfounded as it was the first one I had ever seen in the UK. But almost as remarkable was that Hezzer knew what it was…that’s ma boy!!

We got a really great view as we drifted past silently on the current:

Black-crowned Night Heron
Night Heron

A real rarity!

I had been hoping for some duckling action and first up were a charming little posse of Mallard chicks which surrounded our boats.

Mallard Family

Every so often the youngsters would break rank and scoot across the surface like a jetski to gobble up a mayfly.

I got very excited when we saw that the female Goosander close to the bank was accompanied by a load of little fluffy chicks just a few days old. Goosanders are the ‘real deal’ when it comes to truly wild ducks.

Goosander family

After lunch the birdsong eased off but the scenery looked good when the sun occasionally popped out.

River Wye

At Symonds Yat the raptors flying about today were Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and Hobby. Excellent viewing from the comfort of the inflatables.

Kim and Henry

The long last couple of miles (the last couple of miles always seem long, no matter how far you have paddled), were livened up by another Goosander family, with Mum sheltering her large brood under her wing.

Goosander Family, River Wye

Another Top Trip.

Large Pod of Dolphins (but only just)

On a calm day I paddle offshore. How far depends on how much fuel I feel I have got in the tank and needless to say it gets a bit less each year.

However the prospect of meeting up with a pod of dolphins always makes the effort worthwhile.

St. Michael’s Mount

So I found myself sitting far out to sea in millpond-calm conditions, listening hard for some sort of blow, having set out from Penzance shortly after sunrise. It was so still I could hear a dog barking on the shore three miles away, and the Whimbrel and the Sandwich Tern that I heard calling were too distant to actually see. If any cetacean surfaced within half-a-mile I would know about it.

But I heard no blows and I saw no fins at the surface. I did however see a chunky brown bird floating buoyantly on the surface: a ‘Bonxie’ Great Skua. It had stopped off here on migration to harass some gulls or terns and steal their catch. A real bruiser of a bird.

Great Skua

Incidentally, I never take binoculars on my kayak. There is usually too much movement for them to be of any use. I just have to use my naked eyeballs. Inevitably I see a lot less than observers with binos on a boat, but this is partly offset by the fact that I can hear a lot more than a boat with a noisy engine.

As I dug in for the eight-mile paddle back, I received a tip-off from a passing yacht that there were a load of dolphins a mile or two ahead of me. Just follow the cloud of gulls. I probably missed them on the way out because I was too far offshore. Typical!

I bumped the pace up to a fast cruise and my temperature gauge was soon nudging into the red. I was in full thermals and drysuit gear to combat the early morning chill when I set off. The sun was now burning down and there was not a breath of wind to siphon away the steam.

As I approached the area all I found were some very plump-looking gulls settling down for an after- dinner siesta. Not a dolphin in sight, although I could sense that they had literally only just left the scene.

It was a great relief to strip off a layer beside a nearby island, watched by a Purple Sandpiper and a Glaucous Gull. (Ornithology from the kayak seat is a lot easier than looking for dolphins)

With a new lease of life as my temperature reverted to the survivable side of critical, I took a final swing across the bay towards St. Michael’s Mount, just in case. Half-a-mile ahead an incoming yacht suddenly turned around and performed a slow loop. I guessed that something had attracted their attention and they had stopped to look. I squinted into the distance and just caught a glimpse of the sun twinkling off some fins not far from the yacht. Bingo.

Common Dolphins of every size

Fifteen minutes later I was watching a very active pod of Common Dolphins surging, splashing and jumping all over the place. They ranged in size from small calf to large adult, with a lot of adolescents in between. It was probably a group of dolphin mums with their extended family. (I think the males prefer to hang out alone in bachelor pods, which I have seen from time to time)

Adults in front, junior behind
Mother and calf Common Dolphin

This pod really gave me the run around. They were on a bit of a mission and sped off far faster than I could ever hope to paddle. They would briefly stop to feed every so often and then hurtle off again in a cloud of splashes. All I could do was anticipate where they would go next and sit in their path. This proved to be spectacularly unsuccessful apart from once when they all powered past quite close.

Excellent. I would have guessed it was a pod of about 40, but the rule of thumb when counting dolphins is to take your best estimate and double it (some say triple!), so it could have been 80, or even 100.

And I so very nearly missed them.

Splashy Dolphins and Scenic Backdrop

Mayday Magic at Looe

Mark, Dave, Simon, Dale…the previous day.

Having clocked up a lot of miles under the blue skies of the last week, I was half-tempted to have a more slovenly day. That’s what old geezers are supposed to do.

However the first melodic notes of the Blackbird outside the window as dawn flickered into life was all the inspiration I needed to get moving. I was on the water at Looe soon after sunrise. It was another beautiful day although it was chuffing chilly with the thermometer just below freezing point as I set off.

For the first time ever I was able to paddle beneath Looe Island’s ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’. It is only passable during the very highest tides.

Bridge Over the Atlantic, Looe Island

A flock of a dozen migrating Whimbrel tittered on the rocks on the exposed side of the island. The call of the ‘Seven-Whistler’ is the classic sound of the spring along these coasts.

Resting on the barnacle-encrusted rocks were seven very well-camouflaged Purple Sandpipers.

Purple Sandpipers, Looe Island

They are very tame so one of my favourites. They are winter visitors to our shores and are in no hurry to leave in the spring because their nesting areas around the northern coast of Scandinavia and the arctic tundra take a while to defrost! Definitely a speciality of the kayak driven by an ornithologist. Nobody else seems to notice them.

The sandpipers were accompanied by a single Sanderling. A great name for a cracking little bird, and a bit off its patch because there wasn’t a grain of sand within sight!

Sanderling, Looe Island

Rather more familiar were the Oystercatchers that were in full voice, as usual. It just gets even louder at this time of year when they have to impress their prospective mates (and rivals).

Oystercatcher giving it a lungful, Looe Island

Of course, because it was a calm day, I couldn’t resist heading out into the ‘big blue’, and paddled five miles directly offshore.

I hadn’t gone far when a Great Northern Diver, in full breeding plumage, surfaced close in front of me. I’m not sure who was more surprised. I think I got a PB time for scrambling my camera out of its dry bag, although the risk of it disappearing overboard increases proportionally with speed of extraction.

You can see the bird is a bit alarmed as it has part-submerged its body.

Great Northern Diver (aka Common Loon, across the pond)

What a beauty. Whoever thought of giving them a half-necklace of white spots?

The best encounter of the day was during the long paddle back, just after a lengthy coffee break soaking up the silence. Bizarrely it was so still that the only sound I heard was a dog barking somewhere on the coast four miles away.

A tiny dot over to my right looked dumpy enough to be a Puffin and when I paddled over to investigate…hey presto, it was.

It was still in non-breeding plumage and had a narrowish beak so was almost certainly a juvenile from last year.

Immature Puffin, Looe

As I watched, it uttered a long crooning call as another Puffin approached… an adult looking very smart in full breeding plumage. This bird performed a funny little greeting ceremony involving cocking its tail, spinning around and dipping the tip of its beak into the water, something I have never witnessed before.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Puffin, adult and immature, Looe

Crystal Clear

The sea around SW England is usually fairly clear in April and early May, and even more so this year with the lack of rain and associated sediment.

The cloudless blue skies have further enhanced the enjoyment of kayaking, making the local coast look rather tropical:

Porthcurno Bay
Porthcurno Bay

So when I came across a handful of seals that were loitering around an island off Roseland in south Cornwall, I could see them cavorting about beneath my kayak as clearly as I have ever seen them underwater.

There’s an interesting comparison between these seals as they slide past a few inches from my kayak, and the Basking Sharks that came equally as close last week. The Sharks knock the seals in to second place when it comes to shock and awe, and alarmingly enormous proportions.

The seals, however, are brimming with personality and charisma and their eyes have a sparkle and a depth that is in stark comparison to the blank stare of the shark. There can be no doubt the seals are very intelligent. I’m not so sure about the shark.

Just to remind you, here is the shark….

Basking Shark 18 April 2021

Now enjoy the charm of the seal…

As usual there were plenty of other nuggets of natural history for me to enjoy as I continued on my way along the coast. The exceptionally large tidal range exposed a lot of Sea Urchins along the rocky shoreline. They really are extraordinary creatures, and apparently come in a variety of colours!..

Purple Sea Urchin
Yellow Sea Urchin

There are still a handful of magnificent Great Northern Divers in the bays around South Cornwall. They are in no hurry to migrate north to their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland, because they probably havn’t thawed out yet!

They are just changing into their staggering beautiful summer plumage. The bird on the right is in its breeding outfit, the one on the left is in transition…

Great Northern Diver pair

To finish off my day I was very excited to get a ‘first’. A pair of Oystercatchers were seriously agitated as a Raven flew overhead, and they seemed reluctant to fly too far. As I sat and quietly watched, the female flew to a ledge and settled down with a bit of a shuffle so she must have been sitting on eggs! The first incubating Oystercatcher I have ever seen from my kayak in Cornwall, despite doing an awful lit of looking.

Fab.

Incubating Oystercatcher

The Day of the Sharks

I havn’t seen a Basking Shark in SW England since August 2013. That’s over 17,000 miles of paddling without seeing that enormous black triangular fin.

Until yesterday, when I visited the far west of Cornwall for the first time this year. For a wildlife-spotting kayaker it is a tremendously exciting destination because it usually delivers the goods. The chance of porpoise, dolphins, Chough, Peregrine and in the summer maybe even tuna and the odd whale.

It was an exceptionally cold start (freezing point) as I paddled along the coast. The weather was also grey and overcast and the sea was quite lumpy so I didn’t fancy venturing far offshore.

After an hour of paddling and breakfast in a sheltered cove, I caught sight of a big fin several hundred yards ahead. A Basking Shark without question and it was moving at about kayak-cruising speed and driven by the twisting tail, a surprisingly long distance behind the dorsal fin.

Basking Shark first sight
look at the white gape ten foot in front of the fin

I approached very quietly and sat back to see what would happen. The shark came over to investigate, probably because my kayak is sort of shark-shaped, but an awful lot narrower and shorter than the creature that was pointing directly at me.

I could see the gigantic white gape approaching through the clear water. The shark dipped under my kayak at the last second and scuffed the hull with its dorsal fin.

For the next half hour I just sat tight as it cruised around following the lines of zooplankton, frequently brushing underneath or past the end of my craft.





An absolutely extraordinary creature. It is a gentle giant in the same manner as a Humpback whale which are also inquisitive about kayaks, but with a brain the size of a golf-ball and a worryingly blank look in its eye, it was just a little bit sinister.

As I carried on down the coast I watched two more sharks. One was large at about twenty foot, the other significantly smaller.

Two more on the way back, one within a stone’s throw of the cliff, the other in the lumpy sea half-a-mile off the headland.

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow (one for each shark)

parasitic fish (Lampreys) attached to the fins
Looking in to that dark eye….

North Coast Spectacular

Chapel Porth and St.Agnes Head (and Simon)

I was beginning to wonder whether my local patch of North Cornish coast would ever be calm again. For the last six months it has taken a relentless bludgeoning by enormous waves of record-breaking proportions. Just watching the ferocity of the conditions made my stomach feel knotted.

But I needn’t have worried. The last few days have seen zero swell and wall-to-wall sunshine, and as an added bonus to reward us for our patience, the sea has thrown in crystal clear water as well.

Clear Water at Green Island

On the first day Simon and I paddled from Perranporth to Chapel Porth via St. Agnes Head and the Man and his Man rocks, situated a mile off the headland. These offshore rocks are one of the very few bits of SW coast I have not yet investigated, because last time I came here conditions weren’t so benign.

South of Cligga Head were a myriad of inlets, islets, caves and tunnels to explore. The largest was the ‘prison’ which was a huge cave with collapsed roof.

The ‘Prison’

The adjacent cliff was perforated by a load of tunnel entrances from mining days which were alarmingly like the mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings.

Honeycombed Cliff

We paddled two miles offshore to slingshot around the Man and his Man (great name) before riding the tidal current due south to St. Agnes Head.

The Man and his Man

I was, of course, full of expectation of seeing a large finned creature during this offshore jaunt, but none were forthcoming. I was excessively irritated to learn that a Minke Whale was seen in precisely this location a day later! Grrrr.

We enjoyed the vertical cliffs and green water and feeling of extreme adventure below the headland. I don’t suppose there are more than a handful of days a year it can be this relaxing.

St. Agnes Head

Lunch was taken at the northern tip of Chapel Porth beach beneath the most photographed tin mine engine house in Cornwall, Wheal Coates.

Not too crowded lunch spot

We hugged the coast on the way back and had a chat with a handful of fellow kayakers and other water users. Everyone bore a wide grin. It was such a cracking day.

On this particular day wildlife took a back seat to the jaw-dropping scenery. However the appearance of a Cornish Chough, and its electrifying call, is always welcome.

Chough over Perranporth

The following day I couldn’t resist another jaunt off North Cornwall. I paddled out from Portquin to investigate the swirling waters of Rumps Point and the islands off Polzeath. Once again there was no swell and the winds were forecast to be even lighter than yesterday. My track looks impressively like a butterfly.

I stopped off at a quiet beach for a healthy energy snack.

Three of my five (chocolate bars) a day

The first island I came upon was bursting with birdlife. Large rafts of Razorbills, with the odd Guillemot, were socialising and cackling all around me as I quietly drifted past with the current.

Razorbill
Razorbill

What a fantastic close-up wildlife experience with a backcloth of some of the best coastal scenery in Cornwall! And what a great soundtrack. Sloshing water and the Razorbill croak.

But even better were four Puffins which were hunting in the current on the other side of the island. Seeing a Puffin always scores nineteen out of twenty on the excitement scale. Although they are regulars here during the breeding season, finding a day suitable for a kayaking across to the island is quite a challenge.

Puffin
Puffin pair

The surface was so incredibly smooth I couldn’t resist paddling directly offshore for the next instalment. I passed through loose packs of Manx Shearwaters that were circling and plunge-diving with quite a splosh.

I looked hard for a fin breaking the surface and eventually saw a porpoise at distance, which then just disappeared.

A couple of fast RIBs from Padstow Sealife Safaris sped past and stopped a couple of miles directly ahead of me. Then another two RIBs turned up and stopped so I guessed they must be looking at something. Half-an-hour later I arrived upon the scene, and was by now very hot indeed, dressed in thermals and wearing a full drysuit under the intense sun. It was worth the suffering however, because there were fins appearing all around the speedboats.

Dolphins! Half a dozen Common Dolphins were casually cruising about amongst the boats. They were well-scattered and I didn’t get a great view. I think they were already bored of investigating humans so soon swam off northwards. I headed inwards.

Common Dolphin

I pointed back to Portquin and started on the five mile paddle back to shore, dodging all sorts of pleasure craft on the way.

Day three (this morning) involved a spur-of-the-moment paddle for three hours along the coast south of Bude. As always, the effort was worthwhile and I did a major double-take as I saw a large long-winged bird overtaking me out to sea…OSPREY!

Bude Osprey

It cruised lazily along the coast towards Bude and then turned landwards and disappeared over the top of the cliff.

So, not a bad ‘haul’ of species over the two and-a-bit days on the North Cornish coast. Peregrines, Puffins, Porpoise, Dolphins, Seals, Chough and Osprey to name but a few!

Oh, I nearly forgot. I also came across half-dolphin, half-man near Bude this morning. Jack Davies!

Jack

Spring is in the Hair

The dark months after Christmas have dragged even more than usual this year, but at last the natural world is springing back into life.

It’s the birds that are the first to get going. Some are yet to have completed the moult into breeding plumage, such as this Razorbill which is firmly hanging on to its winter outfit:

Winter Razorbill

The Shags, however, are already at their nest sites on the cliffs and looking at their very best sporting an impressive quiff.

Shag and Great Black-backed Gulls

Unlike Shags which have a full-time curl at this time of the year, Cormorants are much more modest about showing theirs off, and the crest is raised only during courtship at the nest.

Cormorants at the nest

I was very surprised to see the wavering serpent-like heads, and hear the weird reptilian calls, of young Cormorants in the nest at the end of March……

Cormorant plus chick

Ravens are tending their nests in their lofty lairs in the red sandstone cliffs of South Devon…

Raven at nest

The Oystercatchers are looking smart as always, although this one’s beak looks as though it’s been working hard:

Gribbin Head Oystercatcher

The sea is always particularly clear at this time of year, before it gets clouded by the first bloom of phytoplankton. It is even clearer when there hasn’t been any rain, or high winds, recently.

Clear water in St. Austell bay (and Dave)

Simon and I had an exceptionally pleasant paddle between Dartmouth and Brixham a few days ago. The weather was much better than forecast. It was sunny and there was very little wind. This would normally not be a problem, but I was wearing two layers of thermals beneath my drysuit in accordance with the weather forecast, so almost melted.

Dartmouth was looking good…..

Dartmouth

Simon was looking ready for a memorable paddle….

Simon

The scenery was impressive…

Near Froward Point, Dartmouth

The Mew Stone was looking very craggy and Cornish (even though it is in Devon)…

Mew Stone
Mew Stone

and the seals were tolerant, but only because we kept a respectful distance. Seals need their rest.

Under the water seals are totally confident and seem to really enjoy life. This adolescent can’t resist a bit of swimming on its back.

I watched a Redshank, unusual along the open coast, zigzag past flying along the line of the beach. A stooping Peregrine took a swipe at it and I’m not sure how it missed. The Peregrine’s mate squealed overhead. Lucky, lucky Redshank.

It’s funny how Peregrines always seem to favour attacking birds from outside the area. They leave the locals alone.

Peregrine Falcon

Simon couldn’t resist nosing into a surprisingly deep, narrow cave. I followed reluctantly as I am a bit of a claustrophobe.

Simon in his cave

A seal pup popped up between us and spent the next ten minutes having a great time slithering about between our kayaks. I’m not sure who was enjoying themselves more: the seal or Simon and me.

The offshore zone has been a bit quiet recently. Very few hunting Gannets and not much gull activity, so not many ‘fins’ either. However I did come across a little pod of porpoises near Teignmouth, including this mother and calf. Nice.

The cruise ships are still at anchor in the bay. I don’t suppose they’ll be going anywhere soon.

Finally enjoy this spring-time cackle of this little gang of Fulmar Petrels. They are members of the albatross family and when on the wing far out to sea they can’t resist whipping past my kayak at enormously high speed, with a little whoosh of their wings.

Cackling Fulmars

Loonatic

In the last couple of weeks I have done more groaning in dismay than usual. Age, Covid 19 and the garbage on radio and TV all play a part.

So there is even more reason than usual to get immersed in nature, which is immune to gloom. How fantastic to hear that Humpy the Humpback whale was doing its stuff off the coast of Northumberland and Freddie the Harbour Seal was entertaining the crowds beside the Thames in the middle of London.

A couple of really good, healthy stories to brighten up the news on a national level. Smiles all round.

Until Humpie got tangled up in a lobster pot rope and washed up on Blythe beach, and Freddie was mauled by a dog and had to be put to sleep. Just a few days apart.

Double Mega Groaaannnn.

So the sight of a magnificent Great Northern Diver sitting on the sea in front of my kayak in the middle of Plymouth Sound was a welcome return to normal levels of excitement, enjoying the positivity of nature. Great Northern Divers are the Loons of North America, and their haunting wail drifting across a misty lake in the Canadian wilderness is one of the great sounds of the wilderness.

They also appear on the Canadian Dollar coin which is dubbed the ‘loonie’.

This particular bird was probably born in Iceland or Greenland, and has flown over a thousand miles to spend the winter in the fish-filled and sheltered waters of South Devon.

It is always a thrill to see one so I took a photo and then had a quick check of the image to see that it was in focus. And then groaned even louder than all the previous groans put together. Punctuated by a few choice expletives. There was fishing line wrapped around its beak and probably around the base of its wing as well. Poor blooming bird. It has flown all this way to enjoy the protection of our coast and it is greeted with a mouthful of fishing line which has probably got a hook on the end of it.

Loonatic looking like he is doomed

A far as I was concerned there was going to be a hat-trick of catastrophe…this bird was heading the same way as Humpy and Freddie.

I sent my photo to environmentalist Claire (in a despairing sort of way) who lives on the edge of the Sound, and she circulated it via Rame Wildlife Rescue Network. She said that a lot of pairs of eyes would be looking out for the stricken bird, but I really didn’t have any hope that it would be picked up. Divers rarely come ashore away from their breeding areas.

So I nearly fell of my seat when Claire contacted me a few days later to say the Loon had been found on a slipway beside a marina in the middle of Plymouth and taken into care by a local rescue centre, Athena Wildlife and Bird of Prey Rehab. They removed the tangle of line which was thankfully not attached to a hook and fed the bird sardines for a couple of days. When it appeared to be as healthy as it was going to get they released it back onto the water and it swam away strongly, dipping its head underwater searching for its next snack!

Here’s some pics from Athena Facebook page (thanks for allowing me to use them):

Loonatic
Fishing Line down the throat
Looking for someone to peck

Absolutely amazing! It must be the most fortunate Loon on the planet.

According to Lianne from Athena, who I spoke to on the phone, it was also the most feisty. It spent so much of its time in care trying to stab people with its dagger of a beak, they christened it ‘Loonatic’. This fighting spirit will hopefully ensure its full recovery and allow it a successful return trip to the far north. Maybe I will even bump into it again next winter.

This is not the first time I have seen a Great Northern Diver tangled in fishing line. Here is a very similar image from a remote loch in the north of Scotland a few years ago. This bird unfortunately will not have benefitted from a team such as Claire and Lianne, so almost certainly did not survive.

Scottish Loon entangled in fishing line

The rescue of Loonatic is an incredibly heartening story. Thanks to the fantastic work by Lianne and her team from Athena, and Claire and Rame Wildlife Rescue Network, a hat-trick of gloom and despondency has been avoided.

Humpie fell foul of fishing gear and Freddie died as a result of a thoughtless dog owner. But Loonatic, against all odds, was saved by the dedication and diligence of a group of wildlife volunteers.

Good job!

Sights and Sounds of Torbay

A rarity for the end of March…hardly a breath of wind for the whole day. Calm sea means the door is open for offshore paddling, so that’s what we did. Mark and I set off from Brixham, took a close look at Berry Head and then crossed the mouth of Torbay to Hope’s Nose. Then we paddled back.

I had only just poured my first cup of coffee and we had barely got into our long-distance paddling rhythm when a small fleet of fins broke the surface in front of us. Excellent: five Common Dolphins.

Common Dolphins

As usual a couple came over to check us out and surged beneath our kayaks, but the group were not in a particularly sociable mood and steadily made their way towards Berry head. Common Dolphin pods cruise at about four miles per hour so it takes a bit of ooomph to keep up with them over long distance (in our fairly slow sit-on-top kayaks).

The jetskis were already out and about and I was wishing we had been on the water earlier to avoid the engine noise. I watched the behaviour of the dolphins closely as we followed the little pod at a respectful distance, with jetskis buzzing about all around. It was heartening to see that the ski drivers who noticed the dolphins steered away or throttled back, and as far as I could tell the dolphins were not directly disturbed by any of the multitude of passing craft which included fishing boats, speedboats and yachts. I don’t suppose this is always the case.

Common Dolphins and Jetski

The largest dolphin had a multicoloured dorsal fin and landed with a bit of a belly flop and splash every time it surfaced to breathe.

Common Dolphin, Torbay

The dolphins accompanied Mark and I past the focal point of boat activity off the end of Berry Head, and headed on out to sea. We swung north and aimed for the Ore Stone, four miles away across the mouth of Torbay. It was only just visible through the mist.

En route we passed a multitude of Razorbills and Guillemots that were in the process of changing into breeding plumage and saw a couple of small flocks of Manx Shearwaters heading south. We heard the puff of the porpoise but failed to eyeball the creature.

Moulting Guillemot

The Ore Stone was a flurry of activity with hundreds of auks sitting on their nesting ledges, doing a lot of cackling.

We looped around Thatcher rock where there was a handful of hauled-out seals. My first couple of Sandwich Tern of the season called out as they flew north.

After an early lunch on a shingly beach we couldn’t resist an inspection of the sleeping Eurodam, a cruise liner moored in the middle of Torbay.

That’s me !!
The

We then pointed back to Berry Head to see if any new ‘fins’ were visible. We bumped into Simon on the way, and had a lengthy chat while bobbing about a mile offshore.

Simon and Mark relaxing

As the three of us rounded Berry Head a ferociously fast and ferocious-looking black RIB sped past and spun to a halt in front of us… the ‘Raptor’ from Torquay. It was powered by a staggering 900 HP….that’s more than sixteen Vauxhall Chevettes! I’m not quite sure what the residents porpoises will think of this addition to the line-up of craft that they have to listen to, and dodge, but the captain seemed tuned-in to the local cetaceans and they are accredited wildlife-friendly operators.

The Raptor

We finished off with a slingshot around the little island of Cod Rock, where I was exceptionally pleased to see half-a-dozen Purple Sandpipers poking about amongst the weed, dodging the splash of the swells. They are my favourite coastal wading bird and are a speciality of the kayak because they favour remote rocky locations which are not visible from the land, such as islands.

Purple Sandpiper, Cod Rock

Six-and-a-half hours in total (inc. leisurely lunch), sixteen miles.