World Class Dolphin Watching

In my quest for calmish sea I once again had to go to the south coast because once again the North Coast was being bludgeoned by a hefty swell.

Torbay seemed like a good bet and I was lured to Brixham by the carrot of the possibility of seeing the dolphins which are still around intermittently, apparently.

After having a brief chat with fellow kayaker Kieran Laureston, who runs Sea Kayak Torbay in the car park, I paddled out into smooth water under blue sky. Fab.

A couple of miles out I started to see the flicker of what I hoped were fins away on the horizon about a mile away. I cranked up the speed and glimpsed, in the far distance, a dolphin jumping out of the water. I would never have seen if had it not been flat calm.

I eventually caught up with the school a mile off Paignton. Almost unbelievable, I was sitting on completely smooth water with absolutely no current under blue sky with not a breath of wind. I have never seen dolphins under such conditions yet. And on 16th Feb!

The group consisted of about twenty-five individuals, including youngsters. Another pod of about the same number approached from the south, including a large adult which kept belly flopping when it surfaced to breathe. I’m sure this is the same one I saw in the bay just before Christmas, lurching its front half out of the water and dropping back with a bit of a splash. Not in a streamlined way like all of its mates.

Belly Flopping Common Dolphin
Belly flopper belly-flopping

This would imply that this is a local school of dolphins which might seem obvious but I thought that Common Dolphins were long distance wanderers and it was their Bottlenose cousins which tended to be more ‘hefted’.  Mmmmm.

All fifty then started to move towards Brixham four miles away which was very handy because that was where I was going. A couple more smaller pods were just visible further out. So fifty plus in total.P1040938

P1040939At a fast cruising speed I accompanied them (or they accompanied me) for almost an hour across the bay. And, amazingly, the sea got even calmer ensuring about the best dolphin ‘experience’ you could ever wish for. Not Australia, not the Maldives or Bahamas, but good old blighty in mid Feb!

The dead calm enhanced the experience with a constant chorus of puffs from the breathing dolphins, and a load of splashing which intensified when they occasionally sped off ‘on the hunt’.

Dolphin breathing out

There were quite a few juveniles which stuck like glue to their mother’s side. I presume it’s their mother anyway, but to be PC I suppose I should say ‘parent’.

As I approached the breakwater several dolphins got a bit fired up and came over to bow ride so I piled on the power to give them something to get to grips with. And suddenly they were gone, surging back across the bay.P1050004

P1050005I finished off with a quick snoop around the end Berry Head, noticing quite a crowd of observers on the clifftop. News of the dolphins obviously travels fast, and right on cue about twenty dolphins swam steadily past.

Berry Head Dolphin Watchers

I arrived back at Brixham just as the wind, as forecast, was picking up from the south.

A day to remember. P1050012




Common Dolphins, Torbay

Camel Otter

A sparkling, still, clear morning lured me down to the River Camel for a predawn start. It had to be that early so I could get up to Wadebridge for the turn of the tide, and although my kayak was encrusted in frost I was hopeful, as usual, to have some special wildlife encounters as the sun peeped up.

The beach at Rock was deserted apart from a few slavering mongrels dashing about with their owners frantically blowing whistles and the dogs taking absolutely no notice at all.P1040396

It was superb to head off up the estuary with my kayak silently knifing across the glass-calm surface.

The soundtrack to my trip was classic winter wetland birds: the rippling call of Curlew, piping of Oystercatchers, clear call of Redshank and a handful of Greenshank, and mewing of Lapwing.

I kept away from the shore to avoid disturbing the roosting flock of over a hundred oystercatchers at the foot of Cant Hill, and as I approached Cant Cove saw a disturbance on the completely smooth water a hundred yards ahead that didn’t look like a duck.

I engaged ‘stealth mode’ and paddled on in absolute silence and soon realised the ‘v’ on the surface was caused by an otter. It was heading straight towards me so I readied my camera and sat absolutely still. It dived a couple of times but continued on its collision course before glancing off at the last second, passing without apparently being too alarmed by my presence (or smell). Actually it seemed most concerned about the noise my camera made as the ‘burst mode’ clattered away.

A fantastic view in the post-dawn sun, smooth water and nice green backdrop to the image from the reflection of the trees behind.P1040386

Camel River Otter

I followed it along the shore as it continued to hunt, leaving a tell-tale trail of bubbles every time it dived. One dive was long and it covered a surprisingly long distance underwater,  before getting out into a mini cave for a bit of a sniff around. I was expecting another good view when it took to the water again but it inexplicably completely  disappeared even though there was apparently very few places for it to hide along the open shore.

This is only the third time I have seen an otter in salt water from my kayak in an open estuarine location around SW England. I saw one close to this same spot on the Camel last year, and one on the Fowey estuary many years ago. All the rest have been in the rivers.

There was a lot of waterbird action around the Amble Marshes a bit further upstream and the wind remained non-existent to make the paddling experience as good as it could be on a chilly winter morning. The sun ensured all the birds were looking at their best.

Upper Camel Estuary

As I quietly slipped along I heard the plinking of a load of pebbles being flipped over along the shoreline and came upon a busy little gang of Turnstones doing just what their name suggests they ought to do. Interestingly I noticed that they flip the stones over by opening their beaks to act like a lever.


The best sighting was a pair of Whooper Swans far off across the saltmarsh but the supporting cast wasn’t to be sneezed at:

Goosander (2 ducks and a drake)

After sticking the nose of my kayak beneath the A39 flyover, I sped back down to Padstow on the outgoing tide and my morning of excellent wildlife watching was nicely rounded off by a thumping great Glaucous Gull, a rare winter visitor from the arctic, taking a rest on the sandbar in the middle of the river.P1040572

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull

I arrived back at Rock and just about escaped from the car park before I was hemmed in by a convoy of shiny 4x4s with personal numberplates.

Padstow (complete with slavering mongrel)