Cardigan Bay Jumpers

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The Lone Kayaker is on a mission to bring you the best of the UK’s water-based wildlife, as seen from his kayak, and is quietly smug about his latest adventure. Put Love Island on pause. See what is going on in the REAL world.

The relentlessly tropical weather was continuing although a stiff easterly breeze was forecast for SW England (which didn’t actually materialise). On the spur of the moment I shoved a load of camping stuff in the car and headed off to a  tiny beach  in the middle of Cardigan Bay in west Wales. It was supposed to be still, sunny, and hot.

My main aim was to see some of the Cardigan Bay Bottlenose Dolphins. It was unlikely to happen as an encounter with dolphins is always hit-and-miss, but it was worth a go.

It was indeed blisteringly hot and the sky a deep blue upon arrival and I was soon on the water (lots of people on beach and overwhelming stench of perfume mixed with suncream,  with whiff of barbecued sausage). Disappointingly there was quite a surface chop  and combined with a stiff tidal flow this made for quite a lumpy ride, especially going past a huge Guillemot colony on the cliff.

The adult Guillemots had their wings partly open to protect their downy offspring from the heat.

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Guillemots crammed onto the ledges at Bird Rock
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Hot Guillemots keeping their chicks cool

The scale of the colony is not only an assault on the eyeballs but the eardrums as well. Quite a cacophony. Take a listen to this: (video)

 

 

I unfortunately witnessed one of those incidents which always upsets people watching programs like Blue Planet, even though we know it all happens and is a normal part of nature at this kind of place.

A Herring Gull swiped an unguarded Guillemot chick from the ledge and proceeded to try to swallow it whole on the rocks below. I certainly wasn’t too happy about the (understandably) distressed noise coming from the chick. I tried to man up but I wished I hadn’t seen it and the gull had stolen someone’s pasty instead.

Skip this next pic if you don’t like this kind of stuff:                                     (I certainly don’t)

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Gull with Guillemot chick

The sea was a lot calmer around the corner in the bay and I glimpsed a pod of about eight dolphins in the distance. One jumped high out of the water, just once, and then they were gone. So I paddled back to the car and admired the sunset while chatting to a Welsh chap who used to be a coalminer in the Rhondda. We both boiled up our coffee on the wall at the back of the carpark, me using my jetboil, him and his wife using his Kelly Kettle. (Jetboil faster, Kelly Kettle bigger)

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Cardigan Bay sunset

I slept like a log stretched out in the back of the car, until 3.05am, precisely. That is when a very noisy diesel car pulled up beside mine, containing a man with a  loud and sonorous voice, and a woman who easily outclassed him in words per minute and volume. They were parked very close and their windows were open, and at one stage man said to wife, so boomingly that it made the upholstery shake, that someone appeared to be asleep in the car next door because the windows were down. In the car…yes. Asleep….you’ve got to be joking.

They chatted non stop till I turfed out at about 6, when I bid them good morning and asked if they ever bothered with sleep. The man looked at me like I was the weird one.

Needless to say I was on the water good and early and heading back up the coast full of expectation because the sea was super-smooth, the sky was clear blue, and it was already hot. In the even smoother waters of the bay I spotted the prominent fin and surprisingly large bulk of a Bottlenose Dolphin quite close to the shore. I approached cautiously and waited, some distance away, very careful not to cause any disturbance.

Soon the dolphin surfaced, breathed three times, flipped up its tail, and headed for the bottom again. And even better it had a calf with it, sticking to its side like glue.

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Bottlenose Dolphin and calf

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The next couple of hours were pretty magical. Sitting in my kayak in shorts and vest and PFD (lifejacket) under a cloudless sky in twenty-five degrees, with no wind and no tidal current to move me around. I watched the pair surfacing, taking one to four breaths and then disappearing for three or four minutes.

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Bottlenose Dolphin and calf

I just happened to be sitting in the epicentre of their feeding activity and they kept appearing so close that the blast of their exhalation gave me quite a jump. |I’m sure they were hunting shellfish in the sand below because any school of fish with any sort of brains would move away from the area pretty smartish. The dolphins stayed more or less in the same place for the whole time.

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For long periods the calf stayed absolutely tight to the side of its mother (I’m presuming that) but just occasionally during a prolonged dive had to come up for an extra breath of air, and just occasionally went off on a bit of a solo exploration.P1120686

But these forays never lasted long and it was soon back in the security of Mum’s side:dolphin2

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I took a breakfast break on the adjacent beach and when I paddled back they were still feeding strong. Another couple of dolphins cam over to join them for a brief while.

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At last I dragged myself away and started to paddle back down the coast, further offshore this time. I admired the fishing Guillemots and Razorbills as I went past. There was so much going on that I didn’t have time to admire the ghostly shape of a couple of Barrel jellyfish just beneath the surface, or my first Compass jellyfish of the the year with their very long tentacles.

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Guillemot
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Razorbill

After such a fantastic couple of hours I could hardly believe my luck when I saw another group of dolphins heading directly towards me. I stopped paddling and waited to see what would happen, hardly expecting an improvement on what I had already seen. And then a pretty hefty dolphin jumped clean out of the water.P1130019

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Could it oblige and do one more leap for me with camera in movie mode? No, it couldn’t.

It did four instead. (video)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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