Lots of Porpoises for Fowey Regatta

Fowey is good.

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(Gig race in )  Fowey

It’s a great place to go kayaking, and in my opinion the most scenic and paddle-friendly estuary/ria in SW England.

Providing you can clench your teeth hard enough to handle the savage price for parking your car, it provides quick access to the open sea via a very pleasant one-mile paddle between Polruan and Fowey.

I was surprised to see the small cruise ship ‘Hebridean Princess’ moored-up in mid river. My last encounter was on a very wet day in Loch Sunart in 2014 during my month-long kayak trip up the west coast of Scotland.

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Hebridean princess at Fowey

Once out of the mouth of the estuary I headed directly out to see but not before I heard a couple of Whimbrel ‘tittering’ on a rocky shore. They are migratory waders, very similar to Curlew but slightly smaller and with that distinctive monotone ‘seven-whistle’ call.

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Whimbrel

The sea was lovely and flat with little wind so it wasn’t long before I heard my first porpoise ‘piffing’, although it was minutes before I was actually close enough to see it.

I swung round a couple of miles off Gribbin Head and met up with two  bigger pods of Porpoises, about ten in each. I just sat and watched as they surfaced all around, but always frustrating from a photography point of view because they constantly change direction and pop up where you least expect them to do so (like directly behind).

You can here the characteristic piff quite well in this video, as they pass in front of distant Mevagissey:

 

 

Porpoises are small and very easy to overlook and I’m pretty sure none of the many passing boats noticed this little posse going about its business.

There was at least one juvenile amongst the group which was probably only two foot long….no wonder they don’t get seen.

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Porpoise and calf

I think there must be a reef stretching out well offshore from Gribbin Head, because it does seem to focus the feeding activity of a mixture of sea creatures. A handful of tiny Storm Petrels, always a thrill to see from a kayak, (because they are only seen far offshore as well as being diminutive…the size of a sparrow) zipped past.

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Storm Petrel

Their name is accurate because they always fly a bit closer to the shore during poor weather. Today was drizzly but fortunately not windy:

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Pencarrow Head
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Dodgy day

Also off Gribbin Head I saw the fin of a small Ocean Sunfish flopping at the surface. I was hoping to get close for an underwater shot but it spooked surprisingly early.

 

 

The grand wildlife finale was a mini feeding frenzy of Gannets off the headland. I could see little white dots circling and dropping into the sea a mile, possibly two, in front of me. They are big birds with a six foot wingspan so can be seen from a huge distance (a bit different to Storm petrels). I have learnt from (bitter) experience that even if I crank the kayak up to its top cruising speed of five to six mph, the feeding event will probably have finished by the time I roll up.

This nicely summarises the extreme challenge of trying to observe offshore wildlife from a kayak, and is probably the reason why nobody else does it. Another Gannet seeing the ‘work-up’ from afar (which is precisely what they look out for when cruising about) can cover the distance in a couple of minutes. They just dip a wing and disappear off at staggering speed. A wildlife-watching speedboat could cover the distance a little slower than a Gannet but in time to see what is going on. The Lone Kayaker generally arrives on scene when all that is left is a few fish scales rotating about in the swirled-up water.

Despite all this I stoked up a head of steam because the circling birds were on my way back anyway, and arrived twenty minutes later to just in time to witness the end of the action. In fact it was definitely the end because there was only one mackerel of the baitball left, and the last two Gannets to dive in ended up fighting over it. Both had their beaks locked around the same fish as they flapped about in a melee at the surface. See it for yourself in this video…..I’ve slowed down the action because it’s all a bit of a blurr otherwise. You will notice the porpoises are still busy looking for any escapee fish.

 

 

 

Here’s another pair of diving gannets at normal speed. It’s great to hear their cackles of excitement which they only utter when they are involved in feeding…they are completely silent the rest of the time.

 

 

Back nearer to Fowey the profusion of wildlife was replaced with a plethora of sailing boats as the annual regatta was in full swing. A tremendous sight despite the grey conditions.

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Fowey sailing Regatta
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Fowey sailing Regatta

The sea in front of the town was heaving with action and I had to weave amonst entrants of the gig race, which seemed very competitive.

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Fowey gig boats

The water around the slipway was similarly choc-a-bloc with water enthusiasts in the style of fellow kayakers.

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Caffa Mill kayakers

For the lone kayaker the most impressive performance of the day was by the porpoises.

 

 

 

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