The residual swell from the storms was subsiding….
and the wind disappeared completely, so I didn’t need any further encouragement to head far offshore. First I paddled round Veryan Bay to the west of (usually) gnarly Dodman Point. Even two miles offshore it was flat as a millpond and pleasantly warm…not bad for the end of March. This time last year it was snowing.
I am very wary about heading offshore at this time of year because water temperature is only about ten degrees C. Not good if you go for a swim. So I call in with the local NCI Coastwatch to tell them of my plans, but most importantly I only go out if the sea is absolutely smooth, and I feel completely safe and secure. Also I bristle with communication technology: two phones, radio, GPS, Personal Locator Beacon.
There was very little bird activity on this day so I was expecting to see nothing, but then a single Gannet far ahead circled once, and I directly beneath it I saw the sun glint off a distant fin.
As I quietly approached they came over to investigate.
It was a pod of about fifteen individuals containing a handful of calves. This seems to be the usual make-up of the groups I come across, with females and adolescents and youngsters together. I think the males go round in a sort of blokey gang by themselves (but I may be completely wrong here). I have occasionally seen groups of big beefy Common Dolphins with tall fins.
Whatever the technicalities, it was, as always, a thrilling sight made even better by the calm water and blue sea and sky.
They finished off with a final close pass before tearing off into the distance.
A couple of days later I paddled out from fantastic Fowey Harbour for another offshore exploration in equally perfect paddling conditions.
The open sea was completely quiet, just a handful of Guillemots dotted about and about as few Gannets as it is possible to see. It is very interesting that I would normally have expected to see quite a few porpoises out here (and out at Veryan the other day). The calm conditions were perfect for porpoise spotting because you can here them puff, and glimpse their small fins, from quite a distance away. In the late summer on a day like this it is actually unusual not to here the sound of a blow of a nearby porpoise every time you stop paddling and sit quietly.
So they have disappeared off somewhere else….maybe they don’t like all the barrel jellyfish that are still around.
I stopped for coffee exactly five miles out from Fowey and was about to head back. But there was a glint of sun at the surface further out. There were no waves to cause it, so it must have been the light glinting off a fin.
It turned out to be three juvenile Common Dolphins, being shadowed by a trio of adults a few hundred yards away.
There are really only a handful of days a year when the offshore sea is this smooth, and it’s really something you don’t expect in mad March. I even tried a little bit of underwater GoPro stuff, but don’t think it would quite make the cut for Blue Planet live.
The weather is now on the turn with wind picking up, so that’s it for watching dolphins offshore for a while, I suspect.
There are more Barrel jellyfish around the coast of SW England than I have ever seen in fifteen plus years of sea kayaking. A lot more. I have seen more in the last three days than all the other years added together……91 on Tuesday (yes I counted them, how nerdy is that?), 120+ on Wednesday (lost the plot after a hundred) and 40+ today.
This number of any other jellyfish is not unusual, but Barrel Jellyfish are so BIG that this is really quite a phenomenon. Their ‘bell’ can be two foot across and they can weigh in at over 30kgs.
This video clip shows the size quite nicely:
Their appearance seems to have coincided with a plankton bloom (upon which they feast) that has probably been caused by the sunny weather. The nearshore water is full of specks of plankton which you can see clearly in this clip:
I can’t recall ever seeing such a sudden bloom so early in the year….the water is usually very clear in March and April and gets full of plankton in May.
As I paddle along I can see jellyfish beneath the surface up to about ten foot from my kayak, so I only see a tiny fraction of the vast numbers out there. The three locations I have seen them over the last three days are fifty miles apart so there must be millions of these large and mysterious creatures floating about around our coast. Actually it’s a bit unfair to imply that they drift about passively. On the contrary they seem to be very motivated to get somewhere with the relentless pulsating of their ‘bell’, although they maybe don’t know exactly where that somewhere is ( they havn’t got a brain).
Personally I find them absolutely fascinating and a bit mesmerising, especially when they are illuminated by dancing shafts of sunlight.
If all these jellyfish end up on the beaches after an onshore gale it will cause quite a stir. Just one of these washed up on the sand causes heads to turn, so hundreds or thousands could be quite a scenario. At least they don’t sting so are harmless to people. Maybe they’ll swim away somewhere else. I don’t know.
One exciting possibility is that the unprecedented number of Barrel Jellyfish will lure in a Leatherback Turtle or two, because Barrel Jellyfish are the favourite food of the Leatherback. A good reason to keep on paddling and keep on looking.
To get a bit of shelter from the moderate SW wind, but still have the feel of the open coast, Dave, Simon and I set out from Loe Beach at the neck of Carrick Roads for a saunter down to Falmouth and back.
The sun did its best to shine:
We stopped off at Flushing for lunch of stale sandwiches, followed by an unexpectedly delicious bar of Galaxy Cookie Crumble. A new one on me, and only £1 in Holsworthy Co-op.
We took an easy circuit around Falmouth and Penryn estuary before the much anticipated easy downwind return leg (as it had been a bit of a struggle against the wind).
Wildlife highlight of this particular day was a most extraordinary one, and something I have never seen before, and may not even have been anything to do with wildlife. It was the lowest low tide for several years so some bits of shore were exposed that hadn’t seen fresh air for a very long time. As usual I was scrutinising the beach as we slid silently past, and every so often saw a squirt of water come up out of the shore. Completely random, but from all sorts of different locations. Weird.
Simon went ashore to investigate while Dave and I bravely sat in our kayaks a safe distance from the dry land, because for all we knew it could have been a delegation from a galaxy far far away.
You can see for or five jets of water randomly squirting up as Simon searches for the source:
Although Simon found an eel, the consensus of our combined scientific wisdom was that it was cockles that sent up a squirt of water as they slammed shut.
Highlights of the trip back were a close up investigation of HMS Argus, and a tea break at Penarrow point (the headland of drowned bodies, so we didn’t stay long)
The day before I was very excited about a possible offshore paddle around Mounts Bay from Penzance, but when I arrived at 10am, the whole coast was fogbound, drizzly and very cheerless.
So I coast-hugged and hope the mist would clear. As usual the wildlife brightened up the scene, first of all it was a couple of Eiders (imm drakes):
The local gulls were very busy hunting along the shoreline for starfish exposed by the exceptionally low low tide. They were being very successful.
Mousehole was stranded by several hundred yards of exposed kelp forest, and I struggled to find somewhere to get out for a cup of coffee and half a Double Decker Duo. Desperate times!
As I supped I had a chat with a man picking up sea lettuce which he was going to sell to the local restaurants to use as a ‘wrap’ for their tasty seafood morsels. A knowledgable and informed chap who gave a good overview of everything marine. And with a sound insight into the local wildlife as well…even better.
As I paddled out from Mousehole the mist miraculously dispersed and even better (and unexpectedly) the wind dropped completely. So timed to perfection for me to take a huge swing offshore to arc back to Penzance, with a chance of a BIG wildlife encounter.
It’s not very often as smooth as this two miles off Mousehole:
It wasn’t long before I heard the puff of a Porpoise, and in fact I heard them more or less constantly for the next couple of hours, because it was so calm the sound carried far over the surface. I saw only seven or eight:
Most of the auks dotted about were Guillemots, but I saw one was noticeably smaller from a long way off..a Puffin!
I’m pretty sure this is the first one I have ever seen in March from my kayak.
It briefly teamed up with a passing Guillemot giving a good size comparison.
I looped around the big tanker moored in the bay,
and passed a load more Guillemots in various stages of transition from winter into their breeding plumage.
A couple of days of superb paddling in light winds…..yesterday was an exploration of the Dart estuary from Totnes to Dartmouth and back with Dave, and today was a solo offshore paddle from Fowey, with wildlife sightings (once again) way beyond my expectations for March.
The Dart paddle was a fairly hefty nineteen miles but cunning tidal planning worked in our favour and even allowed a very civilised tea break at Dittisham.
The sun did its best to put in an appearance as we neared Dartmouth, resulting in dangerously high humidity levels in our drysuits.
Of course we allowed time for a wee bit of trainspotting (it was just coincidence we arrived at Kingswear at exactly as the same time as the train…honest.)
Heading back up the river we had to frequently evade the tourist boats who tend to ignore inconsequential craft such as ours.
Wildlife highlight of the day was this exceptional sighting of three Harbour Seals hauled out on a pontoon. Harbour seals are rare in SW England with just one or two hanging about up some of the creeks, and I have only ever come across a handful, and never seen more than one at a time. The familiar seal in the area is the much bigger Atlantic Grey seal. Harbour seals live along the east coast of England and around Scotland, but maybe this little cluster means they are now spreading this way.
There was actually more than three because I saw what I thought were a couple of Harbour seals in the water, as well as a couple of Greys.
This morning I started idiotically early in the morning because the wind forecast was exceptionally light and I might just be able to do an offshore paddle out of Fowey, an unusual occurrence in March.
It was misty and murky with intermittent drizzle, but the marine wildlife was buzzing. Fulmars zipped past my earholes…
and Guillemots and Razorbills sat about and dived for sprats…
Below the surface lurked the spooky ghostly white shape of a Barrel Jellyfish.
Gannets filed past and I watched each one closely. I have mentioned before that in places like this if a Gannet circles around it is probable that there is a Porpoise swimming below. Today, it was certainly the case…..with Gannets thumping into the water beside the feeding Porpoises. Watch this slomo carefully..(Fowey behind)
One porpoise passed by very close. Unlike dolphins they are not inquisitive and pay no attention at all to boats and kayaks. They just get on with what they are doing and if that happens to mean they come close to where you are sitting, so be it.
As I watched the porpoise, the first flock of Manx Shearwaters that I have seen this year winged past a bit further out:
I stopped for a cup of coffee and essential nutrient supplementation in the shape of two chunks of Raisin and Biscuit Yorkie, and had a final scan (with eyeballs only) out to sea. The grey skies and smooth water were the perfect combination for seeing a black fin break the water. I was just on the point of turning back when I thought I might have glimpsed a couple of black specs, which then disappeared. I paddle towards the area for five minutes and saw nothing more. I was turning for home once again when the same thing happened so I once again paddled out to investigate.
Amazingly I came across a little pod of five or six Common Dolphins that were swimming along very quietly, more in the manner of Porpoises. However, being Common Dolphins one had to hurl itself out of the water and land with a bit of a splash, because that is what Common Dolphins do best.
They cruised past the front of my kayak without a second glance, maybe because there was one small calf in the pod, and they don’t seem to be so investigative when there is a very young dolphin to look after, or maybe protect.
After the group of half a dozen had past, another pair came past….both adults, and one with a very pronounced dark moustache stripe (or should it be called a beard?)
Today’s excellent variety of wildlife was nicely rounded off by this beautifully lilac Sea urchin at the mouth of Fowey estuary, exposed by the exceptionally low tide.
As i drove down the lane I hadn’t decided where my paddle destination was to be today, but despite (very) early morning fuddleheadedness, my onboard sea-state assessment centres indicated east. Good call…..the moderate west wind was lighter in south-east Devon, and the east facing bit of coast would be sheltered from the swell coming from the west which was still a bit lively after the storms. As a bonus Dartmoor might block out the drizzle too.
So I went to Teignmouth.
The sea looked so benign I made a bee-line for Hope’s Nose six miles away, but the sea was fairly lifeless with just a handful of roving Gannets and the odd Guillemot. After coffee at a little beach at the ‘nose’ I paddled back close to the shore.
As I rounded the headland into Ansteys Bay I saw a diver surface in front of me….a Red-Throated. A beautiful bird and usually quite shy.
A great sighting but I’m not convinced the bird was fit…it did a lot of wing stretching and its neck looked a fat…I hope it hasn’t swallowed a fish hook.
As i watched the diver a lone porpoise surfaced in the background:
I was unusually peckish so headed for a really stunning little sheltered beach (accessible only by kayak) beneath a great slab of red sandstone cliff.
As I worked my way through a couple of disastrous ham sandwiches (dried out bread, sleepy coleslaw, slimy ham) a couple of seals swam into the bay and started to horse around….completely oblivious of, or just ignoring, me.
I watched them for ages and hoped they would move on so I didn’t disturb them when I continued my paddle back to Teignmouth. However they showed no sign of leaving this perfect little cove, so I quietly slipped my kayak onto the water and tried to sneak past without them noticing. Fat chance!….
They continued on at each other for a while and then turned their attention to me. (nice wren singing in the background in this video clip, by the way)
Then it was full on investigation of idiot sitting in kayak…..
All the time I watched the seals I was looking for signs of anxiety or fear caused by my appearance on the scene. Was I disturbing them? Apparently not…after scrutinising my hull, and me, very closely, with several upside down passes along the entire length of the hull bumping and shoving all the way, they just went back to their sparring.
You don’t have to have a degree in animal behaviour to see that my presence only a few feet away doesn’t seem to be influencing their behaviour at all.
It does appear that the seals in this area are remarkably tolerant of kayakers. This is not the case of some of the seals further west, and definitely not along the north coast of Cornwall at the large breeding colonies.
There are many more boats/kayakers/people in these sheltered and calm south-east Devon beaches so the seals are more habituated to people.
Although seals are bold and inquisitive when they are swimming they can feel very vulnerable when hauled out on a rock or on a beach.This is particularly so at their remote and innaccessable beaches where they have their pups. Too close an approach in a boat, kayak or paddleboard can easily cause a stampede into the water. Not good if you are a newborn pup and you are in the way of several hundred kilos of lumbering blubber.
The couple of miles back to Polly Steps where I had left my car were livened up by a pair of Peregrine Falcons which sped out over the sea on a hunt, but returned empty clawed.
Another surprisingly good wildlife day….better than the weather:
A succession of storms running in from the Atlantic have limited kayak trips to the most sheltered tidal creeks. These are well protected from the worst of the wind….but not the rain:
The deluge is currently so relentless that even the ducks seem fed up.
But just before the unsettled weather arrived I managed to sneak out for a morning on the open coast along the Cornish Riviera.
It was ironic that after travelling half way round the world in the hope of seeing a whale (I as hoping for a ‘Blue’) from my kayak, I had a better view of a pod of dolphins a couple of days after we got back.
Also we somehow managed to miss the record-breaking February temperatures here in the UK, enduring some very mixed weather in the USA and Mexico. We touched down at Heathrow in sunshine and eighteen degrees, but by the time we were back in Devon it had started to rain.
I thought the best way to combat jetlag and the stickiness of airports and travelling, was to go for a bit of a paddle and the sheltered open coast at Mevagissey was beckoning, and temperatures were back to normal (i.e. quite chilly).
Rounding Black Head to the north of Pentewan I was surprised to see Mevagissey Bay looking so flat, so I headed directly for the Gwinges (aka Gwineas) rocks on the far side of the bay. This would take me far enough offshore to give me the chance of seeing a porpoise, or maybe a dolphin.
A couple of handfuls of Gannets were circling and I was moderstely confident there would be porpoises underneath, but the had dispersed by the time I rolled up.
However suddenly half a dozen Gannets plunged in directly in front of me (I’ve got no idea how such a large bird can just instantly appear out of nowhere) and I saw a fin break the surface beside them. I was absolutely thrilled to see half-a-dozen Common Dolphins feeding on a baitball of fish which were just beneath the surface creating a sizeable ‘stippled’ area.
Conditions for dolphin-spotting weren’t great because there was a bit of a swell and an increasing wind which makes seeing fins a bit tricky, especially with the bouncing movement of the kayak.
There were a couple of juveniles in the group and one small calf. The calf can be seen surfacing just after its mother submerges in this video.
They suddenly disappeared and I wasted no time in getting to the shore as the swell was picking up and cloud building ominously from the south. I couldn’t resist a quick slingshot around the Gwineas cardinal buoy however, because I don’t think I’ve paddled around it before.
Mevagissey was as quiet and quaint as ever:
Just a single Purple Sandpiper was poking about the rocks in the company of a handful of Turnstones, just outside the harbour mouth.
I did a bit of a double-take when I glimpsed a ghostly white shape under the water beneath me, and was very surprised to see a Barrel Jellyfish, about three foot long, going slowly on its way. The earliest one I have ever seen, by quite a few weeks.
A pair of Peregrines were very excited about something on the way back…..
And to finish off an unexpectedly varied and successful morning of wildlife viewing from the kayak, the nesting Shags were looking smart in their bottle green breeding plumage and punked-up headgear.
It was excitement overload as we arrived in the beautiful little town of Loreto, two thirds of the way down the eastern side of the Baja peninsular, Mexico. Overlooking the turquoise Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California), and reputed to be chock full of amazing sea creatures.
Our very first glimpse of the sea seemed to bear this out: A pack of Blue-footed Boobies thumped into the water just beyond Loreto breakwater in a simultaneous aerial bombardment of an unlucky shoal of fish…..
and pelicans were falling out of the sky in a similar manner but lacking a bit of style as they don’t seem to have got the hang of folding the wings right back before impact.
There were some miniscule ornithological charmers around as well, such as this Hummingbird that Mike spotted taking an early morning bath (the hummingbird, not Mike).
and a Monarch butterfly:
The town of Loreto has a very nice relaxed vibe:
It was time to get on the water, for five days of kayaking and camping in (on) the world’s greatest natural aquarium. We were bussed south of Loreto to Puerto Escondido and given a paddling brief before clambering into the kayaks.
Becky and I were part of trip organised by ROW Adventures, and had travelled down from Flagstaff, Arizona with Nessa and Mike.
The ten kayakers of our group were superbly looked after, and fed, by our four guides:
First stop was lunch at honeymoon beach, Danzante. I wasted no time in checking out the wildlife…a Sunstar in the shallows and a Puffer fish cruising about (unpuffed).
Best for me however was this beautiful Little Blue Heron that stalked the shallows and had to sort out its own lunch (a wriggling snippet of sushi) while ours was very much handed to us on a plate.
Everything that was going on during our lunchtime break was scrutinised closely by a Pelican which was also taking a midday break on the adjacent cliff.
After lunch and a bit of a hike we paddled round the top of Danzante and two miles across the sound to Isla Carmen, where we camped right on the beach. There is very little tidal range in this part of the world so you can be right next to the water the whole time. It’s great lying in your tent hearing the incessant lapping of the water.. a real wilderness experience.
At the tip of the sand spit a pair of American Oystercatchers were loafing about:
And there was a constant stream of Pelicans filing past. They are big birds with a six to seven foot wingspan. This one looks even bigger:
We had to wait for the stiff northerly wind to drop before we could depart for our day’s paddle, and as we waited a school of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared and proceeded to tuck into a baitball right in front of our noses, sending fish flying everywhere. Much to the approval of the exclaiming and cheering onlookers.
The Pelicans didn’t waste any time in joining in with the feast.
An Osprey watched on from a perfect, but prickly, vantage point.
Paddling down the west coast of Isla Carmen was the closest we would come to paddling perfection. Stunning sunny blue-sky day and well sheltered from the wind. The white coral sand and clear water made the sea about as azure as it was possible to get. Subsequent days were largely cloudy (although mainly hazy high cloud) and if you want to record that perfect paddling paradise pic, its got to be under bright sunshine. When it is overcast and the sea is choppy and battleship-grey, the impression created is not quite the same.
It was lovely to hear the animated grating cry of a posse of Royal Terns which were sitting on the rocks of the point.
And I absolutely loved to see the ‘floatiest’ bird in the world, the Magnicent Frigatebirds (what a great name), just cruising about overhead, looking for a scrap to eat off the surface, or a seabird to chase to make it disgorge its meal. Although they spend their whole lives around the sea, they never land on the water. And boy do they have a shape and aura of a Pterodactyl (although I havn’t seen one of those personally….I’m not THAT ancient)
After lunch a group went for a hike followed by a snorkel trip…….
while I opted for another paddle, escorted very kindly by Mario.
Later I spent a while watching the bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs that seemed to have extraordinarily good eyesight and would hide behind a rock when I was still ten yards away, peeping over the top with their eyes on stalks (literally, of course).
I had no idea crabs were capable of jumping from rock to rock….but watch this video and you will see that they can for yourself. Don’t blink.
Next morning was cloudy and cool, but it was still a great view from the door of the tent.
During breakfast Mike and I were wearing just about every item of clothing we had brought along. Good thing I didn’t just chuck in a pair of swimming trunks and nothing else. This was the desert, after all.
After breakfast we noticed a couple of whale-watching pangas coming down from the north and it wasn’t long before we saw the blow of a whale. A long way off from our viewpoint on the beach, but we could just make out the long back and swept-back fin of a Fin Whale.
Because it was cool and the wind marginal for the open sea crossing back to Danzante. Mario led the stretch and warm-up routine to avoid any tendinous or muscular issues.
The crossing was entertaining with some moderate swells coming down from the north.
The south end of Danzante was absolutely superb:
And we admired the astonishingly blue feet of the unimaginatively named Blue-footed Boobies as we slid silently past.
After dark we did a bit of ‘bug’ hunting…..not my favourite branch of natural history.
The morning of our final day dawned fair but deteriorated rapidly.
The team was given a bonding exercise to fire us up for the last morning’s paddle…..
Mario showed us the way with his words of wisdom….
We checked out the birdlife of a patch of mangroves before we crossed back over to Puerto Escondido.
And that was about it for the kayaking….just enough time to take one final selfie..
The next morning we said farewell to Loreto but it was business as usual for the Boobies and Pelicans doing their stuff as the sun peeped up.