If you are a hungry Gull the further the tide goes out the more likely you are to capture your favourite seafood delicacy. And the water doesn’t go out further than during the current run of the biggest Spring tides of the year.
This Herring Gull has perfected the technique of turning over the weed to uncover the sheltering crabs.
but it’s this immature Great Black-backed Gull that has struck lucky with a large meal-sized starfish. (Great Black-backed Gulls don’t get adult plumage till they are four years old)
If you are a little fish or small marine creature you had better watch out because there are beady eyed Grey Herons every couple of hundred yards along the shore, and Little Egrets even more frequently.
I’d love to know how much more productive a tidal estuary is compared to a freshwater river in terms of food for predatory wildlife. My guess would be ten times the amount (but it could be a lot more).
At this time of year the Kingfishers move down to the estuaries, having run the gauntlet of nesting in holes in the banks of freshwater rivers (and hopefully avoiding floods), to cash in on the food bonanza. Even on a dull day their turquoise and orange outfit is bedazzling.
I really don’t know what this pair of Kingfishers are doing. They are clearly not looking for fish. I thought at first that there might have been a stoat or weasel in the bushes that was attracting their attention, or there was a raptor overhead making them hunker down, but it looks as though they were doing a bit of posturing and either displaying at each other, or threatening one another. Answers on a postcard please.
Is it really worth going out for a paddle in an autumnal deluge, when you could be in a dry place drinking tea and eating Victoria sponge?
Yes, if you’ve got a decent drysuit. It’s actually quite fun. And there’s no jetskis on the water. Nobody else at all in fact.
It was great to see that the remaining cygnet on the river had survived following the mysterious death of its two siblings a few weeks. The parents were their usual feisty selves and had a bit of a go at my GoPro. The cob (male) swan had a real go at me when the cygnets were young and came whop-whop-whopping directly at me which was a tad alarming.
This very pale buzzard wasn’t phased by the torrential downpour. It was like water off a….er…duck’s back.
Buzzards which have this much white are frequently mistaken for other species, but it is not abnormal. The French name for Buzzard is ‘Buse Variable’.
Even though I havn’t seen an otter here for over a year, I was hopeful of seeing one. Although the best time to see an otter is a twilight, they do seem to put in an appearance when it is raining. I’m not sure why this is…..could it be that it is because it gets darker when it rains (and so mimics dusk), or is it that they feel they are not going to be disturbed when it is absolutely hosing down because only the daft venture out?
Because it was really chucking it down I felt that an otter couldn’t resist coming out.
And it did. I saw a smallish otter carving a ‘v’ in the water far enough ahead of my kayak that I could easily glide over to the bank and sit absolutely quietly tucked in the middle of a (very drippy) bush without it noticing me.
This is my video in its entirity. It nicely shows the weather conditions, which was not great for my completely unwaterproof camera. It also shows how difficult it is to track a diving otter, which doesn’t usually surface in the same place it dived…..although this one did.
Apologies for the shaky camera work…it’s really not that easy from the kayak seat.
I think this was a bitch otter because it isn’t that big. I noticed it had a rather fetching little pink patch in the middle of it’s (usually black) nose.
I managed to sneak past up the river without disturbing it, and then picked it up again on the way back down twenty minutes later.
There’s not much doubt it was the rain that lured this otter out. The photos were timed at 1215. It’s not very often you encounter otters at midday, they are usually well tucked up in bed.
“From Hartland Point to Padstow Light, ’tis a Watery Grave by Day or Night”
Having this cheerful old mariner’s sonnet lurking in the back of my mind always makes me a bit apprehensive about a paddle out from Hartland Quay. It is so totally and utterly exposed and there is nothing resembling a town or port or seaside village within sight. From Hartland point south the coast is absolutely dead straight and points directly out to the west so catches every bit of Atlantic groundswell and is usually blasted by the wind from the same direction. Not a hint of a sheltering headland to moderate the beefy tidal current either.
When out on the water the only sign that humans have ever existed is the lighthouse at Hartland, another on Lundy fifteen miles away, the bizarre Hartland Quay hotel and the odd vapour trail.
Just to make it even more fun, there is no phone signal and the nearest other floating craft who might hear a shout from your two-way radio are the occasional ship passing ten miles out which is just peeping the top of it’s funnel over the horizon. There are very few fishing boats here.
But this was the part of Devon with least wind forecast today, a light easterly. So I was hopeful. And when I came over the brow of the hill the sea was like a millpond, ridged with only a two to three foot swell. Excellent.
I trolleyed my kayak through the middle of Hartland Quay Hotel, which is an ironic start to such a remote-feeling paddle, and paddled straight offshore.
I kept up a fairly fast cruise speed because I was sure the windless conditions wouldn’t last, and even the slightest wind combined with the lively currents around here would rapidly cause quite choppy conditions.
I passed a couple of Porpoises two miles out with their fins glinting in the bright sunshine, but didn’t pause because I had my eye on a handful of circling Gannets a mile further out, which occasionally dived into the water.
By the time I appeared on location the Gannets had drifted off but my efforts were rewarded when a pod of about eight Common Dolphins (which the Gannets had been shadowing) came over to say hello.
This is the first time I have seen Common Dolphins on this bit of coast from my kayak.It’s usually been from the top of a headland through pair of binoculars as the dolphins enjoy the typically wild sea state which is more normal for round here.
I drifted south, watching the dolphins, with the increasingly strong ebb tide and got to about four miles offshore which I thought was far enough, especially as I could see swirls in the water from the current, and a line of dark approaching which was the start of the wind. I have enormous respect for this wild stretch of coast and felt a bit small, so paddled shoreward, fast.
On the way back in I passed several more porpoises, in fact could hear one puff nearly every time I halted. Also the flopping fin of a Sunfish which spooked and dived when I was still many metres away from it, with camera poised.
Other wildlife interest today was a couple of posses of Guillemots and Razorbills, a handful of passing Red Admiral butterflies and a dozen or so swallows, far out to sea. On migration south from Wales presumably.
As I neared the savage coast with multiple toothy reefs reaching far offshore I came across a tide race with whitecaps and standing waves which sloshed all over the deck. As I lurched over the waves I realised the body of water I was in was moving AGAINST the flow of the tide. It was part of a huge eddy current that was surging back towards Hartland Point as the main ebbing tide pours south around the corner and out to sea. Blooming heck, it’s all a bit hairy round here.
I can’t believe I once paddled out to Lundy from here (and back, after a chicken-flavoured pot noodle on the slipway).
Back on dry land I trolleyed my kayak back through the tables of tourists enjoying a lunchtime pint in the warm sunshine, several of which gave me a bemused look (not unusual).
My coastal trip south from Bude the next day was a bit more leisurely. It was great to meet local kayak fisherman Eric, who is one of very few kayakers who have seen a Leatherback Turtle. He encountered one just half a mile from the shore a few weeks ago. What a supreme sighting.
I had forgotten just how big Bottlenose Dolphins were because I haven’t seen any in Cornwall for nearly two years. My last encounter was a pod of about fifty that came charging past when I was paddling off Mousehole, just when my camera decided to have a seizure. Prior to that I have just occasionally come across the inshore pod that roams around the bays of Devon and Cornwall, but it hasn’t been very often.
Today’s encounter was a complete surprise, because (as usual) I was several miles offshore in Mount’s Bay and so beyond the range of the coastal group. I had paddled out from Lamorna Cove, after grinding a bit more enamel off my teeth as I paid the excessive car park charge, and was going to do a big offshore loop down to Porthcurno(ish). Looking for fins wasn’t easy because the light wind blowing against the outgoing tide threw up wavelets which made listening and looking for splashes not easy. Choppy conditions also makes holding a camera steady very difficult (especially when zoomed in). And it tends to get wet…not a good idea because it ain’t waterproof.
I had been paddling for over two hours and had only seen a handful of porpoises so was very pleased to see a larger fin break the surface when I was parallelling the coast about three miles out. I assumed it was a Common Dolphin because it didn’t look very big, but was thrilled when another much bigger appeared nearby, and this was a real whopper.
I was then overtaken by the main group and was greeted with a double jump.
The pod of about ten (could easily have been more…I get so wrapped up in the moment I find it very difficult to count) escorted me for twenty minutes or so.
These are really big powerful creatures, three times the weight of a Common Dolphin, and over six times as big as a Porpoise. And approaching twelve foot long. Yet still completely sleek and agile and nothing lumbering about them at all.
It’s great to be sitting in a kayak at water level and be looking UP at the top of a fin.
I could hear a high-pitched whistling as they swerved about in the clear water beneath me, you can hear it on this GoPro clip (which is in slomo):
On the paddle back to Lamorna I passed another three Bottlenose dolphins trailing the first group by over a mile. This was a bit of a surprise as they usually stick quite close together. Marine Discovery, who also saw these dolphins, say it was a fragmented pod of ‘offshore’ Bottlenose dolphins that were scattered along that bit of coast, about three miles out.
For me in my kayak it is tremendously exciting to see this classic species of dolphin, and even better that they are the ‘offshore’ variety because these are real ocean wanderers and rarely seen.
A bonus ball on the way back (when the sea suddenly smoothed off…typical), was this grizzled old Grey Seal that was ‘bottling’. I’m pretty sure it knew I was only a few feet away but really didn’t care.
Today’s dolphins brings my cetacean species up to six for the year:
A change of scenery from the vast open expanse of the Atlantic to the slightly less vast open expanse of the Mediterranean. In Spain on the Costa del Sol within sight of Gibraltar.
The super-smooth sea was conducive to a bit of continental-style offshore paddling under a pounding September sun with temperatures topping out in the high twenties. I had a few chums to take along…..
Of course I couldn’t resist paddling way out in the hope of meeting up with my favourite sea creature…Common Dolphin. They were very sensibly keeping well out of the way of the line of bloat-boats which were following the shore.
Sure enough there they were, about four miles offshore.It was great to watch the dolphins doing what dolphins do best…..being charismatic, energetic and dynamic.
This one is an adult because it has a black ‘beard’.
The dolphins hung around far beyond the domain of recreational kayaks (which is generally along the shore never far from a beach bar).
The only other kayaker I encountered about a mile out to sea was this kayak-fisherman who had the most well-equipped kayak I have ever seen. It was absolutely heaving with equipment. It even had an electric motor. The best feature for me, however, were the shark’s teeth.
He clearly knew what he was about because he caught a whopping Dentex!!!
A huge bonus on the Costa del Sol are the Cory’s Shearwaters that breed on the Balearic islands. They are only rare visitors to the UK. They are big, quite common, and very tame. They cruise about low over the water with their flap,flap, glide technique (like a huge bat), and every so often crash into the water in a rather poor quality dive, to catch a fish or squid.
During lulls in the feeding action they sit about on the surface having a bit of a social. Always well offshore however so well out of the way of any boats (and most kayakers!).
But, as usual, it was the dolphins that made my offshore trips complete. They never fail to impress.
A bit of a surprise….while taking a video of a mini dolphin feeding frenzy I thought that one of the jumping dolphins looked a bit odd. That’s because it was a Giant Tuna, the same size as a dolphin! Blinking Heck!
Beneath the water was a really weird jellyfish, a species I had never seen before. Like a cross between a jewel encrusted bracelet and a flying bedstead (one of the first flying machines). As usual for a jellyfish it was escorted by a little posse of fish.
Nice to see a few familiar Sandwich Terns migrating past, this juvenile perched on a buoy with Gibraltar in the background.
One day, the only one with wind from the west, resulted in a large migration of big birds along the coast. Several hundred Honey Buzzards, Black Kites, Booted Eagles, and this flock of approximately eighty White Storks several thousand feet up en route to Gib before crossing to Africa.
As the Storks head south it’s time for us to return north.