Osprey!

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Fowey

It was a spectacular morning in Fowey as I slid quietly through the estuary as the sun peeped up.

 

 

The moderate NE wind meant that today was going to be a coastal paddle and heading offshore wasn’t going to be an option. So I was just going to have to settle for filling my eyeballs with spectacular south Cornwall scenery…tough.

Although I did venture out around the cardinal buoy which marked the excellently named Udder rock. Always the chance of a porpoise or dolphin.

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Udder Rock buoy

I reached Polperro in just under three hours, but the very low Spring tide meant the harbour was completely dry, so I stopped for a coffee break outside.

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Polperro

An almost complete lack of wildlife encouraged me to visit Gribbin Head on the way back. I glimpsed a seal, very briefly saw a Barrel jellyfish below  and there were a few Gannets roving about offshore. That’s about it. Oh, and a single Curlew.

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Tea break beach

As I reentered Fowey Harbour I had clocked up about twenty miles.

I did such a double-take when I saw the white cap on a large bird of prey perched high in a tree overlooking the water, I cricked my neck. It was an Osprey. Wow.

My second of the year and the first in Cornwall. They are increasingly regular on migration around the rias of south Cornwall as their breeding numbers further north steadily increase. They stoke up on fuel, usually in the shape of mullet , before continuing south to spend the winter in West Africa.

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Osprey

This was undoubtedly a juvenile bird with white scalloping to the feathers of its upperparts, and a smattering of buff on its white underparts. It also had the aura of a youngster in the way it moved and looked.

I was relieved I didn’t resemble a meal-sized fish when it glared at me with piercing eyes. No chance of (me sporting a ) mullet nowadays.

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Osprey glare

There was little chance for the Osprey to rest. The local crows were relentless in their persecution.

 

 

And eventually it gave in and flew off up the estuary.

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Osprey on the move

An unexpected fantastic finale to an otherwise uneventful (from a wildlife perspective), but super-scenic, paddle.

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Nine-Jump Dolphin at Fowey

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It was a chilly two degrees as I drove through the valleys on the flank  of Bodmin moor on the way to Fowey. I was very thankful there was a pair of gloves in my kayak bag. left over from their last glimpse of action in the Spring.

As I paddled out of the estuary at Fowey, there was a river of cold air and mist flowing out to sea. Quite atmospheric.

I ‘checked in’ with Polruan NCI coastwatch and paddled directly out to sea. The forecast was light winds and I was a little bit disappointed the sea surface was quite choppy.

The first interesting sea creature of the day was a Portugese Man o’ War jellyfish. The first I had seen for a couple of years. They are such an innocuous looking bladder, but those blue tentacles dangling beneath have a really savage sting.

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Portugese Man o’ War

My plan was to paddle at least five miles offshore but after an hour’s effort I was beginning to get a bit despondent. There was hardly any wildlife and the surface seemed to be getting more disturbed, as the incoming tide worked against the wind creating small wavelets. The only glimmer of hope of seeing a ‘fin’ were the Gannets which were circling about, quite high up, as though they expected some fish to appear below them at any moment. I can feel the intense scrutiny from their beady eyes burning into my head as they drift over to inspect my credentials. To them , anything at the surface usually means food.

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Glaring Gannet
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Gannet Mugshot

When I was four miles out I looked up as a gull when I heard a gull squealing with an angry edge to its voice, and was amazed to see a Short-eared Owl flying over, with two angry Herring Gulls in hot pursuit. It was obviously on migration south, but this is the first one I have ever seen from the kayak seat. And of course it was a bit of a surprise to see it this far offshore. Here’s the only photo I managed to scramble.

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Short-eared Owl

And then, dead ahead about a mile away, a large flock of diving Gannets. Bingo. And I could see dolphins jumping beneath them when I was still ten minutes paddling time away.

It was pod of about twenty Common Dolphins. They were not interested in checking me out, they were focused on food.

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Common Dolphins, Fowey

The lumpy sea made holding the camera exceptionally difficult, especially when zoomed in.

One energy-filled youngster pulled off nine mini jumps in succession. I hope this shaky video doesn’t make you seasick.

It’s always great to see dolphins, not matter what the sea conditions.

When the dolphins moved off, I had lunch at the five mile mark (on my GPS) and the sea suddenly, and completely, smoothed off. Superb. So I was looking forward to some exciting sightings on the way back, but saw absolutely nothing! Blooming typical.

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Velvet sea

At the entrance to the estuary I bumped into Dave and Simon on their way back from a coastal paddle and they told me with great glee that they had just seen a pod of Dolphins/Porpoises, in glassy conditions, off Pencarrow Head. Even more Blooming Typical.

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Dave and Simon

We paddled back to the slipway together. Paddling between Fowey and Polruan is about the best way to end a day’s kayak trip imaginable.

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Fowey
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Dolphins 4-5 miles out from Fowey

Ullswater

I was lured north by a request to do a bit if filming on the shore of Kielder water, in Northumberland, to enthuse about seals, dolphins and Humpbacks as seen from the kayak seat. It was great to meet the team from Daisybeck Studios. They had taken over a couple of disused rooms in Kielder castle and there were cables and screens and cameras everywhere, and the place buzzed with a healthy energy. Just like in the movies!

Of course I had to do a wee spot of paddling while I was up there. Kielder water isn’t particularly kayak friendly (in terms of access), so I opted for Ullswater in the Lake District.

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Donald Campbell’s Plaque

Ullswater is eighteen and a half miles around. I know, because I paddled every inch of it. It took me a little over six hours (inc ten mins on shore to chew my way through a couple of pieces of stale marguerita). It would have taken Donald Campbell five minutes and twenty-nine seconds at 202.32 mph in Bluebird.

So he might have been back in time for breakfast but he probably wouldn’t have noticed mother Roe Deer rather charmingly grooming her kid in the drizzle.

 

 

It wasn’t a bad day for mid October in the Lake District, and most importantly the wind was light. Although it took a bit of time for the early morning mist to clear from the tops. P1390191

Of course I followed the side of the lake without the main road, and it was pleasantly wild and remote in terms of scenery, but I failed to spot the hoped-for otter. But then I spend my whole time looking for an otter, and hardly ever see one, anywhere.

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Cormorants were resting on the fence. They get about everywhere.

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Cormorants

The local sheep, Herdwicks, were taking a very relaxed approach to life, in keeping with the quiet morning and expansive scenery.

 

 

The rather elegant Ullswater ‘steamer’ (or two of them actually, one of them more streamlined than the other) slithered up and down the lake, from end to end. Glenridding to Pooley Bridge. It was impressively unobtrusive and almost complemented the surrounding grandeur.

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Ullswater steamer

 

 

Summer was in the process of passing the baton to autumn. Not just in the yellowing of the leaves. A family of swallows flitted about the treetops, while the whistle of a Wigeon (which was visiting for the winter) carried far over the water.

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Autumnal Ullswater

A posse of what were probably resident Goosanders were having a bit of a preen at the northern end of the lake by Pooley Bridge. I guess they hatched out in the Spring.

 

 

Dry stone walls ran all over the hillsides, something we really don’t see in Devon. Down here it’s all about the Devon bank, which has a core of stone with soil on top which ends up full of bushes and trees.P1390197

By far the best wildlife highlight of the day was the family of three Roe Deer beside the lake. They were all looking in prime health, especially the youngster. They had already put on their winter coats, apart from a patch of summer russet that had yet to be moulted around the rump of the doe.

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Roe deer doe and kid.

I’ve never been too sure why a young Roe Deer is called a kid, whereas a young Red Deer is called a calf. And a young Fallow Deer is a fawn. Useful facts for that pub quiz.

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Roe deer licking calf

This clip is yet another example of how excellent a kayak is as a silent an unobtrusive platform to enable observation of those special little wildlife moments that would not be possible if you were crashing about in the undergrowth.

I particularly like the ‘get off, Mum’ moment half way through the video.

 

 

 

 

Mevagissey Surprise

I already can’t remember the last time I saw the sun. It’s at least a week. Today there was the slight slackening in the winds, so I couldn’t resist a quick jaunt to the Cornish Riviera. It’s east facing so there is good shelter from the westerly swell, and there is good access to open clear sea, so I was going to venture as far offshore as the conditions would allow. Which I didn’t think would be very far.

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It was a monochrome grey day and the sea didn’t look welcoming, but I followed the  coast towards Mevagissey about half-a-mile offshore. After a quick coffee break on a gravelly beach, that is. Water, water, everywhere.

 

 

I was very pleased to see this particularly large Barrel Jellyfish appear ghost-like beneath me. They have had a very long season this year (I saw the first on the first day of March) , and have been around in record numbers.

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This one was unusual in that it was playing host to large number of little fish (about 30) that took refuge behind the pulsating umbrella for a bit of protection from fish-shaped snack-hunters.

 

 

Over a mile further out I saw an intense circling flock of Gannets. Dilemma, do I go to investigate or do I do the sensible thing and stay near dry land?

No choice really, and although the sea looked grey and unfriendly the wind was still light, with only the odd whitecap. So I headed out.

As usual, by the time I arrived upon the scene the feeding activity was over and about fifty Gannets were sat about on the water looking very replete and full of fish, but fortunately a pod of about twenty Common Dolphins were milling about in a relaxed many clearing up the leftovers.

Very difficult to photograph with the movement of the kayak, and nobody really wants to see dolphins in a grey sea under leaden skies, but here they are. Because it’s always a thrill and I really wasn’t expecting to see any today. I thought it would be yet another trip  cringeing and cowering up a creek out of the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

Dolphins brighten up even the most dingy days.

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Great White Cliffs, Great White Egret

A sunny day….and relatively still. Woopee!

I slid out of Wareham on the River Frome at the edge of the Isle of Purbeck at precisely the moment of high tide. My planned sixteen mile paddle would take me ten miles along the length of Poole Harbour, and then out into the open sea past the amazing chalk cliffs of Ballard Down to Swanage.

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Departure from Wareham

I couldn’t dither about much though because it was already after lunch! I had forgotten to pack biscuits so no point in stopping for low tea either.

The section through the reed beds of the Frome was long:

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Frome estuary

A large flock of swallows were fuelling up on insects before their big trip south, and I enjoyed their merry chatter before a Chinook gatecrashed the peace and quiet.

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Chinook

Fortunately it soon whop-whopped away to the south, allowing me to enjoy watching the last remaining Sandwich Tern that I saw in the harbour. These too head south to the west coast of Africa (and further).

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Sandwich Tern

As I approached Brownsea Island an Osprey cruised over heading north. A poor view, but unquestionably an Osprey. Rarer still was a large White Heron fishing along the shore, significantly bigger than several Little Egrets that were scattered about.

 

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Brownsea Island

This was a Great White Egret, only the second one I have ever seen in UK. However, like many other members of the Heron family, they are starting to appear over here more regularly.

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Great White Egret

The Egret was photobombed by the Barfleur as it sneaked out from the cover of Brownsea en route to Cherbourg (the Barfleur, not the Egret).

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Great White Egret and Barfleur

My ears were pricked by the buzzing ‘churr’ of a Dartford warbler as I neared the exit of Poole Harbour. They are heathland specialities and more difficult to see than hear. This one was unusually obliging and posed on the top of a bramble.

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Dartford Warbler

The outgoing tide spat me out of the narrow harbour mouth and I paddled the two or three miles along sandy Studland beach towards the lure of the white stacks of Old Harry Rocks. An attraction which prompted my first ever salt water kayak trip here, probably forty-five years ago (you old geezer, you).

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Old Harry Rocks

The tide was in my favour and I was spat out for the second time in an hour, through the gap in the rocks. Quite handy because there was quite a fearsome looking tide race around the end of the headland.

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Old Harry from the west

The mile of chalk stacks and pinnacles were absorbing as always.

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I sped into Swanage over a smooth sea, although there was quite a groundswell diffracting round the corner because the Atlantic was still very restless. Four hours for the trip which is exceptionally quick for me…I usually spend a lot more time squinting at  nuggets of wildlife (and bobbing about supping tea and coffee and eating buns).

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Swanage

 

 

Noisy Seal, Silent Otter

It’s currently exceptionally stormy and wet down here in Devon and Cornwall. So there’s not a hope of venturing out into the open sea, and even the coast is a bit dodgy and requires careful planning to avoid battering by a hefty swell.

Simon and I had a very enjoyable trip along the sheltered east-facing coast at Teignmouth during a weather window.

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Simon

Thanks for this next pic, Simon.

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We nearly bumped in to this seal that was resting (‘logging’) at the surface. It didn’t seem to appreciate the intrusion and let us know all about it. I apologise if I approached too close but we really didn’t see it until the last second, and it was right in the middle of a gap between two rocks. At least we were in silent, slow-moving, easy to avoid, craft. It wouldn’t have been so good if we were a speedboat with a propeller.

 

On the more windy days the only option is to find a bit of water as far away from the exposed coast as possible, in as narrow a creek as possible, and beneath as high a hill as possible. And the more tortuous the estuary the better, as it baffles and breaks up the wind.

Here’s what I mean. About as sheltered from the strong wind as you can get, but unfortunately not a lot of protection from the lashing rain.

 

However there’s always a pleasant scene to enjoy:

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Morwellham

and a bit of history to investigate, if that is your thing.20190929_080606

Or a bit of mindboggling Victorian architecture:

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Calstock Viaduct

I spend most of my time, while slipping silently along these sheltered creeks, straining my eyes for the slightest hint of movement, or ripple, as far ahead of me as I can see.

And I was lucky enough to see this dog otter beside an estuary which was broad enough for it to not be disturbed by my presence. I’m pretty sure it was a dog otter anyway, it certainly seemed very long. Look at the distance between its head and the tip of its tail.

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Otter

You will see from this still, and subsequent videos, that he has got a few white whiskers and some more white hairs on his throat. You can also see him lifting his head to have a good sniff as he slithers along. He can probably scent me but he knows I am far enough away to not represent a threat.

maybe I am reading too much into a relatively fleeting view, but I think this was an older dog otter that was completing his nightly patrol of his patch of riverbank. They have such a large territory that it is a struggle to fit it all in during the hours of darkness.

 

 

Seeing an otter is absolutely always very, very exciting because they are so incredibly difficult to observe.

And it more than compensates for the rather autumnal weather.

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Whitebeard the Otter