Mickey’s Incredible Journey

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Micky enjoying the sun

I came across Micky far, far up a Cornish creek, six miles from the open sea. In fact so far up he was resting beside fresh water, because he had swum up just about to the tidal limit of the estuary.

I did a bit of a double-take when I first caught sight of a golden-coloured creature the size of a large dog enjoying the warmth of the early November sun. I paddled quietly upstream beside the opposite bank to avoid giving it a fright, and was very surprised to see it was a small seal. I was even more surprised to see it was a Harbour seal (aka Common Seal), and still more (but now a bit confused as well) to see that it looked like a pup.

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Micky enjoying the winter warmth of Cornwall

Harbour seals are rare in Cornwall (there are just a handful scattered around the coast), and they don’t breed in the county. In fact there are no breeding colonies within a hundred miles.

So it was all a bit puzzling, but excellent to watch this little seal stretching and snoozing, while keeping half-an -eye on what I was up to on the other side of the river.

 

I helped prolong his rest by ensuring, with a series of cunningly crafted gesticulations, that a fleet of canoeists passed by silently and at a respectful distance. They were only too happy to oblige, and thrilled to see the seal.

Just as I was about to paddle back downstream I noticed a yellow tag in the seal’s tail as he was waving it about. This was lucky because up till now it had been hidden by a fold of skin. My photo clearly showed the number: NL 672. From the Netherlands?….surely not.IMG_0300

Back at home I sent my photos to Sue Sayer of Cornwall Seal Group and she quickly, and very enthusiastically, replied that this seal was called Micky and that he had indeed come from the Netherlands.

He had been brought in to a rescue centre  ( called ‘A Seal’) on 31 July when just a few days old and in a bit of a sorry state, weighing only 10.8kgs.

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Micky upon arrival at Dutch rescue centre

He had been nursed back to health and released onto a beach beside the North Sea on 3rd October, weighing 30kgs.

And exactly a month later (I first saw him on 3rd November), he has arrived in Cornwall over four hundred miles away!

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Micky’s mega journey

Thanks to Sue Sayer (Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust) and Vincent Serbruyns (A Seal, Holland) for the background information on Micky.

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Spoon on the Teign

It was a surprisingly pleasant morning along the Teign. My timing was perfect ( i.e. complete luck). A band of showers had just passed over, and there was sunny gap of a couple of hours before the next arrived.

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It was nearly high tide so the winter waders were scattered about the fringes of the estuary relaxing, waiting for the water to drop again to make their food accessible. They look for somewhere away from disturbance by people and, more importantly, dogs. They clearly don’t need somewhere which is quiet.

These Oystercatchers are hunkered down on an embankment beside the main SW railway line. perfect!

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Oystercatchers and Hitachi hybrid
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Oystecatchers asleep

There was a nice variety of other waterbirds resting beside the water…..

Curlew and Shelduck:

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Curlew and Shelduck

 

and a scenic mix of winter waders. Here the Redshank’s legs are much more red than the Greenshank’s legs are green. Although actually they’re more orange than red.

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Curlew, Redshank and Greenshank

I was very surprised to see a drake Common Scoter swimming strongly up the middle of the estuary. Scoters are proper sea ducks and are usually seen far out to sea or along the open coast. It’s not often that they venture into enclosed waters. This one clearly wan’t used to swimming in the proximity of a railway track, because every time a train went past it spooked, and dived.

Lovely to see it in the early morning sun…they are the classic ‘black duck’ and it”s exceptional to get close enough to see any colour (although there’s not alot to see)

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Common Scoter

Right at the top of the estuary near the Newton Abbott road bridge, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a Spoonbill in amongst a flock of roosting gulls. My closest view of one ever, by quite a long way. Too close in fact, and I paddled away as fast but as unsplashily as possible, because it looked like it was about to fly off.

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Spoonbill

 

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It did, but it settled down again a hundred yards away.

It was excellent to observe this extraordinary and charismatic bird feeling relaxed enough to have a bit of a spruce up before tucking the spoon away for a snooze.

What a fab bird!

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Teign Spoonbill

Halloween Otter

I was on the water EARLY. Just as there was the first glimmer of light in the sky. It had to be that time to coincide with the tide, and I always like early, because early gives you the best chance of seeing that most slinky and shy of the UK’s animals….Otter. Although I couldn’t really see anything at all for the first half-hour.

The superb autumn colours eventually appeared out of the gloom.

 

 

The estuaries with their steep and wooded banks are a perfect place to escape the wind , which was fairly buffeting the trees at the top of the hill.

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Nearly five miles paddled, and I was approaching the tidal limit marked by the weir. I was in complete stealth mode and making sure I paddled without any splash at all. Tucked in close to the bank.

An otter surfaced in the middle of the river just far enough away for me not to frighten it. It was very busy diving down to the bottom, probably looking for their favourite crunchy snack…crayfish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this last clip you can see the otter looks at me and is probably aware of my presence. Their eyesight isn’t great but I know they have sharp hearing because it kept jerking its head around when it heard the clatter of tins from the recycling truck half-a-mile away.

 

 

So is this the same individual I saw five weeks ago, a mile downstream from here, which I nicknamed ‘Pinknose’ ? It was certainly about the same size, and seemed to do quite a lot of mouth-opening and gagging just like the one I saw before, almost like it had a sore tooth.

Otters quite often have a few white patches around their nose and throat, (especially further north) and this one has a pink patch in the middle of its nose. But is it the same both times? See for yourself. Excuse the appallingly blurry pics but light was very poor and the images are heavily cropped.

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Today’s otter
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‘Pinknose’ from 23 September

I think it’s the same individual. This maybe shouldn’t be a surprise as it is the same stretch of river and Otter’s are territorial, but it is very difficult to observe and record markings that are unique, and certainly the first time I have ever done so.

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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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