For much of July Devon and Cornwall have been under blue skies so the dress code for kayaking is as minimal as possible. Just enough clothes to avoid sunburn, and embarrassment as you stroll up the beach for lunchbreak. For some reason people sitting on beaches always stare at kayakers.
There were a few dodgy and cool days to begin with, but they now seem long ago.
I’ve been getting about a bit this month. From the top of creeks twenty miles ‘inland’ to far, far offshore.
Enjoy the photogallery:
The cost of parking a car beside the sea is a source of grumblement. So it’s nice when the machines blow a fuse:
What better way to keep cool on the hottest day of the year?
Next blog coming soon:
Sizzling Summer Part 2: The Sensational Wildlife of the Southwest Coast.
featuring dolphins, porpoise, seals, jellyfish, peregrines, beaver, water vole and more.
The open sea has gone quiet. During a couple of offshore paddle trips I have noticed that the few passing seabirds such as Gannets and Shearwaters do not deviate from their flight path because there is nothing to distract them. In other words no fish or sprats near the surface for them to dive upon.
In fact the only thing that does seem to distract them is me, with most Gannets cruising overhead to check me out, and Fulmars taking a high speed circuit around me before carrying on their way. Anything that breaks up the monotony of the sea surface might mean fish, as far as they are concerned.
Floating seabirds are few and far between as well…just a few Razorbills and Guillemots.
A couple of days have been absolutely flat and calm and I have been surprised at how few times I have heard the puff of a porpoise…they seem to have almost completely disappeared. In the autumn on days like this it is actually unusual not to hear the blow of a porpoise virtually every time you stop paddling.
Fortunately they haven’t all gone. I saw four off Coverack near Lizard point, and just to further investigate I went to the ultra reliable porpoise venue of Berry Head, and saw at least seven.
Rather than some disaster I think this is all fairly normal. I have noticed in previous years that when the sea is thick with plankton during May, the visible activity seems to decline. Apart from the record numbers of Barrel Jellyfish that is. They are still very much in evidence:
If someone could get the message out to the Basking Sharks that the food parlour is stuffed full and all they have to do is swim along with mouths agape , it would be great to see them again. I havn’t seen one in SW England for five years.
When paddling I very rarely get bored because not many minutes go by without something interesting to look at. However the open sea has been so quiet that I have noticed how numb my backside is getting. This happens on every trip but I am usually too engrossed to notice. Fortunately the beautiful Cornish backdrop helps ease the pain:
On this particular day what I really needed was a pod of dolphins to inject a zip into my stroke, and I found out later I missed a group of over fifty by minutes…..all part of the challenge of kayaking I suppose. It would be a lot easier if I had an engine.
Anyway…the inshore coast has been a bit more interesting. May is the month of Whimbrels, shorebirds which look like a small Curlew, but which have a far carrying ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti call. It’s nearly always seven syllables to the call, that’s why they are called ‘Seven Whistler’. Their call is one of the classic sounds of Spring along the coast. Which I wouldn’t hear if I had an engine so I’ll stick to kayaking for a bit.
They are long distance migrants, wintering down to South Africa and breeding from the north of Scotland upwards.
The cliffs are currently ablaze with Thrift (Sea Pink),
and I always enjoy watching the gulls chasing each other about when one catches a starfish which is the gull equivalent to a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
The sheltered creeks are looking super-scenic at the minute, with banks all yellowy-green with the new growth of leaves. with the new growth of leaves. It was great to paddle up the Fowey estuary to Lerryn with Rob and Sue Honey who have a broad range of knowledge about the area, including the history which is not one of my strong subjects, so it was very interesting. And enjoyable.
They are sharp-eyed as well, because it was Sue who spotted the brood of nine or ten Shelduck chicks along the shore, probably the first to hatch out in the whole of Cornwall.
Further down in Cornwall I paddled up the Truro river with Paul, searching for a bit of protection from the savage east wind.
The narrow tidal creek is an unusual place to store a redundant monster-ship.
Up the Fal River a couple of weeks before I was very surprised to see a couple of Fallow Deer wandering along the shore in a very casual manner.
And was even more surprised to see a larger herd leg it over a riverside hill. Part of the Tregothnan estate herd, I presume. So not genuinely wild deer but still great to see them. And they certainly acted as if they were wild.
This IS a genuinely wild deer, a Roe Deer. Tucked in amongst the trees beside Roadford Lake, hoping I wouldn’t see it if it remained stock still. I very nearly didn’t.
My favourite sighting over the last ten days is the Shelduck family. It’s great that these wild ducks can find somewhere quiet enough to sit on their eggs for an entire month, either down a rabbit or badger hole, or tucked deep in a thicket.
I notice on closer inspection of this pic that there are ten chicks. The fluffy top of a head can be seen just over the back of the mother duck.
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.
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.
There is nothing like a low winter sun to transform the drab browns and greys of a Cornish estuary into a smorgasbord of colours. As a bonus today’s little jaunt started off with super-smooth water as well.
There was the usual entertaining waterside action as I paddled silently along. A Greater Black-backed Gull worrying a dead conger eel:
And a Herring Gull tackling a lively lunch that very nearly effects a crafty (although apparently unplanned) escape.
Every colour of the rainbow was on show today because there was a rainbow.
The birds were doing their best to join in with the colourfest and shrug off their national reputation of being dull and brown and boring, although this Curlew has got a bit of work to do because it is basically buff.
The legs of the roosting Redshank show a touch of tangerine:
and Cormorants and Shags, which at long range looking unremarkable (and reptilian), have a bit to boast about when you take a closer look.
This Mandarin Duck makes a good effort with a highly varied colour scheme but they don’t really ‘count’ because, although this bird appeared to be quite wild, they are essentially a feral species which have originated from escapees from collections.
Some of the hardware on show was bright today:
It was appropriately at the most scenic part of today’s paddle that I had the most spectacular view of the UK’s most spectacularly-coloured bird.
I had already seen a couple of Kingfishers zipping along the shore, attracting attention with their loud and piercing whistle. Despite being absurdly brightly-coloured they are very difficult to spot when perched, sitting dead still amongst the branches of waterside trees and bushes, and usually flying off long before you get close, because they are quite shy. Typically all you see is a turquoise flash.
However I saw this particular bird splosh into the water to catch a little fish and then fly up to consume its snack. The gentle current was moving me towards it so I didn’t twitch a muscle as I drifted closer. By good fortune (or highly skillful anticipation) I had my camera all set up and ready, and the sun was directly behind. The Kingfisher’s irridescence was further enhanced by the shimmer of sunlight reflected from the water. Wow.
Even better, I drifted right past without the bird getting spooked and flying off. Couldn’t have been better.
Today’s most drably turned-out creature would have also been the most interesting interaction had it not turned out to be made of plastic.
My second series of assorted images taken from the kayak seat from all around Devon and Cornwall.
Am I getting paranoid or did this Newlyn trawler really pile on the power as it approached me to throw up as big a wash as possible for me to negotiate? It certainly throttled right back after it had gone past:
A few offshore seabirds for the serious ornithologists:
….listen to the electrifying call of the fastest creature on the planet, the Peregrine Falcon.
Autumn is definitely upon us, so offshore paddling is replaced by exploration of the rivers. Tough.