Phew, lockdown has eased just in time get out and enjoy the REALLY sunny weather. My chum Paul always says that the third week in May is the best week of the year and I think he’s just about spot-on…..wildflowers in full bloom and birds as busy as they can possibly be with raising their families.
The Guillemots on Gull Rock are lined up like ten-pins on their tiny ledges and jostling for position. I love their primeval cackle….
They are looking at their very best at the moment, all chocolately brown and white, and I spotted a rare bridled version (a plumage variation, not a separate species) amongst the throng.
I didn’t get too close to the breeding ledges…..making them ‘stampede’ is completely unacceptable and can cause eggs, which are just placed on the narrow ledges with no nest to hold them in place, to fall off.
I opted for admiring them on the water instead.
Also nesting on Gull Rock (apart from Gulls, of course) are Razorbills, but in much fewer numbers than the Guillemots. I think they look even better than their auk cousins, decked out in velvety-black with a perfectly positioned white designer streak in front of the eye.
Here’s one trying to ensure it’s impeccable image is maintained….
I was a bit surprised to come across this little posse resting on a tiny islet half a mile offshore.
A group of Sanderling and Dunlin, moulting into their breeding plumage, no doubt en route to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Sanderlings, perhaps not surprisingly, are most at home on a sandy beach, running in and out with the waves.
Other arctic breeders that winter around the coast of Cornwall are also still around. This pair of Great Northern Divers in Gerrans Bay are reluctant to cast off their winter dress,
whereas this one in Penzance is in full breeding plumage. Bad pic I know, but it shows off the ‘necklace’ well.
Purple Sandpipers, which specifically like to winter on wave battered barnacle-encrusted rocks in exposed locations, also have not all departed for the north.
OK, let’s ramp up the post-lockdown kayaking excitement a notch or two.
Seeing a fin slicing through the clear waters of the open sea is one of the greatest wildlife sightings you can have from a kayak, in my opinion. Not least because it is quite an achievement in terms of planning, and physical effort, to get out to where they might be….usually far offshore.
The last one I saw was attached to the back of a porpoise off Dodman Point on 16 March. Because I am a bit of a fin addict, I was pretty keen to find a few more, and as soon as the wind forecast for Mounts Bay, Penzance , was suitable, I was off down the A30 for my dose of extended, and legal, exercise.
Launching from Penzance harbour at low tide is currently rather tricky because there is a ship parked in the channel, the Scillonian III.
Heading offshore I was lucky enough to hear a couple of Porpoises puffing before I had stopped for breakfast. Excellent. I didn’t watch them for long because I had moved on to the next ‘thing’…..what else might be about? I had to keep paddling out before the wind picked up (it wasn’t forecast to increase, and didn’t, but I always maintain a sense of urgency in case it does. Quite exhausting, really).
Good call, another fin ahead, and this one was slightly bigger and accompanied by a little splash…..Dolphin!
It got better……the dolphin’s calf then popped up beside it.
I settled in (as much as you can in a kayak on the open sea), ate my breakfast, had a cup of coffee, and enjoyed the show.
And then I paddled on. I saw very little for the next few hours, although paddled over to investigate a small group of Kittiwakes dipping down to the surface snatching small fish. Far out to sea small fish at the surface is good news for Kittiwakes, good news for me, but bad news for small fish.
They are there because predators from below have herded them into a baitball and pinned them up against the surface to make them easier to catch. Last autumn, in exactly this place, baitballs of sprats and sandeels were being engulfed by dolphins, porpoises, giant tuna, a Minke Whale and a Humpback whale.
Today wasn’t quite so dramatic, but it was the first time I had seen this particular predator doing the herding. Sea Bass. The first one I glimpsed just below me was so big it gave me a bit of a start. Big for a Bass anyway…must have been 5lbs plus (danger of exaggeration here…it’s a fishy story).
On the way back, amazingly, I bumped into the dolphin pair again, three miles away from our first encounter. Like finding the needle in the haystack, twice.
I took lunch at Mousehole. Looking good, as always (Mousehole, not me).
And as usual a few seals were lounging about on the island. Including this rather glistening youngster….last year’s pup?
The Beadiest of Eyes
Although I would describe the cheese sandwiches I had hastily constructed at 4.30am as forgettable, they didn’t go unnoticed by the local gulls, some of whom might tend towards a scavenging sort of approach to life. They came close enough to allow unusually close scrutiny of their features.
How amazing is this eye? The iris looks more like a map of the moon than a map of the moon.
It belongs to the local avian bully-boy and public enemy number one, a Great Black-backed Gull. Gulls in seaside towns have an appalling public image, but I personally like them very much, not least because their eyes are filled with character. The call of a Herring Gull is the sound of the seaside.
Although, having said that, the sound of a Great Black-back is a rather intimidating ‘gulp’.
And finally…back to the (semi-lockdown) garden
To further uplift the spirits, here’s a couple of recent specials to round things off.
The first snake I have ever seen in the garden (in 25 years).
And a Willow Warbler doing it’s best to maintain the tail end of the dawn chorus, despite being audio-bombed by a wren during its second verse.