After several major offshore paddles recently, to Eddystone, Dodman Point and Tintagel, a downturn in the weather forced The Lone Kayaker to a return to coastal paddling.
Although I find being far out to sea the most exciting environment for paddling, with the possibility of a whale appearing at any second, following the shore is more interesting from a scenery point of view. Also there are more boats and people to look at, if that is your thing. Maybe even 007 himself……
Or watching some poor devil getting a ticket because he was parked slightly on the grass because the carpark was completely full.
Out along the coast there is always something to maintain the attention in the ornithological department. For example, incessantly piping Oystercatchers,
stands of reptilian-looking shags resting on the offshore rocks,
and a handful of very confiding Turnstones creeping about amongst the barnacles. Beautiful little birds, but extraordinarily difficult to spot amongst the acres of rocks exposed at low tide.
As I was watching the Turnstone a seal popped up beside me with a snort. I was pretty sure it was the same individual that had climbed onto my kayak a couple of weeks ago…a smallish Grey Seal with the look and behaviour of a youngster. It wasted no time in checking me out and then starting to sniff the deck of my kayak, probably looking for a snack. You will see from this video that it once again appears to be excited and playful and throws its head about a bit while working out what to do.
(p.s ignore the date stamp….havn’t got to grips with GoPro fully.)
In anticipation of its next move I paddled alongside a rock and hung on tight, and sure enough the seal decided to hop on board. Hardcore science types would say that this action is purely motivated by food, and indeed the seal did do a lot of sniffing about and close inspection of my dry bag on the back deck, which contained nothing more stimulating to the appetite than some moderately stale Custard Creams. However watching the seal’s behaviour closely, I am sure that a bit of horsing about was involved.
It finished off with an inverted swimpast.
It was then joined by a pale-coloured friend and they had a bit of an introductory twirl.
Other larger and maybe wiser members of the group watched from a distance, and I made sure I didn’t approach too close to frighten them into the water, so took a long loop around the reef out to sea when I moved on.
Only the friendly seal came along to accompany me, porpoising along beside the kayak and bumping into the rudder regularly. At one stage a gull flew over about six foot above the seal’s head and the seal playfully snapped at the bird.
It got even more excited when a local tourist boat appeared round the corner and it benefited from a handout in the shape of a mackerel.
As I paddled across the bay the seal eventually disappeared and I reverted to admiring the shore-based wildlife. A juvenile Buzzard on top of the cliff was constantly whining at it’s unseen parents. This is the main soundtrack of the countryside at this time of the year when all other birds have largely fallen silent.
I pulled up on a tiny beach for a coffee break and as I did so a Kingfisher flashed past with a whistle, and a flash of orange and brilliant turquoise. This was the first one I have seen on the open coast this summer, presumably a bit of post-breeding dispersal as they nest in holes along river banks. It was a typical fleeting view, summed up quite nicely by this indistinct photo:
And so back to something resembling civilisation, and the buzz of the beach.
The last nugget of wildlife before I got back to the slipway was a Little Egret hunting little fish as the tide surged in.
This seal is just larking about. I’m fairly certain of this because I had been watching it closely for the previous half-an-hour. Or more accurately, it had been watching me.
As usual my very early start had paid off and I had the opportunity to observe the scattered group of Grey Seals without the disturbance of any other craft.
First chance to use the GoPro:
This particular, very pale seal, swam around the kayak for several minutes and then lost interest and cleared off.
As I paddled on another seal took up the batten and started to shadow me. I stopped to watch and it just cavorted about in a patch of bootlace seaweed, snorting, splashing and twisting round in the weed. When it surfaced, only a few feet from my kayak, it had the cheeky look of a puppy wanting someone to throw its ball. It kept eyeing me up sideways and then hurling itself into the water.
It was like a dog whose owner has just come back having been shut up all day.
There was no way that it wasn’t extremely excited, possibly because I was the first boat of the day on its patch with which it could interact.
This next clip which is not that easy to see shows the seal rolling itself in bootlace weed. I can’t think of any other reason to do this apart from just horsing around in excitement.
It then tucked in behind me as I paddled along, every so often bumping the bottom of my kayak or grabbing the rudder. Half of the time it was upside down and apparently just loving life.
Or maybe it was overexcited about the stunt which it was about to pull.
I stopped to watch the show as I have never been bumped about so much by any sea creature. In fact the only thing that has impacted my kayak before was a huge Basking Shark about eight years ago.
This seal is not only fun-loving, it would seem to be very clever. Look into its eyes and you can see a bit of friendly mischief, and the shove of its flipper is absolutely perfectly aimed to soak as much of me as possible:
I have cut out the expletive from the end of the video as the splash completely drenched my moderately expensive and completely unwaterproof camera.
As I was frantically trying to dry the camera with a pathetic little bit of soggy tissue I found in the bottom of my camera bag, the seal swam round to the front of my kayak for its Grand Finale.
To my total amazement it hauled itself out on the front of my boat with absolutely no sign of fear or hesitation. As it pumped with its tail to get further out of the water my kayak wobbled but my number one aim was to take a pic or two, although after a while I did try to reason with it that it was in danger of tipping me out.
Falling in would not be a problem because I use a sit-on-top kayak and can just climb back on, but I would not be happy about dunking my camera in the sea. I would then need a bit more than a soggy piece of kitchen towel to resurrect it.
The seal just would not leave me alone so I engaged top gear for the paddle back to the shore. This seemed to spur it on even more, but at last it gave up as I approached the town.
So it’s not just dolphins that seem to enjoy themselves so much.
Although the otter catching and eating the crab was by far my best wildlife encounter during my five days in the Arisaig area of Western Scotland, there was plenty else going on in the natural history section.
Not least the five trillion midges that came over to pester me one still and warm evening. What sort of a creature is it that deliberately flies into your eyeball and voluntarily gets blinked to death? In their thousands. Their friends in the itch depatment are ticks several of which, despite my best efforts to avoid them, managed to find their way into various cracks and crevices about my person.
More of a threat to wildlife was the two Mink I briefly saw. Despite being very fluffy and floating high on the water they are adept swimmers and seem to dive as well as an otter.
I would have been disappointed not to see an Eagle and ended up with two. Sea Eagles are so incredibly huge that if one is around you really have to be pretty daft not to see it (or eyes down on your phone…..again). One was being pestered by Gulls on the south side of the Arisaig peninsular, the second sat in a tree at loch Moidart.
The half dozen or so Great Northern Divers I saw were all nearly in full summer plumage. I’m not sure whether these are non-breeding birds that spend the summer here or that they are winter visitors that still havn’t headed north. I suspect most will soon depart.
A pair of Red-throated Divers were fishing in the sea in front of my tent at Peanmeanach beach and flew back to their loch in the hills calling in classic, honking, ‘Rain Goose’ (their Shetland name) style. There was no rain in the forecast however, and I suspect they got this name in Shetland because it rains much of the time and there are a lot of breeding Red-throats there.
Trying hard to compete with the divers for snappiness of plumage were the Black Guillemots. I really like these busy little birds (although their movements verge on frantic) and unlike their southern cousins they have an extraordinary high-pitched whistle as a call note. A good sound for carrying distance on a windy day. In the video the second bird hasn’t quite finished moulting out of its winter plumage. (video)
The islands in Loch na Ceal near Arisaig hosted a lot of birds and the still and sunny weather enhanced the atmosphere. The main soundtrack came from the Oystercatchers. If they didn’t have such charisma I might be tempted to say what an appalling din. (video)
A pair of Common Terns looked like they were checking out somewhere to nest,
and a rather smart looking Common Gull was busy incubating her eggs beside a bouquet of Sea Pink. (could be a ‘he’ I suppose). Incidentally ‘Common Gull’ is a very bad name for what is NOT the most Common gull and is in fact an extremely neat and attractive bird.
I know it’s ‘only’ a seagull but I had to insert this video because I love the way the Gull settles back down to incubate its eggs so proudly and cosily with a contented shuffle and waggle of its tail. (video)
A pair of Ringed Plovers were a bit agitated as I passed so I guess they were nesting as well. They got a lot more stressed when a Great Black-backed Gull turned up with bird’s eggs on the menu for lunch.
Arisaig’s most prominent residents are the Harbour Seals. There are a lot of them and they drape themselves about on low flat islets and their bawls and grunts carry far over the water. They enjoy nothing more than following kayakers in large numbers and diving with a splash. They are rather more photogenic than Cornwall’s Grey Seals, and have a more dished cat-like face. (video)
I saw one Grey Seal in amongst a colony at the mouth of Loch Moidart. It had a whitish blaze across its head.
A trip to Scotland would not be complete without a Red Deer and I would have been surprised not to see one…..
but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see quite so many (tens of thousands) Moon jellyfish wafting about in the clear waters of Loch Sunart. Accompanied by a few Lion’s mane and small white jellies with very long tentacles.
The other wildlife highlight of my early morning paddle on the smooth waters of Lochs Sunart and Teacuis was the sound of birds with the songs of Blackcaps, Willow and Wood Warblers drifting down from the deciduous woods on the bank. Plus the occasional Tree Pipit and ‘zip, zip’ of a Spotted Flycatcher. Didn’t see any of them . Plus the odd Cuckoo, which I did see. I could hear one calling from over a mile away.
The rarest bird I saw was not the most glamorous and a bit specialist to the ornithologist. This iceland Gull was hanging around the fish farm on Sunart.
It was so still most of the time that I could here the ‘coos’ of these Eiders long before I could see them.
It was time to head for home, a mere 650 miles away.
The most perfect late May day imaginable. Zero wind, sunny and temperature in the mid twenties. myself and Becky and friends Krysia and Stefan were keen to do some wildlife watching from kayaks and I hoped Looe island would deliver. Krysia and Stefan didn’t realise just how close up and personal the (very large) wildlife would come……
Seeting off from Millpool slipway gives an excellent opportunity to see the Little Egrets that appear to be nesting in the wood opposite the carpark.
We sped through the middle of Looe on the outgoing tide.
We slid across the super smooth open sea to Looe island…….
and were soon admiring the seals that were draped about on the Ranneys reef enjoying a bit of sun.
We looped around the island and headed for the beach at Portnadler for lunch. Several other bank holiday revellers had the same idea but we managed to find a private mini beach all to ourselves.
It was such a cracking afternoon that we decided to loop back around the island for a second seal experience. The Cormorants in the colony on the island were panting hard, but the heat didn’t seem to moderate the appetite of the nestlings.
A couple of small waders resting on the reef turned out to be Sanderlings, on their way to nesting grounds way up north. Superb little birds, usually seen rushing in and out with the waves on a sandy beach during the winter.
There were also a handful of Dunlin that were hunkered down amongst the barnacles on the reef, taking a breather.
We had an extraordinary prolonged encounter with a bull grey seal. He followed and examined both our kayaks and seemed to be formulating some kind of action plan.
After submerging we assumed he was going to do a bit of fishing, but to our amazement we could see him lying on the bottom amongst the weed beneath us, apparently asleep (as we could see his eyes were closed!)
Then came the unexpected moment.
The message was obviously “clear off, you’re on my patch”, so we did. It was easy to understand his frustration. There were a lot of kayaks and paddleboards around today because the sea looked so inviting and he was just a bit tired of all the attention. You might argue that we were too close and causing disturbance, but even when you are some distance away in a kayak seals will come over and seek you out and follow, seemingly just for curiosity’s sake (or maybe just the fun of it).
Back to the car at Millpool creek and finish the day off with a swim.
It was such a lovely day that everything looked impressive and grand, even the commoner birds such as Greater Black-backed Gulls.
The sensational wildlife encounter just keep on coming as I just keep on paddling.
Today it was my best-ever sightings of one of my favourite seabirds, The Great Northern Diver. Across the pond it is known by the very much less ‘text-booky’ name of Common Loon.
They are not uncommon around the coast of Cornwall during winter, but have now transformed from there drabbish winter plumage into absolutely stunning breeding plumage.
I will let the movies do the talking, and listen out for that loon laugh. It is a genuine sound of the wilderness and makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time.
They will soon be heading north to their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland.
I was passed by several roving packs of Manx Shearwaters. These too are special, because to see Manx Shearwaters like this you have to be a long way off shore, and to be a long way offshore in a kayak it has to be a very calm day, which as you can see, it was. You can see my launch point of Portscatho in the background.
For the return trip I paddled along the coast which was looking totally tropical:
and was shadowed by a cluster of seals who larked about behind my kayak, but don’t like being looked at. I felt like the pilot of a Russian Badger bomber being escorted out of UK airspace by a posse of Eurofighters. Although maybe I wasn’t wearing the right hat.
Remind me to clean the weed off the back of my kayak, and decompress my jugulars, next time.
Great fun, but today it was the Loons who called the Tune.
Having got back from an all-weekend wedding 250 miles away in the early hours, when the titanium knees were subjected to dance moves (largely unsuccessful) way beyond their manufacturer’s recommended tolerance, anyone with any sense would spend the next day doing weeding.
The Lone Kayaker however wouldn’t know where to start with all the weeds, and has got the same amount of sense as the average slice of toast.
And the promise of one of the warmest early May days EVER, combined with light winds, meant he couldn’t resist heading offshore. Looe was the chosen destination, which was very lucky because he very nearly selected the North Cornwall coast which ended up being fogbound all day and about ten degrees cooler than the sun-drenched south coast.
I didn’t have big expectations in the wildlife front for the day, as I have only ever seen dolphins here once (although they were the rare Risso’s), but it got off to a good start with an encounter with the resident male Eider duck who is always very smartly turned out.
I paddled over to Looe island, and out past the Rannies Reef. A loafing Bull seal put in a spectacular yawn which just about summed up my sleepiness as well (perhaps he had just come back from an all-weekend Pinniped party).
Also there were half a dozen Turnstones on the last rock of the reef, looking very smart in their breeding plumage with white heads.
Then I just headed straight out to sea, because it was flat calm with no swell and warm enough to be paddling in just a vest. Totally and utterly perfect, and if there was anything sitting on, or breaking, the surface for half a mile around I was going to see it.
I passed through the line of coastal touring yachts, several of whom (understandably) looked at me as if I was barking mad, just paddling out into a blank open sea.
A ragged formation of about twenty-five migrating Whimbrels flew over constantly ‘tittering’, the classic coastal sound of early May, as Whimbrels have a very short migration ‘window’. A handful of Swallows zipped past me having just crossed the Channel, one in full bubbling song.
I also saw a scattering of the more common seabirds: Razorbills, Guillemots, Manx Shearwaters and only a very few Gannets, which din’t give me much hope of seeing any Dolphins because the sea seemed a bit lifeless.
I stopped for lunch five miles out from Looe island (Cheese ‘n Pickle Sandwiches). Completely quiet and still apart from the occasional cackle of a Guillemot drifting over the surface, too far off to see. As I digested, a single wandering Gannet momentarily dipped a wing as if it was going to dive but then aborted the plunge, but it made me look hard at the patch of sea below, and up popped a Porpoise. I paddled over for a closer look but didn’t get a good view although I saw it surface a few more time at distance.
Then things seemed to hot up. I came upon quite a large raft of Razorbills and Guillemots mixed with a few Manx Shearwaters which were busy diving from the surface, and there were more Shearwater flocks circling around. I guess I was over some sort of reef.
I stopped to watch and photograph another auk flock, and suddenly there was a great gush of air and a pretty sizeable back broke the surface followed by a fin, only fifty yards away and heading straight towards me! No question a Minke Whale.
I swung the kayak round to see it surface again but it only popped up when it was nearly out of sight. I tore after it and it reappeared having turned to the south, but although viewing conditions were as perfect as they could be it never came very close. I heard, and saw, it surface a further three or four times and then it was gone.
I managed a very poor photograph, my camera always struggling to autofocus during such smooth sea conditions because it doesn’t have anything to ‘get a grip’ on.
Wow. My first whale since Horace (or Doris) the Humpback over twelve months ago. Only my third Minke whale seen from kayak, the other two being momentary glimpses of a single blow. The identity of the whale during my prolonged encounter off Eddystone two years ago , when I was at the epicentre of its feeding activity for half an hour, remains uncertain, although it was a lot bigger than the Minke Whales I have seen and has been positively identified by one whale expert as a Sei. For me they remain the ultimate sea creature to see from my kayak, together with a Leatherback turtle which I have only ever seen once.
So, pretty pleased, and a little shaky with adrenaline overdose (and Olympic-style kayak sprint). Soon cured by an Orange Club.
The sea smoothed off even more for the paddle back in, and I came across a few other kayakers who were doing the circuit of Looe island.
From a mile out the shrieks of enjoyment of bathers on the main beach at Looe carried over the sea. No doubt made more shrill by the water temperature which is only just over 12 degrees.