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.
Thanks for this next pic, Simon.
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:
and a bit of history to investigate, if that is your thing.
Or a bit of mindboggling Victorian architecture:
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.
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.
I had forgotten just how big Bottlenose Dolphins were because I haven’t seen any in Cornwall for nearly two years. My last encounter was a pod of about fifty that came charging past when I was paddling off Mousehole, just when my camera decided to have a seizure. Prior to that I have just occasionally come across the inshore pod that roams around the bays of Devon and Cornwall, but it hasn’t been very often.
Today’s encounter was a complete surprise, because (as usual) I was several miles offshore in Mount’s Bay and so beyond the range of the coastal group. I had paddled out from Lamorna Cove, after grinding a bit more enamel off my teeth as I paid the excessive car park charge, and was going to do a big offshore loop down to Porthcurno(ish). Looking for fins wasn’t easy because the light wind blowing against the outgoing tide threw up wavelets which made listening and looking for splashes not easy. Choppy conditions also makes holding a camera steady very difficult (especially when zoomed in). And it tends to get wet…not a good idea because it ain’t waterproof.
I had been paddling for over two hours and had only seen a handful of porpoises so was very pleased to see a larger fin break the surface when I was parallelling the coast about three miles out. I assumed it was a Common Dolphin because it didn’t look very big, but was thrilled when another much bigger appeared nearby, and this was a real whopper.
I was then overtaken by the main group and was greeted with a double jump.
The pod of about ten (could easily have been more…I get so wrapped up in the moment I find it very difficult to count) escorted me for twenty minutes or so.
These are really big powerful creatures, three times the weight of a Common Dolphin, and over six times as big as a Porpoise. And approaching twelve foot long. Yet still completely sleek and agile and nothing lumbering about them at all.
It’s great to be sitting in a kayak at water level and be looking UP at the top of a fin.
I could hear a high-pitched whistling as they swerved about in the clear water beneath me, you can hear it on this GoPro clip (which is in slomo):
On the paddle back to Lamorna I passed another three Bottlenose dolphins trailing the first group by over a mile. This was a bit of a surprise as they usually stick quite close together. Marine Discovery, who also saw these dolphins, say it was a fragmented pod of ‘offshore’ Bottlenose dolphins that were scattered along that bit of coast, about three miles out.
For me in my kayak it is tremendously exciting to see this classic species of dolphin, and even better that they are the ‘offshore’ variety because these are real ocean wanderers and rarely seen.
A bonus ball on the way back (when the sea suddenly smoothed off…typical), was this grizzled old Grey Seal that was ‘bottling’. I’m pretty sure it knew I was only a few feet away but really didn’t care.
Today’s dolphins brings my cetacean species up to six for the year:
The encounter with the Humpback (on 2nd Aug) is the most exciting wildlife spectacle I have witnessed from my kayak, by quite a long way.
The scene is rather more serene at the upper tidal limit of the River Torridge. In fact not a lot could be more serene.
The Swan family are thriving and drift about in the complete silence of a late summer morning.
Unfortunately the family with three cygnets on the River Tamar is not doing so well.
They are now down to one youngster as I passed the corpses of the other two cygnets yesterday floating at the surface, over a mile apart. ????
Most birds stopped singing at the end of June when their breeding season came to an end, but swallows are an exception and are not only still singing, there are still young in the nest. Some pairs will rear a third brood which may not fledge until early October.
The soundtrack of the summer.
The top of the tidal estuaries are fresh water and are the home of Dippers who just can’t resist bobbing.
One of the bonuses of choosing Devon and Cornwall as a kayaking destination is the hundreds of miles of sheltered creek to explore when the exposed coast and open sea is lashed by wind, as it has been on and off for the last couple of weeks.
It’s great to see the pretty little Mandarin Ducks that seem to have made the Upper Torridge their home. They originate from escapes from collections and have only been in this area for a few years.
Heading down towards the sea Curlews demonstrate how to spruce oneself up despite an enormous bill, and Little Egrets spear little fish in the shallows.
The flock of Black-headed gulls is irresistible to a passing Peregrine that slices through the middle of them. You will see it cut through the flock from right to left. Unsuccessfully, on this occasion. It looks brownish so it is probably a this year’s youngster.
This next clip is a bit depressing. A Herring gull with a plastic bag wrapped round its leg. I don’t fancy its chances.
Seals sometimes venture far up the estuaries because there is the potential for good fishing. Even if salmon and sea trout are not as numerous as they used to be, there’s plenty of mullet that follow the tide in.
This is a Harbour Seal well up the Fowey estuary. It clearly wants to take a mid-morning nap but is unfortunately spooked by the approach of a rowing scull.
I have sneaked out along the coast during the very few spells of lighter wind during the last few weeks. The Turnstones have returned to the barnacle encrusted rocks. Here one is still in full summer plumage (the smarter-looking bird) while the other is in the less smart winter plumage.
It was a bit of a surprise to see a Redshank out on the rocky coast…they usually prefer the mud of estuaries. On migration, no doubt.
The problem with wearing Crocs for kayaking is that when you stop for a cup of coffee and a Crunch Cream and walk across a beach they have an almost magnetic attraction for the most painful and spiky stones and shells to get inside and poke the soles of your feet.
It’s a common occurrence, but this is the first one to have been alive.
At Mevagissey this is the first Crystal jellyfish I have seen this year…didn’t they star in Avatar, by the Tree of Life?
Grey Seals always make me chuckle when they are ‘bottling’ i.e. sleeping vertically in the water. They can be really deep asleep and I have actually accidentally bumped into them before.
This one at Mevagissey was certainly fairly well gone and you can hear it snoring. Fortunately I didn’t disturb it at all and managed to depart the scene without it apparently waking.
I came across more seals in Torbay; a woolly-looking bull Grey Seal and a perky Harbour Seal. Harbour seals used to be rare in SW England but they seem to be slowly invading.
There has been a single window of opportunity for an offshore paddle during the last couple of weeks, lasting only a few hours and early in the morning. The Cornish Riviera at Mevagissey was my destination and I was very pleased to see half-a-dozen Porpoises and a little pod of four Common Dolphins.
Way beyond my expectations on a choppy day.
As usual a couple of adults came over to assess the threat I posed to the juvenile that they were escorting. Fortunately I was quickly deemed to be safe and they carried on feeding close to the kayak. I sometimes half-wish that they would hesitate for a split second before making up their minds, as if they had mistaken me for an impressive creature such as an Orca or a Great white. But they don’t. One glimpse and they have got me pigeonholed alongside floating logs and marine detritus.
For the next week or so the dolphins wont have to worry whether I am a Killer Whale or piece of flotsam, because I will not be out there in the strong wind. The weather is currently so poor and all other paddling venues so chopped-up, or with unfavourable tides, that the only suitable location is the good-old Bude Canal.
Oh dear. The traditional style of English summer seems to have had a bit of a revival.
At least the sea’s nice and warm.
Here’s a selection of pics and clips of all the sea and beach lovers doing their stuff around the coast of Devon and Cornwall, defying the uninspiring August weather. Despite gloom overhead nearly everyone I meet during my paddling expeditions is smiling and enthusiastic….it’s the magic of the sea.
And it’s not just people on holiday.
Pete the Teignmouth lobster fisherman is just as cheerful.
The Teignmouth seals are not fussed about the coasteerers (or their rosy language):
Many fishermen at Mevagissey now take tourists for a spin around the bay:
How excellent is this?….
What on earth is the matter with the children on this beach? Have they no souls? They should be staring at this stunning locomotive with their jaws hanging open in awe and wonderment ( and maybe noting the number). But instead they are wandering about like zombies. They should be taught trainspotting at school.
We’ll start off below the surface and work upwards, culminating in an encounter to match anything you will see in the natural world, anywhere.
High summer means a jellyfish boom in the waters around Devon and Cornwall. The lack of rain and calm conditions has made the water crystal clear, so the jellyfish look even better than usual.
Following record numbers during the spring, there are still plenty of Barrel Jellyfish around, up to about four foot long.
Compass jellies are my favourite, because of there intricate colour scheme and the fact that they are ‘proper’ jellies because, unlike Barrel jellies, they have a sting.
New kids on the block for July are Moon Jellies. How appropriate for the anniversary of the lunar landings. They occur in huge numbers and concentrate around the current lines.
As usual there are plenty of seals dotted along the coast, concentrating in their favourite rocky haulouts. There is no doubt they are increasingly tolerant of humans, it’s dogs they really don’t like. They have very acute hearing and a dog barking half-a-mile away can make them more agitated than a kayaker bobbing about a few feet away.
They show only a passing interest in waterskiers……..
and are quite happy to be the stars of the show:
A big hazard for seals is fast moving craft. This injury is probably caused by an impact with a boat, although it could conceivably be the result of a fight.
I was thrilled to meet up with this Harbour Seal along the south Cornwall coast. Harbour Seals are rare in SW England, the majority are the bigger, and arguably less attractive Grey Seals.
Cetacean viewing from my kayak is my favourite occupation, because it is so challenging. Most porpoises, dolphins and whales hunt miles from the shore so just getting out to where they might be is not easy, and when eventually a day comes along which is calm enough for you to make the considerable effort to get out there, they are so widely scattered that you almost certainly won’t see them.
A smooth surface is the key to success and this month I have been lucky enough to see three different species: Harbour Porpoise, Common Dolphin and Risso’s Dolphin. I might even call it three and-a-half because a glimpse of a big back disappearing below the water followed by a big swirl while down at Penzance was almost certainly a Minke Whale. If only I had looked round a quarter of a second earlier…….
Guillemots and Razorbills have completed their breeding on the sea cliffs and have now headed far out to sea. Just a few stragglers are reluctant to depart.
Manx Shearwaters are constant companions offshore, zipping past the kayak in compact groups, or resting on the surface.
I have been very pleased to have seen several Oystercatcher chicks along the coast this year. Like other waders, which are all declining, they are ground-nesting and so disturbance by dogs is a big issue.
This pair chose a little rocky promontory to raise their two youngsters.
We are going to take a jaunt inland up the rivers now, before returning to the coast for my grand finale.
I am very excited to have seen this next little wildlife gem recently. I was very familiar with Water Voles when I was a teenager in Berkshire, as you can see from my entries in my wildlife diary 1975. In those days I sported a luxuriant (but greasy) mop of hair and my knees were composed of bone, not titanium. You could guarantee a handful of water vole sightings during a short visit to the Thames or one of its tributaries.
Then Mink came along and ate nearly all of them.
This is the first Water Vole I have seen for decades. It was beside the very upper reaches of the Thames, so just about (or very nearly) qualifies for SW England. Even if it doesn’t quite qualify it is GREAT to see.
I took this next video clip, of a very similar-looking, but very much larger herbivore beside the upper reaches of an estuary which was definitely in Southwest England.
A Beaver enjoying breakfast.
We now float off downstream, back to the open coast.
Peregrine falcons are not uncommon, but to actually see one making a kill is exceptional. If you see one in hunting mode, or just starting a stoop, it will probably be out of sight (either round a headland or disappeared into the distance) by the time it strikes its prey. Even if you see the final moments of the plunge, they frequently miss.
I had only picked Jed up from the station in Exeter a couple of hours previously, so I was very pleased to be able to show him a Peregrine, as a fledgling snickered at its passing parent. I told him to watch that passing pigeon closely, just in case the falcons had a ‘go’ at it.
They certainly did. The adult and young Peregrine stooped in a shallow dive at the pigeon, there was a mid-air scuffle of wings for a split second, and then the struggling pigeon was just about scrambled to the rocks on the shore, secured in the talons of the peregrine that was losing height fast with the weight.
All in a few seconds, and a hundred yards away, and as usual I was hoping for an action replay to work out exactly what just happened. Looking at my pics later helped.
It is a juvenile Peregrine holding the pigeon (streaked breast, not barred). It looks as though the pigeon is a youngster as well (no white flashes on its neck), so was maybe easier to catch.
I’m pretty sure the young Peregrine actually caught the pigeon itself, although I might have expected the adult bird to have made the catch, and then passed it to its offspring as part of its training. I think the young bird had already progressed on to making its own ‘kills’, or perhaps this was its very first, and amazingly successful, effort!
I’m also pretty sure I saw the adult actually herd the pigeon in the direction of the young falcon because it was flying in the opposite direction a few seconds before the stoop.
Peregrines have a notch in their upper mandible to nip the spinal cord of their avian victims to kill them outright. This young bird didn’t do that (probably hadn’t had that lesson yet) so the unfortunate pigeon was still very much alive, and still flapping, as the Peregrine takes it behind a rock and out of sight to deal with it.
Here is the action again slowed down even further.
Fantastic. One of the great spectacles of the natural world. In my opinion right up there with things like seeing a Lion taking an antelope. Maybe even better, because it happened right here on our ‘doorstep’ and I suspect fewer people have seen a peregrine make a kill than a lion. All played out as we watched from the comfort of a kayak seat. And a completely random sight that only comes from putting in the hours of paddling. In my case, many thousands of hours. In Jed’s case, an hour and-a-half. Lucky.
It had to be Looe. Friends Krysia and Stefan were down to stay and I spent a long time ruminating where would be the best place to take them kayaking, with wildlife sightings top of the wish list.
Of course if the nature was a bit thin on the ground it would be helpful to find somewhere with jaw-dropping scenery and a sandy beach on which to take lunch. So it had to be Looe.
Oh yes, it would be helpful if the weather was in a cooperative mood as well.
Not only was the trip perfect climatologically, Looe seemed to do its absolute utmost to deliver a constant stream of wildlife nuggets, which started only a few yards from the slipway with a Little Egret stalking minnows,
and the local Housemartins collecting mud from the estuary (at low tide) for their nests. It’s been very dry so their usual freshwater collection sites will be dried out and rock hard.
Looe island is a really excellent place, maintained as a nature reserve by Cornwall Wildlife trust. This means restricted access to people and much, much, much more importantly no dogs. No dogs means ground nesting birds are not disturbed.
That doesn’t mean to say there is no harassment:
Everybody loves watching the seals (thanks for the video clip, Stefan):
This one was ‘bottling’, resting vertically in the water.
This smaller female seal came over to check us out and then sat on the seabed and studied us from a different angle.
While going through my pics later I saw it had a tag in its tail.
I sent my pics to Sue Sayer from Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust and she very excitedly replied that this was Prudie aka Freckles. Prudie was rescued by the BDMLR (British Diver Marine Life Rescue) as a storm-battered three day-old pup from Boscastle harbour on 4 September 2017. She was fed and nursed back to health at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, and then released along with six other rehabilitated seals at Porthtowan on the north Cornwall coast on 18 Dec 2017. (thanks for the detailed info, Sue)
A fantastic success story. Confirmation that the enormous efforts of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at returning abandoned and malnourished seals to the wild is successful.
Prudie was looking to be in perfect health.
One of the bull Grey Seals appeared to have been in a bit of a bust-up, with a healing scar on his shoulder. Unless it was caused by a boat eg jetski.
Next up on the action list was a bit of peregrine spotting along the coast, before a well-earned nutrition break on a flat calm beach. More seals, a handful of tittering Whimbrels, and plenty of Oystercatchers on the way back.
We completed our day out with a jaunt up the West Looe river estuary to get a bit of a broad-leaved woodland type view of things.