I have always viewed canals as a last resort, to be used only when the sea is blown out by storms, the rivers are flooded and the creeks are inaccessible due to due to low tide. But they are always a pleasant surprise because they are a little strip of watery wilderness which act as a wildlife magnet.
And at this time of year they are particularly scenic.
The only problem is there are not a lot of canals to choose from.
Bude Canal is the only canal in Cornwall (I think). I have visited quite a lot recently because the Atlantic depressions have been assaulting southwest England fairly relentlessly for the last two months.
One benefit of the lashing rain is that the Kingfishers are forced to hunt along the canals (and estuaries) because the rivers are too muddy for them to spot their meals.
Bude canal is home to two of the tamest Herons I have ever encountered. They are so accustomed to walkers, dogs and dog-walkers sauntering past along the canal towpath, they now don’t even bother to move.
It’s great to stare into the beady eye of a hunting predator. It’s gaze is so intense it almost burns a hole in the water. It is not long before that dagger of a beak emerges with a fish-shaped meal.
There have been some unusual visitors to Bude Canal recently. Both are feral and not genuinely wild UK species, but both are exceptionally colourful and exotic.
The second is a pair of Black Swans. Endemic to Australia and the nearest feral pair is breeding at Dawlish in south Devon. You never know, they might settle and raise a brood on the Bude canal.
This Little Grebe is a genuinely wild species and on the limits of its tolerance in terms of people and dogs passing a few yards away (it doesn’t seem to mind kayakers too much).
The Grand Western Canal near Tiverton is superb. Eleven miles long and not a single lock! Some of it is super-scenic.
During my visit I heard an unfamiliar call coming from a dense patch of reeds. I drifted closer in absolute silence and was thrilled to see this Water Rail hiding amongst the waterside foliage. Water Rails are extreme skulkers and rarely seen in the open, and this is one of only a very few I have seen from my kayak.
During my visit, on a cold day with east wind, the winter thrushes from Scandinavia and Russia were busy stripping berries from the canalside bushes:
Moorhens are common and very understated,
but Kingfishers are hard to beat. They brighten up the dingiest of days.