Canal Magic


I have always viewed canals as a last resort, to be used only when the sea isĀ  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

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.

Bude Canal Rainbow
Bude Canal Pirate

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.

Hunting Heron

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.

Heron strike

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.

Mandarin Duck…..

Mandarin Duck
mandarin 3

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.

Black Swan
Bude Black Swans

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).

Little Grebe (aka Dabchick)

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.

water rail 2
Water Rail

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.


Canal Magic.20191112_124818




Feast on the Foreshore

If you are a hungry Gull the further the tide goes out the more likely you are to capture your favourite seafood delicacy. And the water doesn’t go out further than during the current run of the biggest Spring tides of the year.

This Herring Gull has perfected the technique of turning over the weed to uncover the sheltering crabs.



but it’s this immature Great Black-backed Gull that has struck lucky with a large meal-sized starfish. (Great Black-backed Gulls don’t get adult plumage till they are four years old)



If you are a little fish or small marine creature you had better watch out because there are beady eyed Grey Herons every couple of hundred yards along the shore, and Little Egrets even more frequently.





I’d love to know how much more productive a tidal estuary is compared to a freshwater river in terms of food for predatory wildlife. My guess would be ten times the amount (but it could be a lot more).

At this time of year the Kingfishers move down to the estuaries, having run the gauntlet of nesting in holes in the banks of freshwater rivers (and hopefully avoiding floods), to cash in on the food bonanza. Even on a dull day their turquoise and orange outfit is bedazzling.




I really don’t know what this pair of Kingfishers are doing. They are clearly not looking for fish. I thought at first that there might have been a stoat or weasel in the bushes that was attracting their attention, or there was a raptor overhead making them hunker down, but it looks as though they were doing a bit of posturing and either displaying at each other, or threatening one another. Answers on a postcard please.

Kingfisher pair


What a Beauty!

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.

Rainbow over Lerryn Creek

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.

Cormorant sporting ‘Silver Fox’ style
Shag with Emerald Eye

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:

Red Diving Training ships
Beautifully turned-out Class 66 hauling the china clay train.

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.

Super scenic Penquite Quay

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.20170213_135843