Dolphins put on a Show

If you want to try to watch dolphins from a kayak my advice would be not to. It is incredibly difficult and you are almost certain to fail. Most of the time they are more than a couple of miles offshore, and just finding a day when the sea is smooth enough to make the trip enjoyable, and calm enough to see fins breaking the surface, is a challenge.

Also dolphins range far and wide so the chances of seeing them at all is always small, especially as using binoculars on a kayak (as would a dolphin-watching boat) is useless due to constant movement.

I hadn’t seen any dolphins since the end of March, since when I have paddled nearly 600 miles, including over one hundred and sixty miles over a mile offshore specifically looking for dolphins. The sea has been extraordinarily quiet, just a few porpoises and hardly a roving Gannet to be seen. All the marine wildlife watching companies around the coast have been saying the same.

Until now.

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Common Dolphins in a rush

I was on the water at 5am because the window of light winds was only forecast to last till midday. It started off grey and choppy but as I headed offshore the wind lightened and the surface glassed off nicely. Manx shearwaters zipped past and a few Razorbills and Guillemots fished from the surface.

Far ahead a single Gannet twisted in the air and dived, and three more circled. That was the only encouragement I needed to engage top gear because I was sure there would be something interesting swimming beneath, and sure enough there were the fins. Dolphins. Phew, I was about to pack in all this stuff due to lack of success!

I could see there were quite a few juveniles, with their smaller dorsal fins, in the pod of about eight individuals. As usual a delegate of adults came over to investigate me as I carefully approached. I presume this is to assess my threat level ( I could be an Orca) and warn the rest of the group accordingly.

 

 

 

 

Fortunately they decided I was completely benign and went off to carry on with hunting as a pack.

 

 

 

 

There ensued an enthralling half hour as the pod remained in essentially the same place, slow swimming, diving, resting, rushing and every so often jumping. Unlike porpoises which roll at the surface with barely a ripple, Common Dolphins are very dynamic and do a lot of splashing.

 

 

 

I silently left the scene and headed further out, looking for even bigger stuff, although the next marine marvel was actually quite small….a Puffin, with the grubby-looking face and smudgy-coloured bill of an immature bird probably hatched last year.

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immature Puffin

I loitered four or five miles offshore, downed coffee and headed back in before the wind picked up. I stopped at an obvious tideline and saw a couple of distant Porpoises slinking about before checking out the underwater action……jellyfish: one Barrel Jelly, several Blue jellies and over fifty Compass jellyfish, the first I have seen this year:

 

 

 

Notice the little pink fish that is tucked in behind the jellyfish’s umbrella. The perfect safe place away from hungry mouths, and made even safer because it is surrounded by a palisade of stinging tentacles. 

 

 

 

As I watched I heard a thumping splash further along the tideline, almost a mile away. I paddled over to investigate and came upon another small pod of dolphins, about half-a-dozen. These were even more dynamic than the first lot:

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Common Dolphins
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Common Dolphins

 

 

 

Sometimes they re-entered the water seamlessly after a jump, sometimes they bellyflopped appallingly with a mighty splash:P1330078

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I was getting a stiff back and numb backside after seven hours in the kayak seat, so was just setting off for the shore when this dolphin put in the best jump of the day. An appropriate finale.

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Common Dolphin

Dolphin drought over.

 

 

Cod, Seal, Beaver

Before we get to the REALLY exciting wildlife encounters here’s a selection of other stuff I have observed recently while paddling silently along.

The first was actually on the end of a fishing line. I havn’t done any kayak-fishing for a few years but my plan for later in the summer to lure some Blue Sharks within range of my Gopro meant I had to catch some mackerel for ‘bait’. My rod nearly got jerked out my hand when ten pounds of fish, consisting of two Pollack and a Cod, pounced upon the mackerel feathers simultaneously. I released the Pollack and was tempted to take the Cod home for tea, but it somehow managed to read my thoughts and with a mighty effort leaped overboard.

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Pollack,Pollack,Cod

Next to the beautiful Avon estuary in south Devon,

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Avon Estuary at Bantham

where I came upon the largest brood of Shelduck I have seen this spring/summer.

Fifteen Ducklings!

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I was very pleased to see that the swans which were nesting beside the upper reaches of my local estuary, the Torridge, had successfully hatched out five cygnets. It’s always better when it’s on your local ‘patch’.

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Torridge cygnets

Charlie L and I had a superb peregrine encounter off a particularly dramatic cliffy bit of South Devon. 20190621_082115

A female peregrine came labouring in off the sea carrying a large prey item, followed casually by the male bird. It landed on a small headland and as it plucked the victim the feathers drifted off downwind. We assumed the prospective meal was dead, but in a sudden flurry of wings the pigeon escaped and sprinted off around the corner, hotly pursued by the hungry falcon.

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Peregrine (male)

It apparently didn’t get far because the peregrine and meal (half eaten) flew past again later. Nice try though.

Looe island never disappoints because it is private and so free from wandering dogs, which can terrify wildlife. It was great to see a couple of fledgling oystercatchers dozing on the beach. They are usually very difficult to observe because on the approach of anything remotely resembling a threat, including an ageing kayaker, the parents pipe a warning call and the youngsters immediately rush into a dark corner and hide.

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Fledgling Oystercatchers

Oystercatcher adults are very vocal and as usual there was a lot of shouting going on:

 

For the first time I can recall I saw an Oystercatcher swimming in the sea. This is very unusual and I think it was probably a tactic to lure a walker away from their youngsters who were probably hunkered down on the beach where they had hatched. You can see the interloper in the video:

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Swimming Oystercatcher

 

I was expecting to see Willis the resident Whimbrel as I paddle along the beach, but instead was very surprised to come across this Bar-tailed Godwit. A bit drab to look at but legendary amongst bird enthusiasts because of its huge migration feats, with a non-stop flight in excess of 6,800 miles being the longest recorded of any bird. Was this bird late onn its way north to arctic breeding grounds, or an early departer for the south. Who knows?

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Bar-tailed Godwit

I did indeed come across Willis the Whimbrel later, similar in plumage, but not in beak, to the Godwit.

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Willis the Whimbrel

On the same reef was Eric the resident Eider. Both of these species should migrate north in the summer but have clearly decided that life at Looe is just too pleasant to desert for half the year.

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Eric the Eider taking a nap

As usual I was investigated by a couple of inquisitive seals, one of which looked remarkably like Nudger, a young male Grey Seal who clambered out onto my kayak deck last year. Here he is in August (ignore the date stamp which is wrong):

 

Today’s seal was bit darker and appeared to have different markings to Nudger, but his behaviour and apparent enjoyment of draping seaweed over his head, and swimming upside down, were identical to Nudger.P1320643

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It was, as usual, great to see this creature which is very ungainly out of the water, wafting about with effortless ease.

 

 

 

Tremendously exciting, but this experience was eclipsed by my first ever sighting of a Beaver, not only in the UK but anywhere in the world. My ultra early start paid off, although I was hoping to see an otter.

This clip was taken just after 5am, in Southwest England!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looe Delivers the Wildlife (again)

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.

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Stefan and Krysia

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.

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Krysia, Stefan and Becky

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,

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Little Egret

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.

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Housemartins
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Housemartin

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.P1290668

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While going through my pics later I saw it had a tag in its tail. Tag

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)

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Prudie

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.

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Scarred bull seal

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.

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Oystercatcher.

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.

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West Looe River

 

Beaches, Birds, Chums and Cherry Bakewells

 

Here’s a selection of assorted pics from trips during the fantastic weather of the last ten days:

 

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Razorbills changing into breeding plumage . Veryan Bay
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Lansallos Beach
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Polperro
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Guillemot, St Austell Bay
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Gribbin Head
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Lantic Bay , Fowey
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Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Mevagissey
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Dave and Simon, Rumps Point, Polzeath
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Dave and Simon, Newlands, Polzeath
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Perfectly synchronised Guillemots, Polzeath
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Dave ‘n Cave, Portquin
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Puffin, The Mouls, Polzeath
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Peregrine peering
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Simon and Dave, Rumps Point, Polzeath
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Guillemot reluctant to change out of winter clothes, Portquin
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Dave and sushi. Healthy stuff.
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Cherry Bakewell. No natural ingredient within miles.
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Looe
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Eric the lone Eider, Looe
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Hang on !!!! Eric’s found a mate……Erica, Looe
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Duchess the (half blind) Grey Seal (thanks for the id, Sue)
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Oystercatcher, Looe
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Cormorants with nestlings, Looe
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Little rattly train , Looe
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Dave, Looe
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Filming with BBC Spotlight (thanks for the pic, Dave)
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Dave up the creek, Looe
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Barrel Jelly

Don’t try to tell me that SW England is not a world class sort of place.

 

 

Nudger

A long-arranged day’s kayaking with Jeremy and Jane was looking good with very light wind and decent temperature for early October, so the open sea coast was our destination.

We started off at Looe.

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Looe Harbour

Out into the open sea we headed directly offshore, stopping to take in the glass smooth surface and clear water…….and up popped Nudger the seal between our two kayaks.

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Nudger

We didn’t go to him. he came to us. So for a little while, we enjoyed the extraordinary encounter.

 

He worked his way round all four of us kayakers, clearly hoping for a fishy handout. nudger 8

 

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It was smiles all round (although maybe not from Nudger who failed to get any seal-type  snacks) but we eventually dragged ourselves away and paddled off at top speed. However Nudger had not finished with us and followed in our slipstream, tugging at the skeg on Becky’s and my kayak and pulling at the toggle on Jeremy and Jane’s.

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Nudger pulling at the toggle.

 

It was only when we came into the territory of a big bull seal that Nudger suddenly disappeared.

Wow, a good start to our wildlife watching trip.

We paddled out to sea in a big arc with Polperro our destination for lunch. A single Balearic Shearwater was an unexpected bonus although you probably have to be a bit of a birder to fully appreciate them, as to the non-birder they are disappointingly smudgy brown, and usually distant, and easy to overlook.

Just before we swung into Polperro, about a mile and-a-half offshore, there were a handful of Gannets circling and occasionally plunging. I was certain there would be a porpoise around and one duly appeared with a very satisfactory ‘piff’. It put on a fantastic show as we just sat and watched surfacing so close we could hear it inhaling as well as the main exhalation blast. A kayaking first for Becky and Jane.

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Polperro Porpoise

We scorched into Polperro as all the wildlife excitement had seriously delayed our lunch. As fast as you can go in an inflatable double kayak (with a bit of a leak) anyway.polperro lunch.jpg

 

Lunch was taken on the wall of the super-quaint village of Polperro.

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Polperro-lunch on the wall

The day of wildlife was nicely rounded off with a distant peregrine scorching across the horzon, and a couple of Kingfishers fishing up the hidden creeks of the Looe estuary.

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Looe Kingfisher

(yet to get a good Kingfisher pic from kayak).

Today belonged to Nudger:

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Red-throated Diver. What a Beauty.

Looe Harbour is not the sort of place I would expect to come across a Red-throated Diver, or any Diver at all for that matter. They are birds of the open sea and usually quite shy so the narrow confines of Looe Harbour with all its human-related activity is not really their scene.

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Looe

So my eyes did a double-take when I approached what looked like a Diver close to the harbour wall just past the fish quay. As I got ‘up sun’ I was amazed to sea it was a Red-Throat and even more amazed, and thrilled, to see it was still in its stunning breeding plumage.

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Red-throated Diver

More remarkable was that it was busy diving and fishing along the foot of the harbour wall with people chatting and walking about a few feet above it. As I drifted carefully closer it was unconcerned and remained intent on feeding, speeding about underwater and often emerging with a small fish in its beak.

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Red-throated Diver

At on stage it emerged from a dive just a couple of feet away from my kayak….absolutely extraordinary.

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Red-throated Diver

It worked its way out past the end of the breakwater and then drifted out into the open sea off Looe’s main beach and started to have a bit of a brush up. Eric the resident Eider drifted past fast asleep a little bit further out……two birds which should be more at home in the far north, relaxing just off the beach in sunny southern Cornwall.

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Eric the Eider takes a kip

 

I joined in with the downtime and supped a coffee and munched an orange club as the Diver busily preened twenty yards away.

It suddenly finished its makeover and set off back to the harbour entrance to hunt some more fry.

I departed and set off west along the coast. Half-a-mile before Polperro I met a diver called Dave who had just emerged from the water having spent forty-five minutes on the bottom of the sea looking for the wreck of the ‘Albemarle’, an East Indiaman that went down during a storm in 1708. Dave is hoping to find its lost treasure and has so far been looking for a year, and certainly spent a bob or two on his project . Fantastic, what an exciting enthusiasm to have…good luck Dave. Here he is:

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Dave, Treasure Divers UK

Polperro was as quaint as ever and lots of tourists were milling about and walking very slowly. One had unfortunately taken a tumble and was being attended by paramedics.

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Polperro

I looped round Looe island on the way back to have a chat with ‘Nudger’ the very inquisitive young seal that climbed onto my kayak a couple of months ago. Unfortunately no ‘Nudger’ but lots of his compatriates were draped about on the rocks.

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Looe Lump
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Looe Seals

Upon arrival back at Looe I was staggered to see the Red-throated Diver still busily chasing fish around in the shallows. I had expected it to have moved on to the open sea which is the more typical hunting ground for Red-throats.

They have always been one of my favourite UK birds since I saw my first one, at very long range, beside a Loch in Scotland having spent hours trying to locate the source of the weird wailing call floating over the water. Their American name is Red-throated Loon, and their calls are suitably loon-like.

 

Some spend the winter along the Cornish coast but today’s sighting is exceptional because most overwintering birds are in their rather drab winter plumage, and most are far out to sea. Also they are more common along the North coast and not very numerous at all along the south. To see one in full summer plumage at a range of only a few yards is remarkable wherever the location. I wonder if this is one of those birds that comes from such a remote location somewhere around the arctic circle that it has never come across anything resembling a human before, and so has no fear. The Little Auk that climbed aboard my kayak a few years ago would fall into the same category.

I was certainly in the right place at the right time today.

 

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THAT Seal Again

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……

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The real James Bond?

Or watching some poor devil getting a ticket because he was parked slightly on the grass because the carpark was completely full.

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Out along the coast there is always something to maintain the attention in the ornithological department. For example, incessantly piping Oystercatchers,

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Oystercatchers taking a break from piping

stands of reptilian-looking shags resting on the offshore rocks,

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Shags

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.

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Turnstone

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.seal 22

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.P1150387

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.

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Fishy snack for seal

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.

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Buzzard mewing

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:

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Kingfisher blurr

And so back to something resembling civilisation, and the buzz of the beach.

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Busy 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.

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Little Egret