I already can’t remember the last time I saw the sun. It’s at least a week. Today there was the slight slackening in the winds, so I couldn’t resist a quick jaunt to the Cornish Riviera. It’s east facing so there is good shelter from the westerly swell, and there is good access to open clear sea, so I was going to venture as far offshore as the conditions would allow. Which I didn’t think would be very far.
It was a monochrome grey day and the sea didn’t look welcoming, but I followed the coast towards Mevagissey about half-a-mile offshore. After a quick coffee break on a gravelly beach, that is. Water, water, everywhere.
I was very pleased to see this particularly large Barrel Jellyfish appear ghost-like beneath me. They have had a very long season this year (I saw the first on the first day of March) , and have been around in record numbers.
This one was unusual in that it was playing host to large number of little fish (about 30) that took refuge behind the pulsating umbrella for a bit of protection from fish-shaped snack-hunters.
Over a mile further out I saw an intense circling flock of Gannets. Dilemma, do I go to investigate or do I do the sensible thing and stay near dry land?
No choice really, and although the sea looked grey and unfriendly the wind was still light, with only the odd whitecap. So I headed out.
As usual, by the time I arrived upon the scene the feeding activity was over and about fifty Gannets were sat about on the water looking very replete and full of fish, but fortunately a pod of about twenty Common Dolphins were milling about in a relaxed many clearing up the leftovers.
Very difficult to photograph with the movement of the kayak, and nobody really wants to see dolphins in a grey sea under leaden skies, but here they are. Because it’s always a thrill and I really wasn’t expecting to see any today. I thought it would be yet another trip cringeing and cowering up a creek out of the wind.
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.
A succession of storms running in from the Atlantic have limited kayak trips to the most sheltered tidal creeks. These are well protected from the worst of the wind….but not the rain:
The deluge is currently so relentless that even the ducks seem fed up.
But just before the unsettled weather arrived I managed to sneak out for a morning on the open coast along the Cornish Riviera.
It was ironic that after travelling half way round the world in the hope of seeing a whale (I as hoping for a ‘Blue’) from my kayak, I had a better view of a pod of dolphins a couple of days after we got back.
Also we somehow managed to miss the record-breaking February temperatures here in the UK, enduring some very mixed weather in the USA and Mexico. We touched down at Heathrow in sunshine and eighteen degrees, but by the time we were back in Devon it had started to rain.
I thought the best way to combat jetlag and the stickiness of airports and travelling, was to go for a bit of a paddle and the sheltered open coast at Mevagissey was beckoning, and temperatures were back to normal (i.e. quite chilly).
Rounding Black Head to the north of Pentewan I was surprised to see Mevagissey Bay looking so flat, so I headed directly for the Gwinges (aka Gwineas) rocks on the far side of the bay. This would take me far enough offshore to give me the chance of seeing a porpoise, or maybe a dolphin.
A couple of handfuls of Gannets were circling and I was moderstely confident there would be porpoises underneath, but the had dispersed by the time I rolled up.
However suddenly half a dozen Gannets plunged in directly in front of me (I’ve got no idea how such a large bird can just instantly appear out of nowhere) and I saw a fin break the surface beside them. I was absolutely thrilled to see half-a-dozen Common Dolphins feeding on a baitball of fish which were just beneath the surface creating a sizeable ‘stippled’ area.
Conditions for dolphin-spotting weren’t great because there was a bit of a swell and an increasing wind which makes seeing fins a bit tricky, especially with the bouncing movement of the kayak.
There were a couple of juveniles in the group and one small calf. The calf can be seen surfacing just after its mother submerges in this video.
They suddenly disappeared and I wasted no time in getting to the shore as the swell was picking up and cloud building ominously from the south. I couldn’t resist a quick slingshot around the Gwineas cardinal buoy however, because I don’t think I’ve paddled around it before.
Mevagissey was as quiet and quaint as ever:
Just a single Purple Sandpiper was poking about the rocks in the company of a handful of Turnstones, just outside the harbour mouth.
I did a bit of a double-take when I glimpsed a ghostly white shape under the water beneath me, and was very surprised to see a Barrel Jellyfish, about three foot long, going slowly on its way. The earliest one I have ever seen, by quite a few weeks.
A pair of Peregrines were very excited about something on the way back…..
And to finish off an unexpectedly varied and successful morning of wildlife viewing from the kayak, the nesting Shags were looking smart in their bottle green breeding plumage and punked-up headgear.
A very brief lull in the winds followed on from days of wind and rain. The residual ten foot swell from the west sent me looking for shelter on an east facing bit of coast and Mevagissey Bay seemed to fit the bill nicely. It’s very scenic and varied and the sandy shore at Porthpean, just outside St.Austell, is one of the most protected of all open coast beaches in Cornwall when the weather and waves are coming from the west.
The ‘Cornish Riviera’ (as this bit of coast is known) rarely fails to deliver some interesting marine wildlife, and within five minutes of paddling out from the beach I came upon that most charismatic of all the diving birds to visit the UK, a Great Northern Diver.
I think I prefer the more characterful American name of Common Loon, although the ‘common’ bit doesn’t do this magnificent bird justice. It is the biggest diving ‘duck’ (although strictly speaking it’s not a duck, it’s a Diver), has a colossal spear of a beak, and spends longer underwater when it dives than any other UK species.
They are winter visitors to the UK and this bird probably could well come from Iceland or Greenland. Their winter plumage is a bit drab (certainly in comparison to their summer plumage). Compare and contrast today’s bird with a pic I took in May this year :
The call of the Loon is the sound of the wild and you are a heathen if this doesn’t send a shiver up your spine. Listen carefully:
As I rounded Black Head on the way to Mevagissey I could see a huge milling mass of Gulls a mile or to ahead, about a mile offshore. When I saw that they were not associated with a fishing boat I was very excited because I thought they were probably over feeding dolphins.
I engaged top gear which today wasn’t very fast as I was using my inflatable (Gumotex Safari) kayak. About four mph max. The Gulls were still active as I arrived amongst them, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one feeding group…every gull in eastern Cornwall must have been there.
I still hadn’t worked out what they were feeding on and was surprised I hadn’t seen a single fin at the surface. Then a Lesser Black-back flew past with a small fish…
I paddled further into the thick of the action and was staggered to see that what I had initially thought were patches of foam on the surface, were actually thousands of dead fish. Probably tens of thousands.
These were pilchards. I’m sure they had just been dumped (either deliberately or accidentally)by a netting trawler, as they all looked fresh , and I could see a couple of big trawlers on the horizon. If you are a pilchard it was incredibly unfortunate for your well being that you were rebranded as a Cornish Sardine several years ago, but very good for the Cornish fishing industry.
Today’s pilchard carnage seemed a terrible waste as these fish would have been a meal or two (or ten) for a pod of dolphins or a Minke whale, or fed a load of loons for a year.
I sat around hoping for some larger sea creature to be attracted to the easy feast, but none appeared. I guess they prefer live fish. It was a consolation however to see all seven of the more common species of UK gull represented in the milling throng, including the neatly-plumaged Kittiwake,
and a single Mediterranean Gull. These used to be rare in the UK but are fast increasing.
I paddled over to Mevagissey for a quick tour around the harbour and then headed out to the gull frenzy again, just in case.
As I ate my cheese ‘n pickle sandwiches watching the gulls I noticed a police helicopter moving slowly along the coast, and both the inshore and offshore lifeboat from Fowey speeding across the bay. They started to ‘comb’ the coast starting at Black Head.
I suspected they might come over and see what on earth I was up to, and to check if I was in trouble. It must be quite unusual to see someone sitting in an inflatable kayak a mile out to sea in early December.
They did indeed come over and as I explained I was absolutely fine and was photographing the birds. They said they were looking for a missing person and saw me so came over to see if I was OK. I thanked them very much and looked closely at the crew to try to get an insight into what they REALLY thought of this idiot in his inflatable kayak. But needless to say they were totally professional and totally polite and objective.
A single small Grey Seal and a couple more Loons and a couple of paddleboarders provided a bit of interest on the paddle back to Porthpean.
Before the ‘Beast from the East’ weather system snarled in, brandishing its Siberian temperatures, snow and savage wind, I managed a handful of very pleasant trips. The first was a bit of an offshore paddle in St.Austell Bay from Fowey , and to my complete jaw-dropping amazement (and entertainment), I yet again stumbled upon a pod of Common Dolphins.
It’s always a thrill to see them because it really doesn’t happen very often. Over the last fifteen years I have only seen dolphins about once every 500 miles paddled, but in the last four months have come across ten pods. Maybe this is random chance but maybe it means that there are more dolphins, and more dolphin food, about. If this is the case it is excellent news considering it is the polluted and littered nature of the sea that usually makes the headlines. It is possible I am getting to know the best places to see them but their highly mobile nature makes sightings extremely unpredictable, which for me is all part of the fun, and challenge. Success in spotting dolphins is a reflection of the number of miles paddled.
The Cornish Riviera, like its Devon counterpart in Torbay, is east-facing and so fairly protected from the winter swells that usually come from the west. It’s more attractive than Torbay and a lot less built-up and generally more of a wilderness experience, with much less chance of running into, or being mown down by, a jetski.
As I emerged from the shelter of Fowey estuary I was a bit disappointed the sea was so lumpy, and took a few waves over the front. No danger but just not so much fun as carving over flat water. I was hoping it was a residual chop from the southerly wind that had now changed direction but it was looking like offshore paddling was out. However I stuck with it and hugged the shore, stopping for breakfast onboard (bowlful of muesli) in the shelter of Gribbin Head.
As I crunched granola, I caught sight of a load of Gannets plunging vertically into the sea just round the corner of the headland. I couldn’t resist sticking my nose in, so rounded Gribbin Head and followed the circling pack of Gannets as it headed out across the bay towards Mevagissey. And hey presto, the sea had miraculously smoothed off.
I was back in my comfort zone and powered after the gannets although stupidly, in all the excitement, forgot to ‘check in’ with Polruan or Charlestown NCI (coastwatch) which I usually do. My radio batteries were flat anyway…oops.
Suddenly a dolphin surfaced a few yards in front of me and gave me quite a jump. It looked very big. Nothing else happened for a minute and just when I thought that was all I was going to see, a whole load more appeared and started to splash, puff, snort and surge all around the place.
Twelve to fifteen in total and at least one juvenile amongst them.
Yet another fantastic dolphin experience and only the second time I have seen them in February, the first being a couple of weeks ago!
After half an hour in their company I took a big swing around Gribbin Head before heading back to Fowey and was rewarded with the brief sight of four ‘Puffing Pigs’ (porpoises), a pair and two singletons, that were hunting beneath a circling gannet. Always incredibly elusive and difficult to see because they are so small, but a speciality from a kayak because you can hear their loud ‘piff’ from quite a disatnce, which you would never hear above the engine if a boat (or even the ‘noise’ of a yacht).
I completed my day at Fowey with a quick blast up the river to admire the Class 66 loco heading the China Clay train up to Lostwithiel, and a well-earned cup of tea at Penquite Quay. As they say: once a trainspotter always a trainspotter. I might add: once a tea-drinker always a tea-drinker. The two seem to go together quite nicely.
There are quite a few Little Grebes (aka Dabchicks) wintering up these sheltered creeks at the minute; their numbers increase further during cold snaps when their freshwater haunts freeze over.
The Herons are sporting a fancy array of plumes around their necks in preparation for creating a bit of an impression for the start of the breeding season.
My next little jaunt was to the Cornish coast at Mevagissey (the other side of the bay from where I saw the dolphins) where I was very pleased to observe half a dozen rare gulls visiting from the arctic. It’s unusual to see just one of these ‘white-winged’ gulls, but to see four Glaucous and two Iceland Gulls in one trip is, for me, unprecedented.
Glaucous Gulls are great big bruisers the size of the more familiar Great Black-backs, Iceland Gulls are smaller and finer but telling them apart requires a bit of ornithological expertise, because their plumage is almost identical.
Finally I managed a paddle up the beautiful Camel estuary from Rock with Dave before the weather became too kayak unfriendly. It was only a couple of degrees above freezing and there was a bit of a sneaky wind from the east but the winter sun made our trip feel a little warmer.
As usual there was lots of birdlife to admire, including a handful of perfectly camouflaged Ringed Plovers roosting amongst the pebbles on the tideline.
It’s now time to ‘batten down the hatches’ till the Beast has blown itself out.