The Rumps is another north Cornwall headland that hardly ever opens its doors to the casual kayaker who likes flat water and lots of loafing about taking photos (and supping coffee) . It catches every little bit of swell, current and wind that is around and mixes and magnifies them all up into a confusion of clapotis (technical term meaning confused sea bouncing back off a cliff, that likes to cause havoc amongst small boats).
The big carrot for me, as I paddled out of the absurdly sheltered harbour at Portquin was the little colony of Puffins that I hope to observe in less bouncy conditions than I did last time, a couple of weeks ago.
I was thrilled to see them again, and the busy crowds of Guillemots and Razorbills, but the tidal current working against the wind made surface conditions tricky for photography again, especially when zoomed in. No complaints…that’s all part of the challenge, and fun, of taking pics from a kayak (and probably why very few other people do it).
Just like the seabird colony in full swing on the Exmoor coast, this seemed to be a very successful breeding season. Lots of adults flying past with fish, and several large baitballs of sandeels just below the surface.
It may just be an impression, because if a seabird colony is going to be busy at any time, it is now when the youngsters demand for food is greatest.
Here’s the gallery of seabird pics from the day:
I continued down the ‘alley’ between Rumps point and Pentire Head and Newlands island.
A flopping fin of a Sunfish was on the surface in front of me, but disappeared long before I could get my camera out. Then another, equally shy. And then one breaching just in front of me. In fact over the next hour or so, I saw five or six more random splashes which I’m pretty sure were all sunfish. They like areas of tidal movement like this, and hopefully this heralds a good season of sightings….I only saw one last year.
For a final fling I was lured a mile (or more) further offshore by a mini Gannet feeding frenzy. Usually where there are diving Gannets, there are cetaceans. But on this occasion there were no fins visible at the surface.
It was great to see the Gannets hurling themselves into the water, with a splosh that can be heard from far away. They often cannot contain themselves and utter a cackle of excitement as they twist prior to their plunge.
That’s it for the north Cornwall coast for a few days. There’s wind and a swell on the way.
So the Puffins won’t have to worry about being pestered by kayakers for a while.
Phew, lockdown has eased just in time get out and enjoy the REALLY sunny weather. My chum Paul always says that the third week in May is the best week of the year and I think he’s just about spot-on…..wildflowers in full bloom and birds as busy as they can possibly be with raising their families.
The Guillemots on Gull Rock are lined up like ten-pins on their tiny ledges and jostling for position. I love their primeval cackle….
They are looking at their very best at the moment, all chocolately brown and white, and I spotted a rare bridled version (a plumage variation, not a separate species) amongst the throng.
I didn’t get too close to the breeding ledges…..making them ‘stampede’ is completely unacceptable and can cause eggs, which are just placed on the narrow ledges with no nest to hold them in place, to fall off.
I opted for admiring them on the water instead.
Also nesting on Gull Rock (apart from Gulls, of course) are Razorbills, but in much fewer numbers than the Guillemots. I think they look even better than their auk cousins, decked out in velvety-black with a perfectly positioned white designer streak in front of the eye.
Here’s one trying to ensure it’s impeccable image is maintained….
I was a bit surprised to come across this little posse resting on a tiny islet half a mile offshore.
A group of Sanderling and Dunlin, moulting into their breeding plumage, no doubt en route to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Sanderlings, perhaps not surprisingly, are most at home on a sandy beach, running in and out with the waves.
Other arctic breeders that winter around the coast of Cornwall are also still around. This pair of Great Northern Divers in Gerrans Bay are reluctant to cast off their winter dress,
whereas this one in Penzance is in full breeding plumage. Bad pic I know, but it shows off the ‘necklace’ well.
Purple Sandpipers, which specifically like to winter on wave battered barnacle-encrusted rocks in exposed locations, also have not all departed for the north.
OK, let’s ramp up the post-lockdown kayaking excitement a notch or two.
Seeing a fin slicing through the clear waters of the open sea is one of the greatest wildlife sightings you can have from a kayak, in my opinion. Not least because it is quite an achievement in terms of planning, and physical effort, to get out to where they might be….usually far offshore.
The last one I saw was attached to the back of a porpoise off Dodman Point on 16 March. Because I am a bit of a fin addict, I was pretty keen to find a few more, and as soon as the wind forecast for Mounts Bay, Penzance , was suitable, I was off down the A30 for my dose of extended, and legal, exercise.
Launching from Penzance harbour at low tide is currently rather tricky because there is a ship parked in the channel, the Scillonian III.
Heading offshore I was lucky enough to hear a couple of Porpoises puffing before I had stopped for breakfast. Excellent. I didn’t watch them for long because I had moved on to the next ‘thing’…..what else might be about? I had to keep paddling out before the wind picked up (it wasn’t forecast to increase, and didn’t, but I always maintain a sense of urgency in case it does. Quite exhausting, really).
Good call, another fin ahead, and this one was slightly bigger and accompanied by a little splash…..Dolphin!
It got better……the dolphin’s calf then popped up beside it.
I settled in (as much as you can in a kayak on the open sea), ate my breakfast, had a cup of coffee, and enjoyed the show.
And then I paddled on. I saw very little for the next few hours, although paddled over to investigate a small group of Kittiwakes dipping down to the surface snatching small fish. Far out to sea small fish at the surface is good news for Kittiwakes, good news for me, but bad news for small fish.
They are there because predators from below have herded them into a baitball and pinned them up against the surface to make them easier to catch. Last autumn, in exactly this place, baitballs of sprats and sandeels were being engulfed by dolphins, porpoises, giant tuna, a Minke Whale and a Humpback whale.
Today wasn’t quite so dramatic, but it was the first time I had seen this particular predator doing the herding. Sea Bass. The first one I glimpsed just below me was so big it gave me a bit of a start. Big for a Bass anyway…must have been 5lbs plus (danger of exaggeration here…it’s a fishy story).
On the way back, amazingly, I bumped into the dolphin pair again, three miles away from our first encounter. Like finding the needle in the haystack, twice.
I took lunch at Mousehole. Looking good, as always (Mousehole, not me).
And as usual a few seals were lounging about on the island. Including this rather glistening youngster….last year’s pup?
The Beadiest of Eyes
Although I would describe the cheese sandwiches I had hastily constructed at 4.30am as forgettable, they didn’t go unnoticed by the local gulls, some of whom might tend towards a scavenging sort of approach to life. They came close enough to allow unusually close scrutiny of their features.
How amazing is this eye? The iris looks more like a map of the moon than a map of the moon.
It belongs to the local avian bully-boy and public enemy number one, a Great Black-backed Gull. Gulls in seaside towns have an appalling public image, but I personally like them very much, not least because their eyes are filled with character. The call of a Herring Gull is the sound of the seaside.
Although, having said that, the sound of a Great Black-back is a rather intimidating ‘gulp’.
And finally…back to the (semi-lockdown) garden
To further uplift the spirits, here’s a couple of recent specials to round things off.
The first snake I have ever seen in the garden (in 25 years).
And a Willow Warbler doing it’s best to maintain the tail end of the dawn chorus, despite being audio-bombed by a wren during its second verse.
It is maybe not surprising that Mount’s Bay is such a good place for looking for porpoises, dolphins….and whales…from my kayak. They are ocean wanderers that generally prefer to be far out to sea, and Cornwall is the last bit of land to stick out into the Atlantic where they live. Marine creatures on migration from north to south (or vice versa) may also drop by for a refuel because the confused currents, reefs and upwellings around Land’s End are rich in fish.
It is also a great location for kayaking because the Land’s End peninsular provides protection from Atlantic swell, and there are a lot of sheltered, and super-scenic locations to get on the water. All under the gaze of amazing St.Michaels’ Mount.
Also if the weather is not conducive to offshore paddling, the coast is exceptionally interesting and varied in terms of scenery and human habitation, and the near-shore holds a lot of seabirds during the winter. Most impressive of which are the Loons ( the North American name, aka Great Northern Diver in the UK), this one is in transition from summer to winter plumage. It also has a slightly wonky beak with the end crossing over.
There are plenty of Guillemots and Razorbills:
And Eddie the resident Eider duck is usually in evidence somewhere around Penzance harbour, sometimes with some friends, sometimes not.
After a long, long period of stormy weather, the sea has at last settled down and I have ventured out into Mount’s Bay on a couple of occasions in the last week. Both trips in excess of fifteen miles and keeping well offshore.
During the second trip I came across two large pods of Harbour Porpoises between St.Michael’s Mount and Mousehole. Porpoises usually go around singly or twos and threes, but these two pods contained in excess of ten each. You can hear why they used to be called ‘Puffing Pigs’ by Newfoundland fishermen. (in England they were known as ‘Herring Hogs’). Unfortunately you can also hear my drysuit creaking as I pan round.
One porpoise halted at the surface to enjoy the calm conditions and maybe a little bit of warm winter sun. They don’t do this very often, probably because the sea isn’t this smooth very often.
Any sort of bird activity which is focused on the surface of the sea attracts my interest when I am offshore paddling. I have mentioned before that more often than not there is a porpoise beneath a circling Gannet, but on this occasion it was a large milling group of gulls that kept dipping down to the surface that lured me over for a closer inspection. They were scattered over a wide area with several Kittiwakes amongst them. When a couple of Gannets arrived and dived I increased pace because I was sure there would be ‘fins’ about.
Sure enough a couple of dolphins splashed in front of me.
I approached the group cautiously to avoid spooking them, but they were in a very sociable mood and came over to see what as going on.
As I cruised on they were quite happy to act as an escort.
As usual there were a handful of juveniles mixed in amongst the pod, and as usual they stuck like glue to their mother’s side.
On the second day the dolphin watching was even better because the surface was oily smooth, enabling the dolphins to get as good a look at me as I was getting of them.
This is a big thrill, and the excitement of this sort of encounter never seems to diminish. There cannot be many situations where a couple of completely wild creatures of this size (seven foot long) voluntarily come within touching distance of a human being. And for me it is all the more compelling because getting several miles offshore, and locating a pod of dolphins, is really quite a challenge.
This particular group seemed quite happy to hang around as I just floated and watched, so I got out the Gopro for some underwater action. I love this (very brief) clip as this dolphin glides by on its side.
Although the water isn’t as clear as it is in the summer, the dolphins came so close I was able to get the best underwater shots I have yet achieved.
This individual takes a good look at the Gopro as it cruises past. A proper dolphin mugshot.
Absolutely excellent, and the fact that it is December makes the whole experience even more remarkable.
I had a good lesson in how to push things too far (or not) on my way back to Marazion. Before the two hour paddle back to my launch site, I could just make out a group of Gannets circling and diving far out to sea. Of course I couldn’t resist heading out to take a look, but half an hour of paddling and nearly two miles later I still hadn’t arrived upon the scene.
Then, contrary to the forecast which had predicted flat calm all day, a steady north wind picked up. Probably only 10mph but it made the paddle back very long indeed, with a relentless cold breeze in my face and waves slapping over the front slowing me down considerably. The feeding frenzy turned out to be disappointing too, just a couple of distant dolphins and no sign of anything larger (which of course I always hope for).
I arrived back at Marazion, after seven hours on the water and 17.5 miles paddled, fairly pooped. But worth it, with over twenty dolphins and thirty porpoises to enjoy.
“From Hartland Point to Padstow Light, ’tis a Watery Grave by Day or Night”
Having this cheerful old mariner’s sonnet lurking in the back of my mind always makes me a bit apprehensive about a paddle out from Hartland Quay. It is so totally and utterly exposed and there is nothing resembling a town or port or seaside village within sight. From Hartland point south the coast is absolutely dead straight and points directly out to the west so catches every bit of Atlantic groundswell and is usually blasted by the wind from the same direction. Not a hint of a sheltering headland to moderate the beefy tidal current either.
When out on the water the only sign that humans have ever existed is the lighthouse at Hartland, another on Lundy fifteen miles away, the bizarre Hartland Quay hotel and the odd vapour trail.
Just to make it even more fun, there is no phone signal and the nearest other floating craft who might hear a shout from your two-way radio are the occasional ship passing ten miles out which is just peeping the top of it’s funnel over the horizon. There are very few fishing boats here.
But this was the part of Devon with least wind forecast today, a light easterly. So I was hopeful. And when I came over the brow of the hill the sea was like a millpond, ridged with only a two to three foot swell. Excellent.
I trolleyed my kayak through the middle of Hartland Quay Hotel, which is an ironic start to such a remote-feeling paddle, and paddled straight offshore.
I kept up a fairly fast cruise speed because I was sure the windless conditions wouldn’t last, and even the slightest wind combined with the lively currents around here would rapidly cause quite choppy conditions.
I passed a couple of Porpoises two miles out with their fins glinting in the bright sunshine, but didn’t pause because I had my eye on a handful of circling Gannets a mile further out, which occasionally dived into the water.
By the time I appeared on location the Gannets had drifted off but my efforts were rewarded when a pod of about eight Common Dolphins (which the Gannets had been shadowing) came over to say hello.
This is the first time I have seen Common Dolphins on this bit of coast from my kayak.It’s usually been from the top of a headland through pair of binoculars as the dolphins enjoy the typically wild sea state which is more normal for round here.
I drifted south, watching the dolphins, with the increasingly strong ebb tide and got to about four miles offshore which I thought was far enough, especially as I could see swirls in the water from the current, and a line of dark approaching which was the start of the wind. I have enormous respect for this wild stretch of coast and felt a bit small, so paddled shoreward, fast.
On the way back in I passed several more porpoises, in fact could hear one puff nearly every time I halted. Also the flopping fin of a Sunfish which spooked and dived when I was still many metres away from it, with camera poised.
Other wildlife interest today was a couple of posses of Guillemots and Razorbills, a handful of passing Red Admiral butterflies and a dozen or so swallows, far out to sea. On migration south from Wales presumably.
As I neared the savage coast with multiple toothy reefs reaching far offshore I came across a tide race with whitecaps and standing waves which sloshed all over the deck. As I lurched over the waves I realised the body of water I was in was moving AGAINST the flow of the tide. It was part of a huge eddy current that was surging back towards Hartland Point as the main ebbing tide pours south around the corner and out to sea. Blooming heck, it’s all a bit hairy round here.
I can’t believe I once paddled out to Lundy from here (and back, after a chicken-flavoured pot noodle on the slipway).
Back on dry land I trolleyed my kayak back through the tables of tourists enjoying a lunchtime pint in the warm sunshine, several of which gave me a bemused look (not unusual).
My coastal trip south from Bude the next day was a bit more leisurely. It was great to meet local kayak fisherman Eric, who is one of very few kayakers who have seen a Leatherback Turtle. He encountered one just half a mile from the shore a few weeks ago. What a supreme sighting.
8 am departure from St. Ives harbour. Destination Sennen Cove, twenty miles down the coast. Becky and Cush were picking me up at the other end so I didn’t have to work out how to do the shuttle (which would have gone badly wrong). Thanks to them.
The most committing paddle in SW England, with nowhere to land for fifteen miles. But today it was about as calm as it could be with no wind and small swell, so it was completely and utterly relaxing. Loads of seals:
And some BIG scenery, including England’s only Cape. Cape Cornwall
I did actually find a tiny beach on which I supped coffee and crunched a custard cream (or two).
The old Tin Mining Engine Houses of Levant mines draw the eye.
As do the chimneys:
There were just a few pairs of Guillemots and Razorbills scattered about on the cliffs, and I passed a couple of Mediterranean Gulls (one of which was ringed) and saw three Choughs fly along the cliffs with their animated calls.
Under the surface this Compass Jellyfish was accompanied by a little fish that sought refuge amongst the jelly’s long stinging tentacles.
I wasn’t expecting to see dolphins because I was following the coast fairly closely, but as I rounded Cape Cornwall I couldn’t resist the temptation to paddle around the Brison’s rocks half-a-mile offshore, especially as the surface conditions were so benign. I could then stay well out to sea for the remaining three miles to Sennen Cove.
I could not believe my luck when, far ahead, I saw a couple of big fins slowly slicing across the surface. My first thought was basking shark, but as I drew closer they were clearly big dolphins…probably Bottlenose. I was absolutely thrilled to see one was almost completely white….Rissos Dolphins! A pod of about eight.
I cautiously approached and was rather surprised at the bulk of these dolphins, roughly four times the weight of the more familiar (to me) Common Dolphins and up to fourteen foot long. Some have very long thin dorsal fins.
I am usually thrilled to see a pair of Puffins alone. But to have two Puffins and two Risso’s dolphins in the same image is a first for me!
This was an exceptional encounter on an exceptionally calm day. There are not many times you can loaf about in such a relaxed manner a mile off Land’s End. Over the course of about an hour the Risso’s Dolphins ran through just about their entire repertoire: logging at the surface staring at me, spyhopping, clapping (lying on their backs just under the surface and clapping their pectoral fins together), breaching and lobtailing.
I felt very sheepish when my phone rang during the lobtailing. It’s as bad as it going off during the cinema. Apologies to the dolphin.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was for them to swim over and have a look at me. I know that Risso’s are quite shy and don’t usually approach boats, unlike most other dolphin species. However I was in for a bit of a surprise.
Wow, Right up there with my best ever cetacean-from-kayak encounters. If you factor in the beautiful sunshine, windless conditions, azure sea, crystal clear water and beautiful Cornish coast….it probably WAS the best ever.
Sitting amongst a flock of thousands of offshore seabirds as they sleep and preen and croon is a magical experience. I have mentioned before that creatures of the open sea, whether below or above the water, tend to show little fear so when you are in a kayak you literally can sit right in the middle of them and they just get on with what they are doing. Out in the open sea everyone and everything is equal and the animals seem to know that. Of course me in my little kayak is by far the most inept creature for miles around, but I do my best to act big.
I encountered this huge flock of Manx Shearwaters during a recent circuit of Mount’s Bay, setting out from Penzance. Where the tidal current starts to kick in between Mousehole and Lamorna the availability of fish or sandeels (or whatever is on the menu) increases and the sea creatures gather.
I had an early start and was well offshore by the time the Scillonian III passed en route to St.Mary’s, Isles of Scilly.
Just about the first seabird I encountered was this solo Puffin, with another five zipping past my ear later.
The bird numbers steadily increased with cackling parties of Guillemots and Razorbills full of the joys of Spring.
During a coffee break I saw what looked like a dark cloud in the distance further out, so I paddled over to investigate. The blurr eventually resolved into a milling mass of hundreds (probably thousands) of Manx Shearwaters. They would swirl about, large groups would shallow plunge into the water onto a shoal of sprats (or something similar) and then they would circle off and repeat the performance over a different patch of sea. And all around were further large groups just chilling out.
Manx Shearwaters aren’t particularly impressive to look at if you are a non-birder. Compared to a Puffin for example, although if you took away a Puffins brightly coloured beak it too would look rather more anonymous….like this juvenile I photographed a couple of years ago (near Eddystone).
However their characters become very much more colourful if you know a bit about their natural history. They spend the winter off the coast of Brazil and in early Spring make the 7,000 mile journey back to their nesting burrows in islands off the coast of the UK. Today’s birds probably nest on the welsh islands of Skomer and Skokholm which are home to almost 100,000 pairs, or maybe from the increasing (thanks to rat eradication) number on Lundy, where several thousand pairs now nest.
They only return to their burrows under cover of darkness because if they came back during the day they might end up as lunch for a Great Black-backed Gull. They are so slow and ungainly on land they are a sitting duck.
At dawn they set off on a multi-hundred mile circuit which takes them down the north coast of Cornwall and to feeding grounds like the one where I was currently sitting.
The daily flypast of hundreds of thousands of these fantastic seabirds along the coast of southwest England is one of the UK’s greatest wildlife spectacles, but hardly anyone ever sees it. Probably because it occurs early in the morning and is usually miles out to sea. And who now bothers to make the effort to stare out to sea in the hope of seeing something which could well be out of sight (or at best a mass of tiny dots through binoculars) , when there is something much more here and now on a screen in front of them?
If you want to get a proper insight into the character of this remarkable species, sitting amongst them and in a kayak, and just watching and listening, is the way to do it.
I dropped in to Mousehole harbour to eat my catastrophically dull sandwiches. It’s desperately difficult to be creative during confectionary construction at 5am and taste buds are doomed to be disappointed. The struggle through the doorsteps of bread was offset by vista…Mousehole has got to be the most perfect mini-harbour in Cornwall.
One more interesting item of trivia about Manx Shearwaters which could mean you avoid the wooden spoon at the next pub quiz ….their scientific name is Puffinuspuffinus!
The residual swell from the storms was subsiding….
and the wind disappeared completely, so I didn’t need any further encouragement to head far offshore. First I paddled round Veryan Bay to the west of (usually) gnarly Dodman Point. Even two miles offshore it was flat as a millpond and pleasantly warm…not bad for the end of March. This time last year it was snowing.
I am very wary about heading offshore at this time of year because water temperature is only about ten degrees C. Not good if you go for a swim. So I call in with the local NCI Coastwatch to tell them of my plans, but most importantly I only go out if the sea is absolutely smooth, and I feel completely safe and secure. Also I bristle with communication technology: two phones, radio, GPS, Personal Locator Beacon.
There was very little bird activity on this day so I was expecting to see nothing, but then a single Gannet far ahead circled once, and I directly beneath it I saw the sun glint off a distant fin.
As I quietly approached they came over to investigate.
It was a pod of about fifteen individuals containing a handful of calves. This seems to be the usual make-up of the groups I come across, with females and adolescents and youngsters together. I think the males go round in a sort of blokey gang by themselves (but I may be completely wrong here). I have occasionally seen groups of big beefy Common Dolphins with tall fins.
Whatever the technicalities, it was, as always, a thrilling sight made even better by the calm water and blue sea and sky.
They finished off with a final close pass before tearing off into the distance.
A couple of days later I paddled out from fantastic Fowey Harbour for another offshore exploration in equally perfect paddling conditions.
The open sea was completely quiet, just a handful of Guillemots dotted about and about as few Gannets as it is possible to see. It is very interesting that I would normally have expected to see quite a few porpoises out here (and out at Veryan the other day). The calm conditions were perfect for porpoise spotting because you can here them puff, and glimpse their small fins, from quite a distance away. In the late summer on a day like this it is actually unusual not to here the sound of a blow of a nearby porpoise every time you stop paddling and sit quietly.
So they have disappeared off somewhere else….maybe they don’t like all the barrel jellyfish that are still around.
I stopped for coffee exactly five miles out from Fowey and was about to head back. But there was a glint of sun at the surface further out. There were no waves to cause it, so it must have been the light glinting off a fin.
It turned out to be three juvenile Common Dolphins, being shadowed by a trio of adults a few hundred yards away.
There are really only a handful of days a year when the offshore sea is this smooth, and it’s really something you don’t expect in mad March. I even tried a little bit of underwater GoPro stuff, but don’t think it would quite make the cut for Blue Planet live.
The weather is now on the turn with wind picking up, so that’s it for watching dolphins offshore for a while, I suspect.
A couple of days of superb paddling in light winds…..yesterday was an exploration of the Dart estuary from Totnes to Dartmouth and back with Dave, and today was a solo offshore paddle from Fowey, with wildlife sightings (once again) way beyond my expectations for March.
The Dart paddle was a fairly hefty nineteen miles but cunning tidal planning worked in our favour and even allowed a very civilised tea break at Dittisham.
The sun did its best to put in an appearance as we neared Dartmouth, resulting in dangerously high humidity levels in our drysuits.
Of course we allowed time for a wee bit of trainspotting (it was just coincidence we arrived at Kingswear at exactly as the same time as the train…honest.)
Heading back up the river we had to frequently evade the tourist boats who tend to ignore inconsequential craft such as ours.
Wildlife highlight of the day was this exceptional sighting of three Harbour Seals hauled out on a pontoon. Harbour seals are rare in SW England with just one or two hanging about up some of the creeks, and I have only ever come across a handful, and never seen more than one at a time. The familiar seal in the area is the much bigger Atlantic Grey seal. Harbour seals live along the east coast of England and around Scotland, but maybe this little cluster means they are now spreading this way.
There was actually more than three because I saw what I thought were a couple of Harbour seals in the water, as well as a couple of Greys.
This morning I started idiotically early in the morning because the wind forecast was exceptionally light and I might just be able to do an offshore paddle out of Fowey, an unusual occurrence in March.
It was misty and murky with intermittent drizzle, but the marine wildlife was buzzing. Fulmars zipped past my earholes…
and Guillemots and Razorbills sat about and dived for sprats…
Below the surface lurked the spooky ghostly white shape of a Barrel Jellyfish.
Gannets filed past and I watched each one closely. I have mentioned before that in places like this if a Gannet circles around it is probable that there is a Porpoise swimming below. Today, it was certainly the case…..with Gannets thumping into the water beside the feeding Porpoises. Watch this slomo carefully..(Fowey behind)
One porpoise passed by very close. Unlike dolphins they are not inquisitive and pay no attention at all to boats and kayaks. They just get on with what they are doing and if that happens to mean they come close to where you are sitting, so be it.
As I watched the porpoise, the first flock of Manx Shearwaters that I have seen this year winged past a bit further out:
I stopped for a cup of coffee and essential nutrient supplementation in the shape of two chunks of Raisin and Biscuit Yorkie, and had a final scan (with eyeballs only) out to sea. The grey skies and smooth water were the perfect combination for seeing a black fin break the water. I was just on the point of turning back when I thought I might have glimpsed a couple of black specs, which then disappeared. I paddle towards the area for five minutes and saw nothing more. I was turning for home once again when the same thing happened so I once again paddled out to investigate.
Amazingly I came across a little pod of five or six Common Dolphins that were swimming along very quietly, more in the manner of Porpoises. However, being Common Dolphins one had to hurl itself out of the water and land with a bit of a splash, because that is what Common Dolphins do best.
They cruised past the front of my kayak without a second glance, maybe because there was one small calf in the pod, and they don’t seem to be so investigative when there is a very young dolphin to look after, or maybe protect.
After the group of half a dozen had past, another pair came past….both adults, and one with a very pronounced dark moustache stripe (or should it be called a beard?)
Today’s excellent variety of wildlife was nicely rounded off by this beautifully lilac Sea urchin at the mouth of Fowey estuary, exposed by the exceptionally low tide.
Two days of light winds were forecast so it was time to head offshore again. The first trip was to Penzance with Dave and I was under pressure to deliver some cetacean sightings. We had a good thirteen mile paddle out of Mount’s Bay and along the coast to Lamorna, and managed fifteen porpoises which put on a very good puffing show, but I was just a little disappointed (and surprised) that we didn’t see any dolphins because spotting conditions were ideal.
There was a nice scattering of seabirds however: Razorbills, Guillemots, Eddie the Eider, a passing Great Northern Diver (my first of the autumn), and lots of Kittiwakes.
The next day was a stunner with clear blue skies and virtually no wind. I was on the water at Fowey as the sun had just peeped over the horizon, and paddled directly out to sea once out of the estuary.
Almost immediately I saw a large milling mass of seabirds circling low over the surface about a mile out, with a dozen Gannets intermittently dropping in. A very active ‘work up’ and there was going to be some big fish-eaters beneath, for sure. As I steamed at full speed towards the action I could see dolphins jumping clear of the water, but as usual the frenzy had tempered a bit when I eventually rolled up. The gannets had moved on but there seemed to be plenty of fish left over for the dolphins, and gulls,to pick off at a leisurely pace.
I just sat still in my kayak taking in the scene. Dolphins passed within inches.
I was sure my attempt at underwater footage with the GoPro would be a success, but the clarity of the water wasn’t great so the result was a bit disappointing. However it’s interesting to hear the dolphin clicks and squeaks in this video clip:
Suddenly all twenty-five (ish) dolphins were off at top speed, lured away by a China Clay ship which had emerged from Fowey docks and was starting to crank up the speed. The dolphins sprinted towards it and I could just see them leaping out of its bow wave as it receded into the distance.
A good start to the morning….and it wasn’t even nine o’clock.
I was just settling into my usual breakfast of 50% muesli, 50% Jordans Country Crisp (with raspberries), when I caught sight on an even bigger ‘work up’ at the limits of vision with hundreds of circling white dots of Gannets which every so often plunged into the sea en masse. Wow, this was a biggy.
Putting my muesli/country crisp on hold I paddled hard towards the action, but knew it was going to take at least twenty minutes to get there as it was probably two miles away, and knew I was going to be on the point of meltdown because I was already hot in my waterproof coat in the windless and sunny conditions. However if this was going to be my first big Gannet feeding frenzy I had observed up close, being a liquefied sack of sweat was the price I was willing to pay.
From long distance I could once again see large creatures jumping clean out of the water. I got the impression that some of these looked a bit like giant Tuna as I fancied I saw some spiky fins, but it was just too far away to tell and they might have been dolphins.
From what I have observed, these feeding frenzies evolve very rapidly. A pod of dolphins herds fish into a baitball and pins it against the surface, reducing the fish’s options of escape. Passing Gannets don’t hesitate to seize the chance of a meal and dive in onto the larger baitfish (probably mackerel). The flash of white wings draws in other Gannets from afar, while below the surface the dolphins strike the baitball from below and frequently burst from the surface, as do the Tuna (if they were there!).
One reliable feature of these events is that the main action finishes just before I arrive on the scene. I think the Gannets (and maybe Tuna) move off when all the bigger fish have been eaten, leaving the dolphins and gulls to concentrate on the bits and pieces. Such was the case, again, as I rolled up with temperature gauge well into the red.
But today there was a bit of a treat in store because a rather larger predator had been attracted in to all the commotion. As I sat still watching all the splashing action as dolphins criss-crossed around and the juvenile gulls were squealing, there was a big prolonged breath and a much larger fin appeared at the surface….a Minke Whale. It disappeared in towards Fowey and then turned to come back. I was hopeful of a very close pass but it came to no nearer than about a hundred metres, and as usual very difficult to photograph because you really don’t know where it is going to appear next, and they cover large distance between breaths. They are in fact very like a giant porpoise in that they roll surprisingly quietly at the surface, and keep changing direction.
Anyway, I was quite pleased to get this clip of it as it surfaced, with Fowey five miles away in the background.
Ironically the closest it surfaced was when I was struggling to take off my jacket and drop my core temperature out of the critical range, and my face was covered in sweaty goretex.
For a final push I paddled just a little bit further out, and was joined by another (or maybe the same ones as earlier) pod of dolphins as I headed into the sun. When they disappeared it went quiet enough for me to finish my breakfast which was not surprisingly quite soggy.
The paddle back in was moderately uneventful (in comparison to the paddle out) although the sea had smoothed off even further which allowed me to hear, and then observe, ten porpoises which were dotted about in ones and twos as they usually are.
My final ‘encounter’ was at the mouth of the estuary where I had a chat with a kayak fisherman who was in an extremely well-equipped craft.