River Wye: Watery Wildlife Wonderland

Extreme paddlers (yours truly and Roge)

I was expecting the Upper Wye to be like a motorway of canoes and kayaks and to be a bit light on wildlife. But I was 100% wrong on both counts.

Roge and I set off from Glasbury for the ultra relaxed 10.8 mile paddle down to the Boat Inn at Whitney. Less than four hours paddling with a decent flow to help in many stretches. The river level was very low and the skeg of the Gumotex Seawave scrunched gravel on many occasions. We passed only a handful of other craft. Maybe the dodgy weather kept other water enthusiasts away.

River Wye near Glasbury

It was a permanent cacophony of bird song and calls, and there wasn’t very many moments when Roger and I were not focusing on something of natural history interest. It started with the sand martin colony in the sandy bank soon after we set off from Glasbury. The whole placed buzzed with the reeling chatter of the little birds.

Sand Martin nesting holes
Sand Martins chatting




A few paddle strokes after we left the martins we saw a couple of small plovers on the shingle shore….Little Ringed Plovers.

Little Ringed Plover

Like the Sand Martins the Plovers love to nest in sandy and gravelly areas (although in the open, not in a hole), so both are vulnerable to flooding. Big rainfall during June can swamp the lot.

Next on the excitement list was a yellow-coloured wagtail which at first I thought was a Grey, but its call made me do a double-take when I realised it was a much rarer Yellow Wagtail (Grey Wagtails are largely yellow too, confusingly). First was this male:

Grey Wagtail (male)

next was a female calling:

Yellow Wagtail giving it welly




Then it was the start of the duckling/gosling/cygnet fest. First up were the Goosanders. The first brood we saw consisted of a mere eight ducklings.

Goosander plus 8 ducklings
Goosander plus octet

The next brood consisted of nine ducklings, which were a bit younger, and one nearly missed the bus when it was time to leave.







The parent-of-the-day prize winner by a country mile was this Goosander duck who had, so far, successfully raised a staggering SEVENTEEN offspring. Just sitting on seventeen eggs for five weeks more or less non stop is a remarkable achievement in itself.




Not to be outdone was this little family of eight Mallard ducklings, just a few days old, who were keen to demonstrate their steeplechase credentials. Going round the end of the stick would surely have been a lot easier.




To cap off our day of baby waterbirds, we stopped to watch a brood of eight Mute Swan cygnets.P1310082








Being small is all pretty exhausting, so it was time to chill out.




The weather wasn’t great, in fact it was dismal for the end of May.

River Wye near Hay

The downy youngsters needed a bit of protection from the rain and cold:

Ducklings tucked in under

But the Mandarin ducks did their best to brighten things up:


The bushes and trees along the banks were bursting with the songs of many warblers (including the very loud Cetti’s Warbler), and there was also the constant chatter of fledgling Blue and Great Tits. Their breeding is always finely tuned to have the youngsters emerging from the nest-holes at the end of May all at the same time, presumably to take advantage of the feast of caterpillars available, especially the little green ones which they appear to favour. Some families hadn’t quite made it into the outside world however:




One or two Dippers bobbed about:




And a couple of Kingfishers were, as usual, very difficult to capture on film.


Representing the slithery stuff on this A* day of wildlife, was this weird looking Sea Lamprey which was (I was relieved to see because it was so creepy) dead on the shore. Its back end had been eaten away, probably the work of an otter. Even so, I was amazed at how big the fish was, probably a metre long when entire. It looked like a loose stitch together of a Dyson hoover, a Boeing 737 and a ghastly creature from the depths. That sucker on the bottom of its front end attaches it to sea fish as it casually eats the flesh of its live host.

Sea Lamprey

I was hopeful to see an otter on the second day on the river when I set off early and was paddling solo…..and I did! A smallish individual porpoised only about twenty metres in front of me, but unfortunately the wind was from directly behind so when it came up a second time, as I was sneaking off towards the bank so as not to alarm it, it scented me and floated log-like at the surface for a second or two before submerging….and I knew I wouldn’t see it again (so no pics).

Other mammals today were this chap:


and a slinking Grey Squirrel:

Grey Squirrel

There was so much to see at water level we/I didn’t have much time to look up. However it was difficult not to admire the screaming Swifts carving about that occasionally dropped to water level to feast on the profusion of insects. To add to the ornithological haul Buzzards circled, a Red Kite floated, a Peregrine cruised and a Hobby slashed past.


Smiles all round.


Upper River Wye