Dolphin Rescue at Percuil

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Percuil Perfection

My day of kayaking started off like any other….absolutely fantastic. Cunning scrutiny of the weather forecast led me to the picture-perfect Percuil creek near St.Mawes, where, as I had planned, the wind fell light and the sun came out just as I arrived at 8am.(more like sheer luck, in reality)

 

 

 

 

 

Slicing across a sheet of glass-smooth water in absolute silence in this sort of place is kayaking at its best. Nothing to hear but the piping of Oystercatchers, Green- and Redshanks, the kraark of Herons, the whistle of a speeding Kingfisher and cackling chatter of Shelduck. Even the seven-note call of an unseasonal Whimbrel.

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Greenshank

This Greenshank seemed to be as thrilled as I was with a bit of December sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling back down the creek towards St.Mawes was directly into the sun but very scenic in a monochrome sort of a way.

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Percuil River

Just before I came round the final bend in the river I heard a snort and saw a disturbance on the smooth surface. I assumed it was a seal but to my incredulity a couple of dolphins surfaced. In over 21,000 miles of paddling I have never seen dolphins this far up a creek.

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Common Dolphin

I sat tight in an effort not to disturb them, and watched.

 

 

 

 

 

I was even more surprised to see the yellow patch on the side which showed that these were Common Dolphins, and not Bottlenose as I had initially thought. Bottlenose Dolphins are at home in shallow water as they sometimes like to eat shellfish and crabs, whereas Common Dolphins are creatures of the open sea, and probably not wired-up for navigation along a narrow creek which was rapidly getting narrower as the tide went out.

However they seemed to be quite happy and swimming strongly, although when |I left them they were heading upstream which was not a good plan.

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Dolphin, St.Mawes

To make my trip complete I intended to paddle out around Black Rock in the middle of Carrick Roads where it opens up into the sea, and although there was quite a swell running, and the tide was going out, the wind remained light and the sun was still out so the sea looked pretty benign.

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Out past St.Mawes
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December sun over Falmouth Bay

Of course I was hoping to see some ‘open sea’ wildlife, and was rewarded with a couple of Loons out near Black Rock.

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Carrick Road Loons

I looped around Black Rock and let the current suck me out towards the lighthouse at St.Anthony Head before heading back up the shoreline.

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Black Rock
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St. Anthony Head

All the time I was looking out for the pair of dolphins, hoping that they were making their way back out to open waters. I stopped for lunch overlooking Falmouth as a Merlin helicopter was being very noisy:

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Merlin over Falmouth

I wound my way back up the Percuil river between all the mooring buoys, and as I passed the entrance to Porth creek saw the fins of the dolphins zigzagging about like a couple of sharks. Not a good idea to be in such a shallow creek as low water was approaching. This is the domain of egrets, not dolphins.

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Little Egret

 

 

 

 

I watched them from a safe distance for a good half-an-hour, and then things started to go wrong.

They moved close to the northern bank of the creek and the smaller dolphin halted, apparently  grounded on a mud bank, but still submerged apart from fin and blowhole. The larger dolphin swam a hundred yards further up the creek and deliberately started to beach itself on the mud.

I paddled towards the scene as I saw members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue  (BDMLR) (who had obviously been tipped off by an astute observer and had been watching from the shore), moving down to the water’s edge to help.

One heroic medic waded into the muddy water to try to divert the dolphin back into the channel:

 

 

 

 

This was temporarily successful but the dolphin swam round in a big loop and started to run aground again. I offered my assistance and attempted to steer the dolphin away from the shallow water.

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately my efforts too were only briefly successful and the dolphin ran itself aground.

This initiated a full rescue operation by the four BDMLR volunteers present, and for the next three plus hours they worked tirelessly to maintain the dolphins during the critical time they were out of the water.

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BDMLR volunteers caring for a stranded Common Dolphin

Under the instruction of BDMLR vet Natalie, the dolphins were covered in sheets and/or seaweed and had seawater poured over them constantly to stop their skin from drying out. Natalie assessed their health and decided to move the dolphins together. Definitely a good idea but moving 100kg of struggling dolphin about on a plastic sheet over slippery seaweed is not a straightforward procedure. Fortunately another two BDMLR members arrived to ease the lumbago.

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BDMLR vet assesses the smaller dolphin

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The dolphins are reunited, and recorded

The initial plan was to put the dolphins onto a boat and take them a couple of miles out into the deeper water of Carrick Roads although failing light would have made this very challenging, so it was relief all round when the incoming tide came to the rescue and refloated the dolphins.

Unfortunately I had departed at this stage because it was nearly dark, but I hear that both dolphins were seen swimming strongly out into deeper water and hopefully made it safely back into their more familiar oceanic environment.

Their is a lot of mystery surrounding cetacean strandings but it seems likely that these pair had made a navigational error. Common Dolphins spend most of their time well offshore and range widely , and these may have ventured into the (exceptionally) deep water of the outer part of Carrick Roads, and accidentally headed into the mouth of the Percuil River when they meant to head east in the open sea. Maybe they were lured in by the easy feast of lots of Grey Mullet which I saw as I was paddling and which they seemed to be chasing.

And once into the very shallow water of Porth Creek it would be very easy to become disorientated and confused, especially with a dropping tide……but who knows???

Whatever, today was a triumph for the BDMLR volunteers. They responded quickly enough to be on hand when the dolphins beached and had all the expertise, experience and equipment (and muscle power) to deal with the situation and care for the dolphins and get them back into deep water. Good job!20170225_181432_Moment_Moment

 

 

Kingfisher Sparkling in the Autumn Sun

I’m starting to head back up the creeks now the open sea is becoming more disturbed with autumn storms not far away.

I had actually planned an offshore trip out of Fowey but when I nosed my kayak out of the mouth of the estuary I didn’t like the look of the surface which was more chopped up than I thought it would be by combination of moderate swell and light wind. I knew I could be paddling up the estuary on glass-calm waters and have guaranteed enjoyment, so turned round and did precisely that.

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Penquite quay, Fowey

As usual I was soon completely absorbed in the sensurround sound of calling flocks of small birds in the waterside trees, and waterbirds scattered about on the banks and in the water. Sensurround sight as well, of course.

Quite a few Little Grebes had arrived for the winter.

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Little Grebe (Dabchick)

The upper estuary echoed to the piping of Redshank and a handful of Greenshank.

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Redshank
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Greenshank

I was paddling upstream against an ebbing tide so tucked in close to the bank to keep out of the current as much as possible. I disturbed a Kingfisher which had been sitting on an overhanging branch, but it resumed its hunting on another branch a hundred yards ahead. As I drifted closer I was hopeful that this was going to provide me with my first decent kingfisher pic, but my efforts were messed up by a badly positioned branch;

 

Its next hunting spot was a post out in the estuary. I knew it would not allow me to get too close before it flew off ( and I didn’t want to keep disturbing it) but the bright autumn sunshine made for a very pleasing scene anyway.

 

A little further on I spotted another Kingfisher sat amongst a cluster of autumnal oak leaves. Nearly always the first you know of  a kingfisher’s presence is the turquoise flash as it speeds off, or its  monotone whistle which is far-carrying. So I was pretty pleased to see this one in hunting mode before I spooked it and my camera has never been so quickly, or quietly, removed from its dry bag.

 

On the way back down the estuary there were plenty of other feathered fish-hunters loitering with intent on the mooring buoys.

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Shag
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Fowey Estuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Stoatally Amazing!

The Fowey Estuary is good. It has clear water (unlike the Torridge and Tamar estuaries) and is packed full of scenic interest, and usually good wildlife.

On a cool, grey day in October it offers a very pleasant half-day paddle from Fowey to Lostwithiel and back. Flat water, well-sheltered from the wind and a bit of assistance from the current if you have bothered to look at the tide tables. About twelve miles in all.

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Penquite Quay, Fowey

If you like wading birds, it’s particularly good for ‘shanks’. The loud, piping calls of both Red and Greenshanks resound around the wooded valleys. Superb sensurround sound, better than any IMAX cinema.

Listen to the evocative ‘teu,teu,teu’ of these Greenshank. Rubbish video, I know, but it’s worth it for the calls.

 

 

Just a month or so ago these birds were probably nesting in some bogland far away from civilisation in the far north of Scotland.

At high tide the waders loaf about on dead branches waiting for a bit of mud containing their lunch to be exposed.

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Resting Redshank

Today there was enough water in the river Fowey to enable me to paddle right through Lostwithiel and beyond , battling through a couple of sets of small rapids.

I then drifted back down, cup of coffee in hand, as Dippers and Kingfishers zipped past.

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Upper Fowey River
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Autumnal tints in Lostwithiel

On the way back downstream I was surprised to see a couple of Mandarin ducks, the first I have observed here.

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Mandarin duck

Then I saw a little posse of Mallard ducks close to the shore, acting very strangely. They kept swimming towards the bank and then suddenly turned away. My eyes came out on stalks when I saw a Stoat jumping about on the mud just beyond them. It was leaping about all over the place and lashing its tail around like a lure, and clearly trying to mesmerise the ducks in the same way it would for a rabbit, so it could nip into the shallows and grab one.

Its dance certainly seemed to be working because the ducks were enticed to within a couple of feet of the crafty carnivore. It is so wrapped up in the performance that at the end it even grabs a leaf in its mouth and rushes off with it. You can see that (just) in this video:

Now give yourself a bit of a slap to ensure you have not slipped into the Stoat’s hypnotic trance. Then look at this bit again in slomo. It’s a window into something that goes on all the time but that we hardly ever see (pity I didn’t have time to set the camera up to allow for the dark conditions. Good lesson….always be prepared).

 

 

Clever little devil!

It then took the branches of a tree. Another first for me, I didn’t know Stoat’s climbed trees.

 

 

For its finale it apparently just went berserk along the bank. I’m not entirely sure for whose benefit this was because there weren’t any ducks around that area. Maybe it was trying to catch something by surprise or perhaps it had just eaten an orange Smartie.

 

 

Action over…..a serene paddle/drift back to Fowey with wind and tide in my favour.

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St. Winnow, Fowey Estuary