Canal Magic


I have always viewed canals as a last resort, to be used only when the sea is  blown out by storms, the rivers are flooded and the creeks are inaccessible due to due to low tide. But they are always a pleasant surprise because they are a little strip of watery wilderness which act as a wildlife magnet.

And at this time of year they are particularly scenic.

The only problem is there are not a lot of canals to choose from.

Bude Canal

Bude Canal is the only canal in Cornwall (I think). I have visited quite a lot recently because the Atlantic depressions have been assaulting southwest England fairly relentlessly for the last two months.

Bude Canal Rainbow
Bude Canal Pirate

One benefit of the lashing rain is that the Kingfishers are forced to hunt along the canals (and estuaries) because the rivers are too muddy for them to spot their meals.


Bude canal is home to two of the tamest Herons I have ever encountered. They are so accustomed to walkers, dogs and dog-walkers sauntering past along the canal towpath, they now don’t even bother to move.

Hunting Heron

It’s great to stare into the beady eye of a hunting predator. It’s gaze is so intense it almost burns a hole in the water. It is not long before that dagger of a beak emerges with a fish-shaped meal.

Heron strike

There have been some unusual visitors to Bude Canal recently. Both are feral and not genuinely wild UK species, but both are exceptionally colourful and exotic.

Mandarin Duck…..

Mandarin Duck
mandarin 3

The second is a pair of Black Swans. Endemic to Australia and the nearest feral pair is breeding at Dawlish in south Devon. You never know, they might settle and raise a brood on the Bude canal.

Black Swan
Bude Black Swans

This Little Grebe is a genuinely wild species and on the limits of its tolerance in terms of people and dogs passing a few yards away (it doesn’t seem to mind kayakers too much).

Little Grebe (aka Dabchick)

The Grand Western Canal near Tiverton is superb. Eleven miles long and not a single lock! Some of it is super-scenic.

During my visit I heard an unfamiliar call coming from a dense patch of reeds. I drifted closer in absolute silence and was thrilled to see this Water Rail hiding amongst the waterside foliage. Water Rails are extreme skulkers and rarely seen in the open, and this is one of only a very few I have seen from my kayak.

water rail 2
Water Rail

During my visit, on a cold day with east wind, the winter thrushes from Scandinavia and Russia were busy stripping berries from the canalside bushes:


Moorhens are common and very understated,


but Kingfishers are hard to beat. They brighten up the dingiest of days.


Canal Magic.20191112_124818




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.

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.

Little Grebe (Dabchick)

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

Fowey Estuary







































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……

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.


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

Oystercatchers taking a break from piping

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


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.


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.

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.

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:

Kingfisher blurr

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

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.

Little Egret