Spot the Snipe

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Snipe

Although I absolutely love to see the high octane, glamorous stuff such as dolphins and seals, the stealth and silence of a kayak and the ability to slink about where other craft fear to creep, can provide some memorable sightings of the less showy wildlife.  Creatures that the vast majority of people overlook.

Snipe are the perfect example of this. They are not common down by the sea, but frosty weather means that they cannot probe the frozen ground around freshwater margins with their long beaks so they are forced to find softer conditions for feeding along the saltwater estuaries.

Also their modus operandi when approached by a threat (e.g. a human in a kayak) is to hunker down and rely on their camouflage to avoid detection. They are so convinced this will work they will only take to the wing when you are a few feet away. This is the usual snipe encounter….a bird which you never saw on the ground zigzagging off into the sky.

This particular day started  grey and cold and I wondered why I bothered turfing out.P1230405

I had seen a kingfisher zip past and enjoyed a view of a few Greenshank and Curlew and the odd Little Grebe close to the shore.

In a patch of seaweed on the bank the slightest movement caught my eye, and I drifted a bit closer without moving a muscle.

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Super-camouflaged Snipe

It’s easy to see why they are confident about their cryptic colouration, it’s almost impossible to see.

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That’s a bit better

 

As I watched it decided to have a bit of a smarten up…. I would imagine it can’t have been that easy  with a preening tool that long.

I circled round for another couple of passes as this is the first Snipe I had seen from my kayak, on the ground, for several years. P1230426

When I got a bit too close it flattened itself down, but still didn’t take the option of using its wings.P1240212

How many Snipe have I passed without noticing them? Watching this video, you might think that number was quite large, because it is almost impossible to see.

Suddenly the weather perked up and a bit of wintry colour appeared. Such as the legs and beaks of these Redshank. Nice to hear the Robin singing in the background.

Everything looks a lot warmer in the late January sun, even if technically it isn’t.

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Lerryn

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The appearance of the sun even prompted the local Herons to renovate their nest which took a bit of a battering in the winter storms. The first bit of nest-building I have seen this year. Spring can’t be far off.

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Heron with nest material

Anyone for a  bit of trainspotting?

I certainly got close enough for a look at the number:20170413_125820

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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