Planet Earth 2, in concert at the Royal Albert Hall

Everyone loves Planet Earth 2 right? No one can forget the incredible images of the baby iguanas in the Galapagos emerging from their burrows and being locked in a deadly chase with racing snakes across the sand to the safety of the rocks. How could this show be enhanced?

Well, one way is to go and see a screening of the best bits of the series, with live music from the show being performed by the BBC concert orchestra, who performed the score for the TV series.

Can it get better than that?

Well yes. Add in introductions to each sequence from Mike Gunton,  executive producer and creative director of the BBC’s multi-award-winning Natural History Unit; then have Hans Zimmer Oscar award-winning film composer and creator of Planet Earth 2’s main theme come on stage and introduce Jacob Shea (composer of the original music for each episode) who then conducted the “opening number”.

All of this in the regal surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Amazing.

 

https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2018/planet-earth-ii-live-in-concert/

 

Gibraltar (unplanned day 2) – Whales 0 – Striped Dolphins 10

So, first apologies for the delay in posting, its been pretty busy and I haven’t been keeping up!

So, in the last post, we weren’t sure whether we were going on any whale-watching trips today, as the wind was too high (15-17 mph). We rang round all the companies in Tarifa and, sadly, all trips had been cancelled. We hastily put plan B into action, calling up a couple of companies in Gibraltar to see if they had dolphin watching trips on which, as they mostly stayed in the bay, would be sheltered from the wind. Luckily, trips were running and they had space for 2 more people!

We managed to book on two trips, one trip in the morning,  followed by another at lunch time.  The first, at 10.00 was with Dolphin Adventure, who run two boats in the Ocean Village marina. There office is right there too. The trip ran for about an hour and a quarter and after heading out through the marina, ran through the bay and just out into the straight of Gibraltar.  We did manage to see a few striped dolphins on the trip, which was a relief as we weren’t sure if we were going to see anything at all that day. The company seems to cater mainly for the tourists coming off the cruise ships that stopped at the Rock and as such, they were pretty efficient at getting everyone on and off, but it also meant it did feel kind of commercial and you share the boat with about 30 other people.

The second trip we booked was with Dolphin Safari, who are also based in Ocean Village and have an office there too. The boat did leave about half an hour late, but this can sometimes be the case depending on what the boat did/didn’t see on the previous trip. The boat is smaller and we only have 9 people aboard, which makes for more intimate viewing. The staff in the office were really friendly and also helpful on the phone when we were desperately trying to find something to do that day.

We headed out and across the bay (different route to Dolphin Adventure) towards Algeciras on the Spanish side of the bay. After about 40 minutes of cruising without any sightings, we turned out towards the Straight of Gibraltar and rougher waters. Just as we thought it was probably time to turn back, we started to see striped dolphins. Soon we saw probably 20 or so in different groups, many of them leaping out of the water and getting the “classic” dolphin encounter of them jumping in the bow wave as we motored along. This was really good viewing and although it didn’t quite make up for the cancelled whale trips, it did mean we saw something great that day.

We picked up our hire car and made the 1 hour journey to Tarifa and just as we were about to descend the hill down into town, we spotted some Griffon Vultures riding the thermals and pulled over to observe them for a few minutes.

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Griffon Vulture, Tarifa Spain

Wildlife watching is a game of patience, you can spend hours and see nothing at all and, often you may have to wait until the last minute until you finally see something that will make it all worthwhile. It’s important to just the experience being out in the open enjoying nature and if you’re luck, you might be rewarded.

Gibraltar – the Rock and monkeys

A 3.30 am start is early by anyone’s standards, but I think the opportunity of seeing Europe’s only wild monkeys makes it worth the effort.

We flew out of Gatwick, jetting off to Gibraltar International, with a runway that bisects the main road in and out of Spain.

IMG_20180505_222648Gibraltar is tiny and the rock dominates the peninsula. After checking in at the stuck-in-time Bristol Hotel, we headed straight to the cable car for the trip up to the top of the rock. By the way, it’s well worth booking your tickets online to beat the queue for tickets.

We had a quick lunch at the Mons Calpe Suite at the top of the rock. It has amazing views, but the service was slow and they seemed to run out of a lot of stuff even though it was only 1pm.

After lunch we started our walk around the top and immediately came across some monkeys or barbary macaques as they are properly known. They have no fear of people, will gladly get close to you and even steal the food out of your hands if you’re not careful (especially ice cream if today is anything to go by).

As we came to the Skywalk, a steel and glass walkway that overhangs the rock, we saw group tours blocking the roadways and the guides were encouraging monkeys to climb on their backs and arms so their groups could get good photos. We didn’t really like this and also the fact that many tourists didn’t really respect the monkeys (let alone other people looking at the apes). As you walk around the rock (and there is a lot of walking, with a lot of up and down) you will come across the macaques and have opportunities for photos. They are fascinating creatures and really do seem very human-like at times.

There are many places to visit on the rock which are included in the price of your cable car ticket, including St. Michael’s Cave (impressive, but doesn’t need the flashing lights and dance music), Apes Den (disappointing), the suspension bridge (good views and great photo op), the Siege Tunnels (educational and interesting, Heather thought so too) and the Moorish Castle (also interesting with nice views). The WW2 tunnels could also be good, but are an added extra and had closed (@17.00) by the time we got there.

In the evening we headed ou

t to the Queensway Quay which has a number of restaurants alongside the marina. We settled on The Landings and had a nice sunset meal looking out over the boats. They have a fish and chips ‘deluxe’ where the cod is replaced by battered scallops and linguistine in full pastry.

Unfortunately, on this night we learned that our whale watching trips booked for the following day in Tarifa had been cancelled due to strong winds. What are we going to do, this was whole reason for this trip?

Burnham-on-Crouch – Common seals and seabirds

So, last weekend it was the West coast of England last and today was on the East coast in Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. As the name implies, Burnham sits on the River Crouch, just before it flows out in to the English Channel.

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View of the River Crouch from Burnham

 

If you’re in London and fancy seeing some wildlife, its just an hour and a half’s drive away or 1 to 2 hours on the train (depending on the service).

We took a boat operated by Discovery Charters from Burnham Town Quay on a two-hour trip along the river looking for common seals, but also keeping an eye out for seabirds and waders (more on that later).

Once we were past the moorings for all the number of yacht clubs that operate along the river, we made our way onto the River Roach that joins the Crouch with Foulness island on one side and Wallasea island on the other.

Soon we came across our first seals. I would say they were basking in the sun, but it was fairly overcast, albeit with no wind, no rain and mirror-calm waters.  As we motored along we saw seals on either side of the river  in groups of 8 to 12 and saw over 50 in total.  The boat slowed past each group, then turned round and went past again so that the passengers on each side of the boat got a good view. The seals were quite curious and although some of the seals may have slipped down the muddy banks into the water as we approached, like boats being launched down a slipway, they often swam towards us to have a closer look at us.

 

Wallasea Island is a RSPB project consisting of saltmarsh, mudflats and lagoons that has been created by re-engineering the existing seawall and utilising more than 3 million tons of excavated soil from the huge Crossrail rail tunnels that have been bored under London. This newly created habitat is home to a huge array of birds (differing depending o the season) and today we say a huge amount of arctic terns, some cormorants, oystercatchers, spotted redshanks (I think) and a single avocet (although I believe it is common to see many more).

 

We were dropped back at the quay and had some traditional chips and a pickled onion from the chippy before we jumped in the car for the drive home.

This was our third time making the trip to Burnham and we’ve always seen seals and in the summer months we’ve seen seal pups. We’ve also previously seen marsh harriers and curlews, so although sightings are never guaranteed, in our experience this is a very good spot for seeing something!

 

 

 

Cornwall day two – dolphin watching in Padstow!

So, back on a boat today.

After another great cooked (veggie) breakfast at the Little Mainstone guest house, we jumped in the car for the hour long drive to Padstow, made famous by Rick Stein and his restaurants, but is a very beautiful little fishing in its own right.

We were booked in the 2 hour discovery trip with Padstow Sea Safaris. We got kitted up in our warm layers, waterproofs and lifejackets before heading out to the harbour, down some steps and into the boat. It was a RIB, so guarenteed to be fast, windy, a bit bumpy and a bit wet.

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Keep warm! Lots of warm layers and waterproofs needed on a RIB in spring.

We headed out of the estuary and along the coast to a cove with a rocky feature called “The Dragon” due to its likeness to a sleeping Smaug. Unfortunately there were no seals here, just a lonely Shag, so we headed back out to “Seven Souls” another sheltered cove where we came across a single grey seal, its head bobbing in the green waters.

Next stop was a small island, home to nesting seabirds. We had a wonderful sight of a seal on the rocks as dozens (if not hundreds) of Guillemots and Razorbills launched themselves from the cliff abive it’s head and straight towards us.

After a few minutes watching this spectacle, we headed towards Port Isaac, home to the Doc Martin TV series. As we motored on we saw a common dolphin, then another and soon we were joined by a small pod of 4 or 5, playing chase with us and surfing through our bow wave. This is the kind of dolphin experience you imagine and we felt lucky to see it. This went on for about 15 minutes before 1 got excited and started jumping, seemingly just to entertain us.

Time was running out, so we took some photos at Port Isaac before heading back towards Padstow. We kept close to shore, stopping at caves along the way, hoping to see some more seals who like to sleep on some “shelves” inside the caves. We saw one more grey seal “bottling” in the water before we returned to Padstow. We were dropped off on the beach (due to the tide) and walked back 10 minutes to town.

We had lunch in Cherry Trees Coffee House, which serves the most amazing cakes along with pasties and other lunch fayre. We can heartily recommend the Easter Caramel Brownie Tart!

Cornwall day one – seals and seabirds trip in Penzance

  • We arrived in Looe, Cornwall last night, staying in a lovely little B&B called The Little Mainstone Guest House. It’s on the West bank of the river overlooking the harbour and West Looe (where most of the cafes, restaurants and shops are located. It takes just a couple of minutes walk to get there over the bridge. We started the day with a full cooked breakfast (veggie option), the owners got up and made it early for us as we had an early start.
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Looe, Cornwall, at dusk

Today, we drove across to Penzance (about 1hr 20mins) for our first seal trip of the year. We went with Marine Discovery, who operate from on office on the Albert Pier and sail on a catamaran, which was very welcome today, as it was pretty windy and choppy. The catamaran is a lot more stable in this weather than a single-hulled boat.

We set out using the engines and the first stop was St Clements Island off the coast of Mousehole, where there were a number of grey seals who had hauled themselves out onto the rocks. The whole area is great for seabirds, we saw a number of Cormorants, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets.

The Gannets are the UK’s biggest seabird and they’re huge. They are also good indicators of where you may see porpoises, just look for them diving, which highlights where fish may be found nearby and the porpoises might not be far away.

We then set sail, and headed out to the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, which is a beautiful open-air theatre that looks out to see. Using the sail just adds a little something to a boat trip as you don’t get any engine noise masking the sound of the sea or the birds. We turned turned round at Porthcurno and headed back to Penzance, but closer to shore looking for harbour porpoises. We luckily saw 4 or 5, but they were being quite shy and we only got fleeting glances and no good shots.

It was windy and very cold on the boat and in spite of Heather’s layers (1 thermal top, a wooly jumper, a hoodie, a padded jacket and 2 waterproof javkets), not to mention 7 items of headgear (1 cap, 2 woolly hats, hoodie and 3 coat hoods), we were frozen when we got off the boat and in a state of near hypothermia. If you’re going out on a boat trip at this time of year, wrap up!

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Being prepared! Wet weather gear is essential for spring boat trips in the UK.

Welcome to our new site!

This is See Wildife, our new website and blog that helps you to find the best places to go and see wildlife.  Through our blog we’ll keep you up to date with our travels, where we’re going, where we’ve been and what amazing creatures we have seen on the way.

We’ve also written some great (in our opinion) destination guides on each of the places we’ve visited to help you choose and plan your own wildlife watching trips. These guides provide details on what animals you can see, how to get there, where to stay, where to eat and also any other cool things that can be done in each place. We’ve been lucky to have visit quite a few wonderful places so it’s taking a bit of time to put them all together, so more and more will be added over the next few weeks. Destinations without links are in the pipeline, so please bare with us on those.

If you have a favourite creature, be it whales, bears, seals or whatever, we’ve also written some guides in our I want to see section on each of our favourite animals which include where some of the best places to view them are.

Finally, we’ve got our Kit and Tips section where we pass on tips on what kit we use on our trips and any other handy info that we can give you to help you make the most of your wildlife experience.