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.