Tag Archives: Harbour porpoise

Close encounter

Ever since I learnt to sail, at the age of 10, I’ve dreamt of having my own sailing boat. Part of the appeal of sailing was the thought of seeing exciting marine wildlife up close. Last year I finally took the plunge and bought a 14 ft sailing dinghy.

My parents let me keep the boat with them, down in deepest Cornwall, so I only get to sail it on visits to them. That means I’m still getting used to the boat, and, more tricky, the cove I launch her from. Last week was my first opportunity of the year to take the boat out.

The weather was perfect – sunshine, with the right amount of wind coming from the right direction. The wind swirls around a lot in the cove, but once you’re out from the cliffs things get a lot easier. It was early on a weekday morning, so not many other boats were out.

Within 15 minutes of setting sail, Dr C spotted something in the water some way off – the sedate roll of a porpoise’s fin breaking the surface before disappearing. We continued in that direction, hoping to get another glimpse. We were in luck, with the appearances of the fin getting closer and closer to the boat.

But there was something strange about it. On one sighting it looked small and dark, and the next time taller and light grey, then again small and dark. We worked out that it wasn’t one animal we were seeing, but at least two – some kind of dolphin (most likely common) as well as a harbour porpoise.

I’m not sure how long the encounter lasted – not long. But it was the closest I have come to a harbour porpoise, who are generally quite shy and tend to keep boats at a distance. I suspect that us sailing, rather than being propelled by a noisy engine, probably helped us to not alarm the porpoise too much.

I had decided to leave the camera ashore (one less thing to worry about, and I was sure we’d see something exciting if we didn’t have the camera with us). So I don’t have any photos of it. You’ll just have to picture the scene: a quiet, sunny morning in a marine conservation zone off the south Cornish coast; blue sea fading into blue sky; just one small sailing dinghy and the gentle glimpse of the backs of a couple of cetaceans. Living the dream.

Choughed to see porpoises

Having learnt that choughs have returned to Cornwall, I wanted to see them for myself. I’m not generally the sort of person who sets off on trips specifically to see a rare bird. But it’s nice to see the Cornish ‘national’ bird return after decades of absence, plus I’m a bit of a corvid fan. So, on a recent trip to the far south west, Dr C, my parents and I set out for a chough watching expedition.

I don’t normally take a telephoto lens with me when walking the coast path – I focus on the scenery. But since this walk was specifically to see choughs, I dragged my mammoth new lens along, and Dr C kindly lugged the tripod.

We set off from Cadgwith (on the east of the Lizard), and walked along the coast to Lizard Point. (We later learnt – from the pasty shop –  that this was a mistake: the choughs spend the morning on the west of the Lizard, moving towards the Point a lunchtime, at which point we had headed onto the west of the Lizard…) We saw plenty of corvids: crows, magpies, rooks, jackdaws. But no choughs.

I’d have been quite disappointed about that, but luckily I was distracted by the sight of porpoises a few hundred metres from the cliff we were walking along. At least I think they were porpoises – they were small and had the gentle roll and triangular fin of harbour porpoises – they’re much shyer and quieter than the dolphins I’ve seen. This was the best view I’ve had of them – they hung around for quite a while, and there were several of them.

I was pleased with the performance of my new lens. I was too excited to set up the tripod, so this was taken at 500mm, handheld, in January light. The vibration reduction obviously works!

A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall
A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall

It’s always a wonderful treat to see our marine mammals. I’ll just have to try to see choughs another time…

January photography challenge

It’s not really news that January is probably the worst time of year to start a new resolution. In fact, I could shorten that sentence to “January is probably the worst time of year.” So it’s not a huge surprise that I didn’t do as much photography as I’d hoped in response to my first photo challenge: wildlife in winter.

On the plus side, I did treat myself to a new long lens with image stabilisation. On the down side, I managed to miss all the snow, so didn’t get to catch the frozen scenes I was hoping for.

I tried out the long lens with a tripod for some garden bird shots, and was reasonably pleased with the results.

This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit

I was even more impressed by the results handheld when I spotted porpoises(?) several hundred metres from the coast path – the image stabilisation makes a real difference. (I’m not 100% sure it’s a harbour porpoise – feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong!)

A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall
A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall

The final shot came as a bit of a surprise when I downloaded the photos, as I’d forgotten taking it. Little Egrets are such elegant birds, and it looks like this one has hit the jackpot.

Little egret with big fish
Little egret with big fish