In spring the seas begin warming up. Similar to the land and its flowers, we see a bloom in plankton which draws in many animals, most famously the huge basking sharks. Growing up to 12 metres (39 feet) these sea monsters are a great attraction, but gentle giants. They cruise through the water with their enormous mouths wide open to eat vast quantities of plankton.
Sandeels are another fish drawn to the plankton bloom and are food for a number of animals. It’s these that feed our local auk colony, which holds 500+ guillemots and razorbills all along the cliffs. As with all seabird colonies, ours is a hive of activity with predation, courtship, fighting and even copulating all on display. The sandeels are food for larger fish, so great news for our resident seals and dolphin species! We still see huge numbers of common dolphin at this time of year and our bottlenose dolphin pod were very regular visitors to Falmouth! There is also the chance of Risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise and minke whales.
Spring is a time when many birds are on the move. We see a number of migrating species, whether it be flying off the sea or the large numbers of migrating waders that pass through the British Isles. Some surprises from 2013 included a male marsh harrier, a honey buzzard and summer plumage great northern diver. Ospreys also frequent the Fal estuary to feed up as they travel from west Africa to further north in Britain.
Our coastline also has a good number of peregrine falcons which are breeding at this time of year. This means hunting for several mouths so lots of activity! They are also very territorial at this time of year and can often been seen sitting on rocky vantage points, overlooking their patch of land.
As we work our way along the cliffs, flowers begin emerging and the coastline is filled with carpets of pink, yellow and blue amongst the fresh green leaves. This amongst the harsh rock formations and azure sea makes for top class scenery and landscapes.
Summer is a good time of year to see basking sharks, and they can pop up anywhere on the trip, even before we have left the Carrick Roads! These are the second largest fish in the world and are often given away by their huge sail like dorsal fin, which is much less rigid than the cetaceans’. These creatures are very relaxed around the boat and come very close as they feed on the plankton soup in the water. Their impressive size (up to 12metres/39feet!) coupled with their chilled out personalities means that everyone on the boat has a great chance to get good views and photographs.
The sunlight and plankton draw in a number of mesmerising jellyfish species, some are very large! But these in turn are food for ocean sunfish and leatherback turtles. We regularly see ocean sunfish on our tours, these are the largest bony fish in the world, but are very odd in appearance, resembling a huge plate with fins stuck on! Leatherback turtles are a more unusual species to find on the tour, but many visit Cornwall each year in the holiday months!
Our resident dolphins and harbour porpoises are still in the area, with our grey seals which can turn up anywhere in our area. At this time of year we regularly see common dolphin pods and the bottlenose dolphins. Later in the summer minke whales can also show up, which are very exciting to see! These are all feeding on the huge numbers of fish that come to Cornwall, attracted by the plankton.
We also find the breeding pelagic seabirds out on the water hunting. European storm petrels are often seen whilst we are out at sea. These tiny birds are like house martins of the ocean, with their black bodies and white rumps. When we go out with our scent based chum they dart around the boat and can be seen walking on the water as they eat small ocean creatures and plankton. Manx shearwaters arrive in huge numbers, especially once the nearby breeding colonies have fledged and fly very close to the surface of the water. The jumplings (young auks (guillemots and razorbills)) can be seen swimming around with their fathers as they have left the cliffs to venture the big blue sea! Peregrine chicks are also learning to hunt and show lots of fascinating behaviour at this time.
Autumn is a very exciting time as a huge variety can show up on the tour. Basking sharks and sunfish are still in the area, it is possible to see any of our eight species of cetacean (whales and dolphins) and our pelagic seabirds are at their highest numbers.
There are eight species of whales and dolphins which can be seen on our boat. From the small harbour porpoise up to the huge fin whale, and everything in-between: white-beaked dolphin; common dolphin; bottlenose dolphin; Risso’s dolphin; pilot whale and minke whale. Being a part of the big blue sea, there are no physical boundaries and rarities have shown up in our area of operation as well, including striped dolphin.
It is in the autumn that our resident grey seals have their pups! On remote beaches and hidden caves the seal mothers have their pure white pups with huge black eyes. This is a very active time of year for seals, adult females are tied to the coast and the males are desperate for the females’ attention to mate with them, and fights can break out on the beaches.
Pelagic seabirds are at their very best in the autumn. A whole host of shearwater, petrel and skua species can turn up, especially after a storm! These include Cory’s, great, Balearic, sooty and Manx shearwaters; European, Wilson’s and Leach’s petrels can all turn up. A number of gulls and skuas (Arctic, great, pomarine) can also be seen as well as our resident birds like fulmar. Other migratory birds are on the move including waders which can be seen in the estuary and along the shoreline. Wading birds include black tailed godwits, sanderlings and purple sandpiper.
Ospreys also stop off in the Fal estuary on their journey south and we run specific trips to view these and other birds and wildlife in the estuary.
The winter months may be chilly, but with our heated cabin and hot drinks you can watch the wildlife on the boat in comfort! And there is a lot to be seen at this time of year.
Out to sea we have super pods of common dolphins. Up to and over one thousand dolphins in a single group! A truly fantastic sight and you forget all about the cool temperature, but you can always get back into the cabin with its windows to warm up and view the spectacle. Another amazing sight is the huge fin whale. This is the second largest animal in the world and can be seen during your stay in Cornwall. These enormous animals (27metres/89feet long) feed by filtering huge mouthfuls of water for shoaling fish.
Our grey seal pups have now grown up and joined the adults in the water, but remain close to the shoreline and regularly make an appearance, both at the sea line and in the estuary, if weather is unfavourable for seafaring.
Seabirds are still good at this time of year, with Balearic shearwaters being a star bird, but anything can turn up, especially after a storm. The Fal estuary is nationally important for its very high concentration of wintering black necked grebe. These are similar to the more familiar little grebe (dabchick) but with a few differences. We often see them bobbing on the surface of the water before diving for their food. We also have other wintering birds including Slavonian and red necked grebe; great northern, black throated and red throated diver; red breasted merganser; common scoter as well as huge numbers of other wintering ducks and waders. The view by boat adds a whole new dimension to the birdwatching and a fantastic way to see waterbirds, is on the water!
With leaves off the trees we can see much more in the estuary, including red deer, foxes, kingfishers and perhaps even an otter! It also makes the rock formations of our coastline very dramatic with only the rocks and lichens giving them a wealth of colour. So it is well worth putting on some thick socks and gloves to join us on our toasty boat to find a huge array of wildlife and landscape!