Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Seal watching in Pegwell Bay

Pegwell Bay seals

Last Saturday, 1 October, Wonky Horizons and spouses went on a “Sea Safari” from Dover to see a colony of seals that lives in Pegwell Bay near Sandwich. For an early Autumn day, the weather was staggeringly good – not a cloud in the sky and very warm at nearly 30°C. The beach in Dover was covered in families sunning themselves, and there were even swimmers out in the harbour.

The Dover sea safari took us in a high speed inflatable up the coast, about half an hour’s drive (I think that's the word) at about 30 knots over a flat calm sea: an extremely exhilarating ride.

Almost in the shadow of the huge cooling towers at Sandwich and not far from Ramsgate, on the small estuary of the River Stour lay the seals. 

Seals, human transport and Ramsgate

We were told they were the females of the colony – the males like to go off to the Goodwin Sands. There were not many there, less than 10. Earlier in the Summer, 84 had been counted. Although the colony may have dispersed to some extent since it peak, many others were probably off feeding – the tide was exceptionally high, to the point where they could not haul themselves fully out of the water. 

When we arrived, the skipper cut the engine, and we just drifted by, giving plenty of chance for some pictures. The seals seemed completely undisturbed – the estuary of the Stour is busy with boat traffic, and they seemed not to care about humans being around at all. Nevertheless, we did not get too close, so I needed to use 400mm on the D300 to get the pictures shown here. Martin had his 500mm with the 1DIV, which I’m sure was a better option still.

That area of the Kent coast is a wildlife reserve, with little human activity off the water. In those few minutes we saw a wonderful variety of birdlife, with some of the largest flocks of oystercatchers I’ve ever come across. Heron, egret, curlew, a couple of brent geese, several varieties of gulls, terns, cormorants and more, and all seen without needing binoculars.

Oystercatcher, curlew and heron

On the was back, the skipper pushed the throttles right forward: the sea was a little rougher, so, if the ride out had been exhilarating, banging through the waves on the way back was even better. It even prompted Phil to have a Titanic moment! 

Not Kate Winslett!
Back at Dover, we had just nice time to have a couple of pints in the early evening sunshine, with the air still warm. The perfect end to a wonderful experience.

Back on shore, next to the boat
Thanks Phil and Martin for organising it!

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