PLYMOUTH...ADVENTURERS, EXPLORERS AND MAYFLOWER PILGRIMS.
MEETING POINT: OPPOSITE HOTEL MOUNT BATTEN,
90 LAWRENCE ROAD. PL9 9SJ
Wildlife trips running April to November.
2 Hour, 4 Hour, 8 Hour, Photography Courses, BIG 3 and
GIANT BLUEFIN TUNA Trips.
Plymouth, a city shaped by its past and one that's steeped in history, there's a lot to delve into in Plymouth and you history buffs, as much as the wildlife enthusiasts are in for a real treat. For it's here that you can walk in the footsteps of adventurers and explorers who strolled the streets of Plymouth in years gone by, including Sir Francis Drake, the Mayflower Pilgrims and Charles Darwin.
The historic city of Plymouth lies some 192 miles (310 km) south-west of London between the estuaries of the Rivers Plym and Tamar. The port was born as a trading post for the Roman Empire and grew down the centuries until it stands as it is today. Plymouth is large and I mean large with a current population of just under 241K it's the biggest city in the South West of England and one of the largest in the U.K. The city itself faces Plymouth Sound, a safe anchorage protected by a mile long breakwater and a haven for all manor of wildlife.
Wild about Sea Life
Passionate about Dolphins
The city's long and distinguished nautical history is bound up with the achievements of some of Britain's most famous seafarers such as Hawkins, Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Plymouth on their more than epic journey across the water to the New World where they established Plymouth Colony and helped found the United States of America. Such was Plymouth's naval importance, it attracted much attention during WW2 and led to the city centre being partially destroyed. Today the centre has been completely rebuilt and provides a vibrant shopping experience, an ice rink and a multitude of fantastic bar's and restaurants. The Royal Naval Dockyard at Devonport now as we know it is said to be the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.
Plymouth Hoe, a large, public, open space on the seafront, to call it a park would do it a massive injustice, it's wide open spaces provides commanding views of Plymouth Sound and Drake's Island. The Hoe is a popular place to view the varied offshore marine activities. Here you'll find the statue of Sir Francis Drake who is reputed to have been playing bowls on the Hoe when he received the news that the Spanish Armada was approaching up the English Channel. A prominent sight for many on the Hoe is Smeaton's Tower, which is the upper part of a lighthouse that once stood on Eddystone Rocks some 22 km out to sea. It's here that The British Firework Championships attract many tens of thousands of spectators annually and its certainly more than worth the visit during these events.
The Barbican, it's like the real beating heart of Plymouth, with more than a few hints of time gone by, it has been lovingly preserved complete with narrow cobbled streets, quayside pubs and restaurants. Here you will find Plymouth's old Gin Distillery with its welcoming visitor centre and possibly more importantly a really rather fantastic gin bar.
The Barbican Mayflower Centre tells the story of many of the adventurers who sailed from these old quays including Sir Francis Drake who set sail in the Golden Hind to encircle the globe and the Pilgrim Fathers who voyaged to a New World across the Atlantic. The famous 'Mayflower Steps' can be found near the Barbican, close to the point from where the Pilgrims set sail in the Mayflower in 1620. A commemorative portico and memorial stone record the historic event. At Thanksgiving, many Americans come to this memorable spot to celebrate.
Another monument of interest is the Royal Albert Bridge, which spans the River Tamar estuary and carries the rail network across the river into Cornwall. It was designed by the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in 1859. A fine view of Devonport and its naval ships can be enjoyed as the train creeps slowly across the estuary. A more recent and notable road bridge has been built alongside to carry the A374 across to Saltash and down into Cornwall.
Here are some beautiful walks, in, around and local to Plymouth that are great for watching wildlife.
Brixton and Steer Point Circular Walk is a 8.2 kilometer lightly trafficked loop trail located near Plymouth, Devon, England that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, and nature trips. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. Unrestricted on road parking in a lay-by in Brixton. Lovely route along very quiet country lanes, foot paths alongside the Yealm estuary and open farm land. Something of interest all year round.
Plymbridge Circular is a 4.7 kilometer loop trail located near Plymouth, Devon, England that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail. This is a gentle circular walk through ancient oak woodlands, beside the beautiful River Plym. Within the woods are remains of the area’s industrial past and there are breathtaking views across the valley from the viaduct. Along the way you may see kingfishers, sea trout, dippers, peregrine falcon, deer and other wildlife. First half of the trail is very quiet, hidden pathway and ideal for dogs. Second half comes back along the river but you could come and choose the quite paths.
Drake's Trail is a 24.0 kilometer point-to-point trail located near Plymouth, Devon, England that features a river and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options. This cycling and walking route connects Plymouth and Tavistock through wooded river valleys, open moorland, up past many areas of historical and natural significance. Gem Bridge, Grenofen Tunnel, sections of the Plym Valley Trail, and connections with other cycling paths can be found along this route. Aside from the South of Clearbrook section, which is not wheelchair friendly and which is too difficult for most people to ride, this path is safe and easy to bike with the whole family.
Wembury to Challaborough (SWCP).
South West Coast Path: Wembury to Challaborough is a 24.0 kilometer point-to-point trail located near Plymouth, Devon, England that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options. This is perfect for land-based efforts and sighting for both birds and cetaceans. and there are numours point along the way that make for great observation platforms. Be prepared, its a long and undulating route.
Cremyll to Portwrinkle is a 22.9 kilometer point-to-point trail located near Plymouth, Devon, England that features a river and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. This is a beautiful trail that passes through various attractions along the way, providing travellers with epic moments in natural interactions. Passing through Portwrinkle, a city of significant military significance since it includes a training site, travellers will pass through beaches and other local attractions.
FIRSTLY... There's our Marine Life!!
From May to the end of September large amounts of Common dolphins move from the warm waters of Bay of Biscay along the south coast of the U.K many heading and stopping in the the rich feeding grounds of Plymouth bay. Some of these pods are truly massive with sightings of over 200 animals at a time and it being nothing to encounter several hundred animals in a day. Again the same as the Cornwall trips, the area has several resident pods of inshore Bottlenose Dolphins that if we are lucky, can be found 12 months of the year.
The area around Plymouth also has a consistent population of Risso Dolphins these can be found frequently at certain times of the year when they follow firstly the cuttlefish and then the squid inshore to feed, often these are in larger maternal pods which makes for some great encounters. As with all encounters we keep our distance and let wildlife come to us, in doing this we get some great sighting of Risso mothers with calves. Making them quite a rarity and unique along the south coast, we usually manage to find some of these pods numerous times a year and run special whole days trips looking for them (and GIANT ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA) further offshore where they are often found in large maternal pods. These large but normally shy animals certainly earn their place as one of my favourites.
White Beaked have been encountered and although these are normally in offshore encounters, as in the case of the Humpback and Fin Whales that were spotted less than 100 yards from the shore during late 2020 and early 2021, all have been found within a few hundred yards from the shore in the Plymouth area.
PILOT WHALES! I personally think the Plymouth area stands one the best chance of Pilot Whale encounters with increased sightings this last few years, this is possibly because of more boats on the water to report the sighting, but I also believe, as these mainly coincide with the arrival of the Bluefin Tuna, that they are drawn in and following the large feeding frenzies that these create. These large dark colour animals (6-7m) will often come very very close to the boat (as you can see in the pictures) and bow-ride and are very inquisitive. These are regularly seen as mixed pods of Bulls (males), Cows (females) and Calves (babies). These encounters normally take place offshore and in the Autumn, keep your eyes open for the all day trips as these would offer the best chances I believe in finding them. These next to the White Beaked are quickly becoming a firm favourite of mine.
The plymouth Grey Seal population is always a highlight of our trips. Drakes Island, a Marine Conservation Area and a Wildlife Reserve a small rocky island six and a half acres in size and found in the Plymouth Sound. It does not take a wildlife expert to understand why the island gets its name as it’s the home to a colony of Grey Atlantic seals. It holds a resident population of around 50 animals now which has steadily increased over the last 30 years or so. Grey Seals can be seen throughout the year, often close in to the rocks.
Their numbers begin increasing in the autumn and by January.
If time allows and the the timing is right there are several places we can head to to observe these animals hauled out and resting, this is done at distance so binoculars definitely help with this. If we are lucky we might even find a couple of the much smaller Common seals, Don't believe the name though, these Common (or Harbour) seals along the south coast are far from common although our trips from Dartmouth and Brixham frequently find them. ((The river Dart holds the south wests largest ( Now Breeding) group. Its great to be able to see the 2 species side by side so you can truly appreciate the differences)). These are still seen most years in the area and are a truly wonderfull sight when they are encountered.
Some of our other Large animals seen are, Minke Whales, Basking and Thresher Sharks, GIANT Bluefin Tuna, Sunfish, Harbour Porpoise and as in this year (2021) a Leatherback Turtle. Humpback, Fin and Pilot Whales have also been recorded numerous times in recent years.
THEN... There's Birds!!
If your think England’s 15th largest city is unlikely to be a good place to go birding, think again! Within the city boundaries you can find an excellent variety of habitat including woodland, estuary, parkland, seafront, lakes and marshlands, offering plenty of choice for birders.
The Plym Estuary is one of Plymouth’s top sites. In winter, you will find flocks of waders including Curlews, Redshanks and Turnstones with small numbers of Common Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers. Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits are annual passage migrants and occasionally species like Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Ringed Plover occur. Kingfishers are seen from time to time, and Red-breasted Mergansers and Little Grebes are again a regular sight in winter. Wigeons, Teals, Shoveler and Pintail make regular appearances and Ospreys are becoming yearly visitors on their migration route.
The Estuary attracts a few hundred wintering Gulls including Mediterranean and notably a small number of Glaucous, Iceland and Little. Rarities include Spotted Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilt, Ross’s Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Laughing Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, Gull-billed Tern, Black Kite, Cattle Egrets, Richard’s and Red-throated Pipits...It's an impressive list. Local woodland birds such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatcher.
Ernesettle Creek, easily the best place in the city to find Spotted Redshank, amongst the Redshanks, and it can be a good spot to see Snipes. Other waders may include Greenshanks, Common Sandpipers and Whimbrels, the occasional Green Sandpiper has also occurred. Tamar Estuary offers further opportunities to pick up birds such as Avocets, and the odd Spoonbill or Osprey which may stray onto the Plymouth side.
To the north, the National Trust owned Plymbridge Wood hosts a range of interesting species and can easily be accessed by bike as well as foot. Wood Warbler, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Tit, Dipper and Mandarin Duck have all bred in the vicinity and Goosanders are seen in different seasons. On the city border, Peregrines nest in Cann Quarry and during the breeding season, a staffed viewing site enables people to see them through telescopes provided.
Although one or two Great Northern Divers can be found in Plymouth Sound most winters, it is stormy weather that provides the best chance of seeing seabirds. In these conditions, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks get forced inside the breakwater. Over the years all four Skuas, Storm and Leach’s Petrels, Grey Phalarope and Sabine’s Gull have been found. Occasionally Grebes and Terns (mainly Sandwich) also occur. Mount Batten, The Hoe and Devil’s Point all offer fantastic watch points, and the latter can be a good spot for Mediterranean Gulls. Black Redstarts are occasionally encountered along the waterfront and nearby Peregrines breed in the City Centre and can sometimes be seen sitting on the Guildhall tower.
Drake’s Island, in the Sound is a winter roosting spot for Little Egrets which have also bred there. Very occasionally Spoonbills will join them, though, usually only when their regular spot on Beggar’s Island, south of Saltash is covered by an especially high tide.
Finally, don’t be put off looking for birds in Plymouth outside the recognised sites. The potential for “anything turning up anywhere” is illustrated by Hume’s Warbler in the city centre, a Long-eared Owl in a flower pot in Peverell and – rarest of all – a Desert Warbler in a Mount Gould garden!
Check out the photo gallery below on just some of the animals we hope to find...
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