River Dart Wildlife

River Dart Wildlife

As we paddle or drift with the tide, with no engines to create noise, it's easy to spot birds, seals and other wildlife, undisturbed by our presence.

Until the 20th century, most transport around South Devon was by foot or pack pony.  It was hard going on the winding, muddy lanes, so the sooner people and goods reached the river, the easier and cleaner trasport became. Hence our rivers, and particularly estuaries, were important transport links for local traffic and, in the case of the Dart estuary, international commerce.  They also provided an abundant source of food and livelihoods.  Now such commercial activity has almost all but gone from the Dart and the rivers and creeks offer miles of quiet waterways from where you will have the very best views of the countryside.  The estuary and her muddy creeks continue as major feeding grounds and navigation routes for wildlife, which we are able to get spectacularly close to in our canoes. 

Here are just a few of our more famous residents.  If have a good eye and a bit of luck, you may see some of our non-resident species, particularly in the early spring and autumn, as they stop over to rest and feed on their long migrations.  The highlight maybe the Ospreys, which spend a few weeks every year on the Dart stocking up on the abundance of small bass and mullet to fuel them on their migratory journey from Africa to nest in the Scotlish Highlands.  In the water swims the mighty North Atlantic Salmon, making its way from its feeding grounds off Greenland to its spawning grounds on Dartmoor.  You may not see them but an indication of their presence are sightings of bull seals persuing them up to the weir in Totnes. 

Seals sightings are commmon on the Dart.  They are inquistive and will sometimes even follow us on our journey!  We also see them hauled out on the rocks and mud flats.  The seals in the esturary are grey seals both male and female. They breed in river and go out to the sea caves around Dartmouth to have their pups in the late autumn.  A large adult male can eat up to 50 lbs of fish a day (That could be say 10 average sized salmon).  

A cormorant holding out its wings.  It is said that they do this dry out their wings after diving for fish.  Other theroies incude, reordering their feathers after swimming and cooling themselves off.  The birds nest out on the cliffs and stacks around Dartmouth and come into the estuary in numbers in the early summer. 

This is an unusual image of the Little Egret catching a fish.  A wading bird that spends most of its time picking around in the shallows.  They were hunted to extinction locally by the Victorians for their highly valued white feathers.  They returned to Devon in the mid 90's and now sucessfully breed in high tree tops around Sharpham.

The falling tide with exposed roots and seaweed makes a great hunt perches for the Kingfisher.  We often hear the sharp 'kick kick' call before a flash of azure blue streaks past the canoe.