In our Summer issue of Nature’s Home, our star letter extolled the virtues of seeing wildlife by kayak. Blogger Rupert Kirkwood of The Lone Kayaker has paddled around 19,000 miles around the UK’s coastlines over the past 15 years, seeing and interacting with the best of our marine wildlife, from dolphins and whales to hunting peregrines and swimming badgers!
It’s one of many wonderful ways to get quietly up close among the wildlife, without impacting the environment. We’ve also had letters about cycling (Summer issue) as well as running (Spring issue) as eco-friendly ways to both get fit and immerse yourself in nature.
Enter the realm of our riperian wildlife - get out on the water like The Lone Kayaker to enjoy some kingfisher time! (Photo: Ben Andrew, rspb-images.com)
All of them are perfect for fair-weather explorers in the summer season, and give you the advantage of passing relatively quietly through the wilderness, chancing upon birds and wildlife that haven’t felt the need to flee from your uproarious approach.
I absolutely love kayaking and canoeing, and although I don’t get to do much these days, I’ve done all-day paddles in the past that have got me right among pods of dolphins, curious turtles, shoals of fish hanging like a web of glittering jewels in the clear seawater beneath me, as well as shorebirds and glimpses of mammals.
You can pull in your oars, drift awhile and watch them from a respectful distance as they go about their business, or even (as in the case of the dolphins I met) come over to say hello.
Paddling on rivers, you’ll see things you could never see from land, such as the nesting-holes of kingfishers, grey wagtails and water-mammals, as well as a network of miniature landmarks - subtle alleys, smeuses, landing-stages, grazing sites, fishing perches and river-crossings – all created by little river-dwellers.
Cycling is its terrestrial equivalent. Come off the roads and onto forest trails, riverside cyclepaths or one of the U.K’s many abandoned branch railway lines, and your silent speed could yield a flash of stoat, a face-to-face with a fallow deer, a heron taking flight or even (as in the case of letter-writer Mark Darling in our Summer issue) a hare racing you and a barn owl actually beating you.
Either way you’re immersed in the wildlife’s world – far from tarmac, walls and the stressful world humanity has built for itself; and fuelled only by your own muscle-power.
The next issue of Wingbeat, our magazine for teenage RSPB members, compares paddle power vs pedal power when it comes to wildlife-watching, with young people sharing their tips. To these, I’m adding the cheapest option of all - wildlife watching on foot!
TIPS FOR WILDLIFE WATCHING BY…
The RSPB has many bicycle-friendly reserves. Search by keyword ‘cycling’ at rspb.org.uk/reserves (Photo: Colin Wilkinson, rspb-images.com)
1 Keep your eyes open and scan hedgerows as much as you can, while keeping your eyes on the path.
2. Cycle with friends and family, because more eyes will spot more wildlife.
3. Choose quiet roads, bike trails or cycle paths to see more.
4. Go out as often as possible, you never know when you’ll get lucky!
5. Carry binoculars so you can stop and check movements in foliage - but don’t use them while moving!
KIT LIST: A bicycle (mountain bikes are a good bet for off-tarmac), a helmet, saddlebags or handlebar storage, water and binoculars.
Enter the secret world of our coastlines and waterways, and see another side of life. (Photo: Louise Greenhorn, rspb-images.com)
1. You don’t need to buy a kayak - join a local club or look out for RSPB paddle events in summer.
2. Go slow, and paddle as silently as possible.
3. Don’t get too close to wildlife. Use binoculars to get a closer look and be careful not to alter or damage habitat.
4. Travel in small groups, both for safety and for more pairs of eyes
5. Don’t approach breeding birds or animals - many species can become aggressive in defence of their young.
KIT LIST: A solid or inflatable kayak or dingy, suitable for your chosen waters. (Unless you live near water, solid craft will also need a roofrack or trailer to be transported), paddles, a life-vest, safety and navigation kit, water and binoculars.
Running through a natural environment is a pretty primal and empowering experience. (Photo: Michael Harvey, rspb-images.com)
1. If you’re new to running, start with a vigorous walk and gradually break into a jog whenever you can. Build up fitness by gradually increasing your speed and distance. Bring a buddy for extra motivation.
2. Leave the MP3 player at home and let the birdsong be your soundtrack. The quieter you are, the more you’ll hear.
3. Scan foliage for interesting birds, bugs or other animals, and feel free to stop for a closer look.
4. Keep an eye on the sky for birds of prey, skylarks and other aerial wildlife.
5. Remember to stretch your limbs properly before and afterwards to help prevent stiffness.
KIT LIST: A comfortable pair of running shoes; water; a bum-bag or small backpack for your essentials, optional lightweight binoculars that can be fitted to an elastic belt.
So there you go, three ways to see wildlife and enjoy at your own pace, with almost zero environmental impact - while also boosting your own fitness and wellbeing. Happy summer!