Before I’ve found the time to upload all of last year’s records, the rock pooling event season is upon me again. Junior comes along to help at my first Wildlife Watch event of the year for Cornwall Wildlife Trust at Readymoney Cove, undeterred by the bone-chilling wind.
A crowd of hardy young rock poolers, kitted out from head to toe in weatherproof gear, is gathered at the top of the beach and I am joined by Liz, a lovely volunteer assistant. Half the group have their hands up before I’ve even asked a question and these keen kids are practically bursting with stories and facts about crabs, blennies, pipefish and killer jellyfish. They also have high expectations of what we might find – seahorses and cuttlefish are among the requests – but most of all they want to see starfish.
Starfish of some sort are almost guaranteed on all our local beaches, especially cushion stars, which like to hide under rocks and overhangs. If we are lucky we might also find brittle stars, that walk on their five feathery arms, or even a gargantuan spiny starfish, so I am hopeful that we will be successful on our mission.
As the group spreads across the shore, the finds soon rush in. We turn shiny top shells in our fingers, hold chunky-clawed Xantho hydrophilus crabs, and to the immense joy of one young seahorse enthusiast, we find the next best thing to a seahorse: a male worm pipefish with eggs on his belly.
Pipefish are close relatives of the seahorse and the male takes care of the female’s eggs, storing them in a special groove on his belly until they hatch. Coincidentally this pipefish has taken up residence next to an old pipe.
It only takes a minute for the children to discover a common starfish. I often find one or two on this beach, even though they’re not so common intertidally as offshore. The deep-water harbour alongside this beach is probably packed with them and sometimes young common starfish make their way into these sheltered pools. Today, however, there is something unusual going on.
Under the first stone I turn, I see two baby common starfish. As I look I notice a third, a fourth and then a fifth. On the side of the rock, there is yet another starfish. The adjacent rock has four more.
Everywhere on the beach, children are shrieking with excitement as they find more starfish. There are scores of them among the rocks I look at.
We could easily collect the starfish by the bucket-load, but these children know not to disturb the animals. We keep just a few for our trays so that we can watch them and all those who want to can have a go at holding a starfish before they are returned to their rocky homes.
While the children are caught up in the magic of starfish, I take a moment to explore the rocks at the sea’s edge and discover this wonderful yellow clubbed sea slug, Limacia clavigera.
There is never enough time to take many photos at these events as I am too caught up in the excitement of identifying finds and helping the children learn more about them. We also have plenty of discussions about the animals’ impressive defences and quirky eating habits.
The children do a perfect job of looking after the animals, returning them all safe and unharmed to their homes before the incoming tide floods back into the pools. Despite the chilly conditions, the kids are buzzing with happiness at finding so many starfish. A friend tells me her kids talked of nothing else all the way home.
Even Junior, who has seen most things before, is delighted with today’s finds and even more delighted when he secures the very last cheese and onion pasty from the beach shop for his lunch.
If you’d like to get involved with Wildlife Watch, book on to my rockpooling sessions or join any other Wildlife Watch events, check out the listings on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust pages.
Did you know that starfish can regrow their limbs? Find out more about the secrets of these iconic rock pool animals in my book Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides out on 2nd May with September Publishing and available through local and national bookshops and online.
10 thoughts on “An Outbreak of Starfish – Wildlife Watch Explores Readymoney Cove”
What an amazing day you had! Lovely photos too. Thank you x
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Thanks Trisha… it’s always lovely when the children see starfish for the first time and this really was exceptional. 🙂
Is this book available? Great to get such a glowing endorsement from TJ, now Chairman of Natural England.
TJ has been wonderfully supportive and I’ve had some lovely endorsements from others working in the field whose work I hugely respect like Keith Hiscock, Julie Hatcher and Paul Naylor. I couldn’t be happier with how the book has turned out. It’s available to pre-order now & will be published officially this Thursday 2nd May with September Publishing. It will be available through your local bookshop and also through Waterstones, Browns, Amazon and – excitingly for me as they’r=ve always been such a fab supplier of all the ecology kit I could want – NHBS: https://www.nhbs.com/rock-pool-extraordinary-encounters-between-the-tides-book . I’m taking a train trip to sign stock for them at the end of the week… so exciting! I’d love to hear what you think of the book. Heather
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I’m full of admiration and will get hold of a copy and let you know.
Thanks so much… I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of the book. Heather
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It’s not just kids who get excited about starfish…..my husband Neil (just turned 53 in March!) reminds me every summer that he hasn’t seen a starfish since he was a wee lad growing up in Whitley Bay and that I’ve PROMISED him I’ll find him one! I think a trip to Amble Harbour or, better still, Cresswell Foreshore is long overdue.
Having said that…..we were on Amble pier last year and saw a Cuddy Duck (aka Eider) dive and bring up a good sized starfish which it then proceeded to eat! Neil said it’s not quite what he had in mind! I think nothing short of holding one and being able to take lots of photos will satisfy him!
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That’s wonderful to hear. I often notice at my events that it’s the adults who are still going and getting excited about the starfish long after the kids have had enough for the day. You will definitely have to get out rock pooling this summer to find Neil a starfish. I’m sure there will be some organised events on your local beaches over the summer, which are a great way to see lots of species with so many people searching at the same time. Seeing something being eaten is never quite the same… although I found watching a cormorant wrestling with a good size eel the other week was impressive! Let me know when you do find a starfish! Heather
Can’t wait to get my hands on your book Heather! It’s just my sort of thing.
Thanks so much Ross, I hope you like it. I couldn’t be happier with how the book’s turned out.