Category Archives: Beaches

Warming up for the Weekend

Spring tides and slightly more spring-like weather might finally coincide this weekend, so I’m preparing for a big weekend of rock pooling. If all goes to plan, I’ll be reporting back next week. In the meantime, I’m readying my waterproofs, planning which beach I’ll go to according to the wind direction and sorting out my photos from the last month. And of course, I’ll be at the Looe Marine Conservation Group Rock Pool Ramble on Monday at Hannafore beach, so maybe I’ll see you there?

One beach I’m hoping to visit on Saturday is Millendreath. This sheltered south coast beach has an interesting geological history. Somewhere under the sand is a submerged ancient forest. Whether the nutrients come from there, drift along from the Looe river, or both, this beach has a unique fauna and is always full of surprises.

Pheasant shell at Millendreath
Pheasant shell at Millendreath

In the past I’ve found masked crabs, weever fish and unusual swimming crabs here. On my visit last week, it was all about the sea slugs and cucumbers.

In the chilly breeze it felt less than spring-like, but these things seem not to bother the rock pool creatures. Sea lemons, a type of sea slug with a big circle of feathery gills on their back and pocked citrus-like skin, were everywhere.

Sea lemons - a type of sea slug - enjoying each other's company.
Sea lemons – a type of sea slug – enjoying each other’s company.

And so was their spawn.

A spiral of sea lemon spawn at Millendreath
A spiral of sea lemon spawn at Millendreath

A species that seems to love the conditions here is the brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, which likes to hide away in holes in the rock with just its retracted tentacles sticking out. When these are fully extended they have a frilly, carrot-top appearance, but at low tide all we see is a yellow and brown blob.

Brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, at Millendreath
Brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, at Millendreath
The tip of a brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei
The tip of a brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei

Among the seaweed at the edge of the shore, I spotted a fleck of orange. Old seaweeds often turn bright colours as they die back, but this fleck wasn’t attached to anything. After fumbling about in the cold water for as long as I could bear, I managed to scoop the fleck up and tip it into a petri dish.

Much of my time on the shore is spent staring at things, wondering if they’re animals or just tricks of the imagination. Often they’re nothing, but this one was definitely a something.

My blob - a Eubranchus farrani sea slug with 20p for scale
My blob – a Eubranchus farrani sea slug with 20p for scale

As it settled in the water, the blob began to unfurl and then to secure itself to the dish. It was definitely a sea slug, although still quite hard to see as you can tell from its size compared to the 20p piece.

Eubranchus farrani sea slug - close-up
Eubranchus farrani sea slug – close-up

The chunky cerrata on its back and the orange on its body were typical of the species, a Eubranchus farrani. By far the smallest one I’ve ever seen.

Conditions were too cold to spend any longer with my hands in the water, so I retreated to the upper shore to look for anemones with Junior and to let him dig around the stream. Perhaps one day he’ll dig down to the submerged forest?

Beadlet anemone in a pool near the top of the shore, Millendreath
Beadlet anemone in a pool near the top of the shore, Millendreath

Even on uninviting, cold days, there are always things to find. Millendreath never fails to surprise me. Who knows what will turn up this weekend? Conditions should be easier, but I’m taking no chances. Other half got a big thermos flask for his birthday and I’ll be filling it with hot chocolate before we go out!

Xantho hydrophilus crab
Xantho hydrophilus crab

 

Sneaky Rockpooling at Bream Cove

I wasn’t supposed to be rock pooling at all. It was Other Half’s birthday and we were joining my parents for a walk and lunch to also celebrate my dad’s birthday from the day before. To add to the celebration list, my parents were in the middle of their golden wedding anniversary break at the beautiful Meudon Hotel near the Helford river.

I did well at first, catching up on my parents’ late-night dash across the county to reach the hotel before the snow arrived, while we wandered in the gardens. We stared into the lush ponds and spotted a couple of newts and lots of tadpoles (because it was a family event, nothing like rock pooling).

As we wound our way down the valley we could see the remnants of the snow nestling among the fronds of the tree ferns. We could also see something else glinting in the distance. The sea.

Junior and I picked up the pace. We both knew there was a beach at the end of the path. He was clutching his spade ready for action and I had my camera in my pocket, just in case you understand…

Examining the geology in the cliffs at Bream Cove (I'm already drifting towards the pools).
Examining the geology in the cliffs at Bream Cove (I’m already drifting towards the pools).

While I was talking to Mum on the beach, we happened to drift ever-closer to the rock pools and, well… I couldn’t help myself!

At Bream Cove, like other beaches in this area, the folds and channels in the rocks create lovely gullies and pools. There was no shortage of wildlife to be found on the overhangs and in the sand at the base of the pools.

Each time we approached a new pool a flicker of movement caught my eye. At first I assumed it to be prawns or perhaps small blennies scooting out of sight, then I spotted the tubes.

Fanworm tubes built from sand among the topshells at Bream Cove.
Fanworm tubes built from sand among the topshells at Bream Cove.

The Acromegalomma vesiculosum fanworms that build these constructions to camouflage and protect themselves are extremely hard to photograph. On the end of each long feathery arm of their fan, they have a dark eyespot. As soon as they sense a change in the light, they retract back into their tubes at lightning speed.

I treated mum to a Cornish Rock Pools comedy spectacle as I crawled about on the rocks attempting to approach them from all different angles. No matter what I tried, the fan worms nearly always retracted before I could get close enough to focus and then stayed stubbornly inside their tubes.

Acromegalomma vesiculosum fan worm - my best shot
Acromegalomma vesiculosum fan worm – my best shot

This beach has a wonderful collection of anemones; the whole area is great for them. In a single pool I found snakelocks anemones, beadlet anemones, a dahlia anemone and a daisy anemone. Like the fanworms, the daisy anemones do a quick disappearing trick when disturbed.

Daisy anemone
Daisy anemone

My favourite find of the day was this Harbour crab. All the books tell me it’s a common species, but this was the first one I have ever seen.

Harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) at Bream Cove
Harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) at Bream Cove

Like other swimming crabs they have flattened back legs, which act as paddles. In this crab the paddles are a bright blue or purple. Best of all were the eyes, which bulged out like yellow lamps. As I watched the crab demonstrated how it could swivel each eye separately in all directions . A great party trick.

The distinctive blue paddle on the back leg of the harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator).
The distinctive blue paddle on the back leg of the harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator).

Nearby, Other Half (who had wisely decided the only way to get my attention on his birthday was to join me in the rock pools) found this mystery blob. It was around 10cm long and seemingly attached to the seaweed.

The mystery blob
The mystery blob

It looked vaguely familiar but I didn’t have a clue why. The only white jelly-like blob as big as this that I could think of was squid eggs, which normally come in big clusters, but it looked all wrong.

With the miracle of modern technology, I soon had the answer. The amazing Seasearch Identifications Group on Facebook are poised at their keyboards any time of day of night, ready to identify anything that’s found, no matter how obscure.

Within minutes of posting, I had the answer. Mystery blob was a syphon from a large bivalve mollusc, probably a razor clam or otter shell.

Solved - this is the syphon of a large clam shell, e.g. Razor shell.
Solved – this is the syphon of a large clam shell, e.g. Razor shell.

Quite what it was doing tangled in seaweed halfway up a rock, I’ll never know, but as soon as I saw the answer I knew why it had looked so familiar. Huge thanks to David Fenwick who runs the brilliant Aphotomarine species identification site, which is also well worth a visit any time you’re struggling to identify something.

Another great little crustacean find was this St Piran’s Crab.

St Piran's Hermit Crab (Clibanarius erythropus) showing its equal-sized claws
St Piran’s Hermit Crab (Clibanarius erythropus) showing its equal-sized claws

Since they reappeared in Cornwall a couple of years back, they’ve been popping up everywhere. I only saw one, but with plenty of empty shells around, I’m sure there must have been others.

St Piran's Hermit crab on the move with its black and white eyes sticking out.
St Piran’s Hermit crab on the move with its black and white eyes sticking out.

The tide was falling beautifully and I could see more pools emerging. I had to accept, though, that if I wanted my family to ever speak to me again, I’d better tear myself away from the rock pools for the birthday lunch.

Bream Cove, like so many others on this wonderful stretch of coastline between Falmouth and the Helford, is firmly on my return visit list. There aren’t any facilities at the beach, but you can always pop up to the Meudon Hotel for a luxury cream tea!

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from my sneaky rockpooling excursion.

A striped venus shell (Chamelea gallina). There were lots of these living in the sand.
A striped venus shell (Chamelea gallina). There were lots of these living in the sand.
The moult of a Hairy crab (Pilumnus hirtellus)
Hairy crab (Pilumnus hirtellus)
Painted topshell from above - the patterns make my eyes go funny!
Painted topshell from above – the patterns make my eyes go funny!
Dahlia anemone with tentacles partly retracted - the column is sticky so is covered with fragments of shell.
Dahlia anemone with tentacles partly retracted – the column is sticky so is covered with fragments of shell.
Bream Cove looking towards Falmouth.
An overcast Bream Cove looking towards Falmouth.

Cross-Border Rockpooling with the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society

It sometimes feels like I don’t get out much – either socially or out of the county (Not that it’s a hardship to be in Cornwall!). So, I could barely contain my excitement at having the opportunity to attend the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society Conference in Plymouth. I packed my passport and set forth across the Tamar.

Not only did I mingle with the most amazing bunch of fellow marine wildlife obsessives and hear their latest findings, but the third day of the conference was spent rockpooling at Wembury in South Devon.

 

A prickle of Porcupines at work
A prickle of Porcupines at work at Wembury, Devon

While the environment at Wembury is similar to my home patch in South East Cornwall, a major difference is that Wembury has a marine centre, staffed by lovely people from the Devon Wildlife Trust. The centre promotes marine conservation and runs all sorts of public and educational events. It also provided a handy indoor base to set up some microscopes and a refreshment station. Luxury after my recent all-weather forays! Continue reading Cross-Border Rockpooling with the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society

The Stalked Jellyfish World Record (for Portwrinkle)

“So is this a world record?” Cornish Rock Pools Junior has just found 26 stalked jellyfish and is feeling rightly proud of himself.

“It’s a record for Portwrinkle,” I tell him. “They’ve never been found here before.”

“But is it a world record?” he insists.

I take a moment to consider this. Only a moment, because my hands are frozen from holding my camera in the water and another snow flurry is starting.

“Yes,” I say. “You now have the world record for finding stalked jellyfish in Portwrinkle.”

From the leaping and cheering, I’d guess he’s satisfied with that.

Cornish Rock Pools Junior searches for stalked jellyfish at Portwrinkle
Cornish Rock Pools Junior searches for stalked jellyfish at Portwrinkle

Continue reading The Stalked Jellyfish World Record (for Portwrinkle)

A Shell Collecting Bonanza on Looe Beach

After a week of ear-numbing northerlies, the low January sunshine is at last winning through. Junior sets to work with his bucket and spade, attempting to create a sand fort that can be seen from space while I take a stroll at the water’s edge.

Looe Beach - a herring gull is also checking out the pile of shells at the water's edge
Looe Beach – a herring gull is also checking out the pile of shells at the water’s edge

The stretch of sand that forms Looe beach is ideal for summer holidaymakers to lounge on, but generally offers little to the rockpooler, unlike the surrounding shores. Today is different; probably due to a combination of large tides and strong winds from an unusual direction.

Glistening mounds of shells are heaped the length of the shore, and are being nudged onwards by the incoming tide. They crack under my feet despite my efforts not to trample them. 

Shells on Looe beach
Shells on Looe beach

It’s not unusual to see the odd limpet or a few mussel shells here – the harbour is carpeted with them – but this haul of shells is not just large, it’s more diverse than usual. There’s such a kaleidoscope of blues, whites, oranges and pinks that I have to get in close to focus on individual shells. Continue reading A Shell Collecting Bonanza on Looe Beach

Fun and fish at the Lundy Bay Bioblitz

Bioblitzes have become a regular thing these last few years and I love them. These time-limited surveys of every living thing in an area are a fantastic way to bring experts and the public together, so I’m excited to join the Lundy Bay 24 hour bioblitz organised by the National Trust.

Getting started on the beach with at the Lundy Bay bioblitz
Getting started on the beach with at the Lundy Bay bioblitz

When I first walk down on the first afternoon to do a pre-survey recce there’s no beach at all. The tide is high and the waves are exploding against the rocks sending up a shower of spray that delights Cornish Rock Pools Junior. Fortunately, some intrepid friends from the Marine Biological Association and Coastwise North Devon arrived early and collected a lovely hydroid medusa (like a tiny jellyfish) and lots of moon jellies – so it seems likely there will be interesting things to find when the tide goes back out.

One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.
One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.

After an exciting evening and early morning of mammal surveying with Junior, I finally get to see the beach at low tide. It’s an exposed shore with sheer rocks and golden sand, which looks wonderful, but is a tricky environment to find creatures. Still, with the number of people we have taking part and the combined resources of lots of different organisations including kick nets and fish traps, we’re sure to find something.

I spend most my time near the event flags, helping people to identify their finds. Everyone is fascinated by the sea hare. These common sea slugs are easily recognised by the long tentacle ‘ears’ on their heads. Up close, you can see a leopard-like pattern on their bodies. If you upset them (which we don’t) they can squirt out purple ink to confuse predators.

A small sea hare explores my tray.
A small sea hare explores my tray.

The find of the day is a creature none of us expect to find tangled in a discarded fishing net. This slow worm (a legless lizard) probably came down to the beach to hunt at low tide and became caught in the ghost net. It has a lucky escape and is released safely.

This slow worm was found tangled in discarded fishing gear.
This slow worm was found tangled in discarded fishing gear.

The nets bring up lots of tiny baby flatfish that were hiding in the sand in the shallows. Most are probably plaice and this one looks like a baby turbot – with a much wider body-shape. I’ve never seen one this small before, it swims onto my hand and rests there, looking around with bulging eyes, opening its lop-sided mouth a little. If it makes it to adulthood it may eventually weigh 10 kilos or more, but it has a way to go yet.

A tiny young turbot swims into my hand.
A tiny young turbot swims into my hand.

 Everyone loves a cheeky tompot blenny. There bold fish are unmistakeable with their fat lips, colourful eyes and television aerial style tentacles on their heads.

A tompot blenny giving its typical toothy smile.
A tompot blenny giving its typical toothy smile.

Other highlights include toothed crabs (Primela denticulate), celtic sea slugs, which are present in huge numbers on some large rocks around the point, and a lobster lurking at the back of a deep overhang cave.

Built like miniature tanks, the Celtic sea slugs cover the rocks in places.
Built like miniature tanks, the Celtic sea slugs cover the rocks in places.

After the strong winds and rain of the previous day, the sunshine takes us by surprise. Conditions are perfect and the turnout is good, but before long the tide is racing back in. By the time we make it back to base, the short, intense Bioblitz is coming to an end and the stands are being packed away. Soon this will be a remote empty field again, but I’ll be back sometime soon to explore this wonderful bay some more.

If you would like to join a Bioblitz there’s another one coming up in North Devon on 17th September at Croyde with the fabulous Coastwise North Devon team – see http://www.coastwisenorthdevon.org.uk/news/summerbioblitz-time.html

Kynance Cove: A rock pooling challenge

There are many fabulous rock pooling beaches around Cornwall and this isn’t one of them. The smooth serpentinite rocks of Kynance Cove on the Lizard peninsula are colourful and create breathtaking scenery, but they’re mostly devoid of places for creatures to shelter. Realistically there’s not much here, but it’s one of Cornwall’s loveliest places and experience tells me there’s always something if I look hard enough.

It's easy to see the snake-skin texture that gives serpentine rock its name.
It’s easy to see the snakeskin texture that gives serpentine rock its name.

One thing this beach does have is caves. Junior strides ahead of me, clutching a geological hammer and chisel, shining his torch along the smooth, damp walls.

Cornish rock pools junior explores the serpentinite caves
Cornish rock pools junior explores the serpentinite caves

He’s on a mission to explore every centimetre of these rare rocks, forced up millions of years ago from deep under the oceans, exposing the upper layer of Earth’s mantle. While Junior hammers away at history, cave-dwelling periwinkles not much bigger than grape pips are undertaking their own explorations.

This tiny periwinkle species lives on the upper shore in dark and damp places such as this cave.
This tiny periwinkle species lives on the upper shore in dark and damp places such as this cave.

A steady swell breaks against the island stacks and scattered rocks of the bay. Barnacles cling to imperfections and overhangs, joined by beadlet anemones and black-footed limpets.

A beadlet anemone next to dog whelk eggs. Barnacles and limpets also cling on to this small overhang in the smooth serpentinite.
A beadlet anemone next to dog whelk eggs. Barnacles and limpets also cling on to this small overhang in the smooth serpentinite.

I watch a limpet slamming down its shell on a barnacle’s feeding arms and wonder if it’s if it’s after a more substantial meal than its usual fare of micro-algae?

Sea slaters scuttle among the barnacles together with occasional flies and even a centipede. I assume it has journeyed down from the top of the grassy island to forage at low tide.

A centipede visiting the shore
A centipede visiting the shore

An oystercatcher watches me cross the beach, preening itself with its orange chopstick bill. It watches as I climb a shelving part of the lower cliffs where several deep bowls have been eroded from the rock.

A lone oystercatcher on a rock at Kynance Cove.
A lone oystercatcher on a rock at Kynance Cove.

As I approach the pools, a gaggle of small fish jostles against each other before darting away below a ledge. I take up position beside the pool and wait. Sure enough, after a few minutes, a shanny’s head pops over the ledge, propping itself on its clawed pectoral fins to get a better look. Others soon join it as they return to their basking positions at the shallow edges of the pool.

A grinning shanny propped on its pectoral fins watches me from a rock pool.
‘Say cheese!’ A grinning shanny propped on its pectoral fins watches me from a rock pool.

I lower my camera bit by bit until it’s almost touching the surface of the water. The fearless shanny stays put. After a few attempts I manage to capture one of my favourite things about these common little rockpool fish: their extraordinary chameleon-like eyes which can swivel independently in all directions.

Being able to do this must be a huge advantage when looking out for prey and predators.

I spot a Montagu’s blenny in the pool, easily distinguished from its larger cousins by its radio mast style headgear. It’s too shy to have its photo taken and I’m called away to help with  Junior’s mining exploits, but it’s been a rewarding morning. It shows how much is there if you look.

Barnacles on a beautiful piece of banded serpentinite.
Barnacles on a beautiful piece of banded serpentinite.