Category Archives: Beaches

Baffling jellies, a little shark and a possible giant – A day in the Cornish Rock Pools

Sometimes everything’s just meant to be. This is one of those times.

It’s a random get-together; my Twitter friend Nanny Pat from Bosinver Farm Cottages has suggested we meet with her family and friends to explore a special beach that her son loves. Sounds good to me!

The view towards Falmouth, Cornish Rock Pools
The view towards Falmouth

The sun is struggling through the clouds as we all descend from Mawnan towards the glittering shore. We are nine adults, six children, one dog, some huge buckets and a promisingly enormous picnic bag that Nanny Pat has packed for us.

We waste no time and strike out across the slippery rocks. These are serious rock poolers. I am, as other half puts it, “among my people”.

Just one more rock... exploring the Cornish rock pools
Just one more rock… exploring the Cornish rock pools

We set to and the finds flood in. There are fish eggs everywhere, some are just starting to develop like these clingfish eggs.

Cornish clingfish eggs are a distinctive yellow colour
Cornish clingfish eggs are a distinctive yellow colour

Others are nearly ready to swim away, eyes jammed against their transparent egg cases, tails squished around them.

Ever feel like you're being watched? Fish eggs in a rock pool.
Ever feel like you’re being watched? Fish eggs in a rock pool.

Best of all, I’m baffled by some of the creatures we find.

The medusa (jelly) stage of a hydroid or sea fir - possibly clytia hemisphaerica or similar
The medusa (jelly) stage of a hydroid or sea fir – possibly clytia hemisphaerica or similar

First there’s a transparent disk of jelly a centimetre across. I scoop it up in a tub and peer at it until I go cross-eyed. It shows no sign of life, but I’m sure it is an animal. All around its rim are mauve dots and a thin purple cross hangs across its centre.

The underside of the medusa
The underside of the medusa

I rule out all the UK jellyfish and it’s the wrong shape for a sea gooseberry. When I take a photo of it in the water, my camera shows some short tentacles, invisible to the naked eye.

Having since consulted the experts, it looks to be the medusa (jelly) stage in the lifecycle of some sort of hydroid or sea fir.

Swimming free - the side view with tentacles showing.
Swimming free – the side view with tentacles showing.

I’m distracted from my observations by some excited shouts and squeals. “Quick, we’ve found a shark!” one of the adults calls.

The children are gathering around the edge of a pool and there in some shallow seaweed, a dogfish (small spotted catshark – scyliorhinus canicula) lies stranded.

Scyliorhinus canicula - small spotted catshark or dogfish stranded in a Cornish rock pool
Scyliorhinus canicula – small spotted catshark, also known as dogfish – stranded in a Cornish rock pool

The animal is calm despite being out of the water and surrounded by eager kids. We take a minute to take photos. Some of the children tentatively touch its sandpaper-rough skin and Cornish Rock Pools junior sluices it with water in an effort to keep it happy.

Close up you can see the rough skin (that used to get used as sandpaper) and the cat-like eyes
Close up you can see the rough skin (dogfish skin used to be used as sandpaper) and the cat-like eyes

The dads rush in for the privilege of relocating our shark to a deeper pool, where it lurks as we carry on our rockpooling.

The 'rehomed' catshark waiting for the tide to come in. It was so well camouflaged it was hard to spot among the seaweed.
The ‘rehomed’ catshark waiting for the tide to come in. It’s so well camouflaged it’s tricky to spot among the seaweed.

One of the finds, a little fish catches my eye. When I first see its red body and dark head, I think it could be a black-faced blenny. The shape doesn’t seem right though. After much staring, I conclude it’s probably a scorpion fish. In my photos the spines on its face can be seen more clearly, confirming that it’s the smallest specimen of this species I’ve ever seen.

A juvenile scorpion fish - the smallest I've ever seen
A juvenile scorpion fish – the smallest I’ve ever seen.

The picnic is perfect in every way. Some of the children huddle together with their sandwiches on top of a tall rock. The smaller kids play in the sand and shower some into the olives, but no one cares.

The tide has moved in but there’s still time for some last-ditch rock pooling to the east of the beach. One of the boys is desperate to find and eel and his determination pays off. He locates a good-sized common eel under a rock, but it slithers into a crevice, evading capture.

Love is in the air! Berthella plumula sea slugs under a rock.
Love is in the air! Berthella plumula sea slugs under a rock.

There is no shortage of crabs here and we find pairs of lemon-yellow berthella plumula sea slugs clinging to the underside of the rocks. I’m told there are giant gobies around and it’s not long before one of the dads sends up a triumphant cry. “It’s a giant.”

It's a whopper, but is it a giant? Goby found in a mid-shore pool
It’s a whopper, but is it a giant? Goby found in a mid-shore pool

We all look closely. I’ve seen some big rock gobies and I know they can be hard to tell apart from the rarer giant goby. This one looks like it could be the real thing. It’s large, at least 17cm, and has the fat-lipped face and salt and pepper colouring of a giant goby.

The goby's face showing the super-thick lips.
The goby’s face showing the super-thick lips.

I take photos of the sucker fin on its belly and hope we’ll be able to get a definitive answer from the experts. The giant goby has a detatched lobe at the front of its sucker fin which the rock goby doesn’t have…apparently.

The pelvic sucker fin of the goby
The pelvic sucker fin of the goby

As we release the goby into the pool where we found it, the children spot their granddad walking onto the beach. He’s arrived just as the tide overtakes the last pools and he invites the kids to join him for a spot of skimming.

It’s the first time I’ve been to this beach. I think I’ll be back.  Some things are indeed meant to be.

Brittle star
Brittle star

 

A good sized three-bearded rockling
A good sized three-bearded rockling

A very British beach picnic.

It’s bank holiday Monday and, by rights, the beaches should be packed with tourists, but this is a British bank holiday complete with the standard issue of drizzle and greyness. We seem to be the only people who’ve come for a picnic today.

A very un-summery bank holiday at Plaidy beach near Looe
A very un-summery bank holiday at Plaidy beach near Looe

Cornish Rock Pools junior and his Dad undertake mega-engineering projects on the stream while I explore the rock pools, eager to put my new camera through its paces.

Pleased to meet you! A broad-clawed porcelain crab extends a claw. Cornish Rock Pools
Pleased to meet you! A broad-clawed porcelain crab extends a claw.

It seems that the wildlife has also gone to ground, as though the animals have moved further out to sea during the heavy rains. The regulars are still here though, lurking in the murky water.

Green shore crabs abound among the rocks.
Green shore crabs abound among the rocks.

Under almost every rock there are young edible crabs shunting sand over themselves while larger green shore crabs run for cover.

Netted dog whelk egg capsules
Netted dog whelk egg capsules

In a pool that threatens to over-top my wellies, I find a pheasant shell going about its business. I can barely see it in the silty water as it makes its way along the red seaweed. Under the camera, its neat maroon stripes become more visible and I can see its tentacles flopping over the edge of the weed.

A pheasant shell undeterred by the silty water
A pheasant shell undeterred by the silty water

A grey heron is fishing in the farthest pools. As the waves begin to slosh up the gulley, a cormorant flies in and takes up position behind the heron, where it stays for the next half hour. I hunt the mid-shore for the ever illusive starfish, Asterina phylactica.

The first Asterina phylactica starfish I find is especially tiny.
The first Asterina phylactica starfish I find is especially tiny.

The first of these minute starfish I find is so small that I can barely see it among the weed. It moves remarkably quickly, sliding round the branching tuft of pink coralline seaweed and disappearing from view each time I try to focus on it.

Other half sidles over and asks about the sandwiches. I realise I’ve been staring into this pool for way too long and somehow I’ve managed to soak my fringe and my coat sleeves in my enthusiasm, but I’m not quite ready to give up. Eventually I’m rewarded by finding a larger, brighter specimen, which I photograph with numb fingers.

A slightly larger, more brightly coloured Asterina phylactica starfish.
A slightly larger, more brightly coloured Asterina phylactica starfish.

 

Asterina phylactica starfish - well worth the time spent searching.
Asterina phylactica starfish – well worth the time spent searching.

The drizzle sets in properly as we begin our picnic. Cornish Rock Pools junior builds a shelter under his Dad’s coat and happily munches on sandwiches and biscuits. I flex my fingers and am just beginning to sense the return of some sort of blood flow when I remember the bucket. I definitely had it and now I don’t. Other half and I mount a search party, but he heroically sends me back to the chocolate digestives while he continues the hunt.

Cornish Rock Pools junior makes his picnic shelter.
Cornish Rock Pools junior makes his picnic shelter.

After several long minutes of searching, the tide and mist closing around him, he lifts the bucket aloft and junior and I clap and cheer with our mouths full.

Red bucket is saved!
Red bucket is saved!

Soon the cliffs are disappearing in the fog and the rain sets in properly. As the oystercatchers sweep in, we hastily pack up our very British picnic and leave the beach completely deserted.

A snakelocks anemone among the sea lettuce.
A snakelocks anemone among the sea lettuce.

Life at the Mine Pool -Mawgan Porth

To me, there can be nothing closer to heaven than the cliff tops around Mawgan Porth in late spring. The explosion of colours can be seen from afar and will reach its peak over the next few weeks.

The thick, warm, honey-laden scents of the gorse and the delicate smell of the opening thrift provides the perfect accompaniment to the view of taut lines of swell stretching across a wide indigo horizon.

It comes as more of a surprise that so many flowers are blooming near the base of the cliffs, in the shadow of the old mine workings that are set deep into the northern cliff face.

Cornish Rock Pools junior approaching the mine entrance optimistically equipped with a fishing net.
Cornish Rock Pools junior approaching the mine entrance optimistically equipped with a fishing net.

At first glance it seems that nothing could survive among the stark rockfall boulders and the red metallic ooze from the flooded and blocked shaft. As we clamber closer across the rocks, we see plants poking out. Scurvy grass – so named because it’s rich in vitamin C – more beautiful than the name suggests. Thrift, sea plantain and more are pushing up between the red stones and flowering happily. Continue reading Life at the Mine Pool -Mawgan Porth

Love on the Rocks at Mawgan Porth

I love this rock; no frame could suit it better than Mawgan Porth’s sheer cliffs, golden sand and wide horizon. Perhaps I need emotional counselling, but it really is a beauty. Its seaward side lifts its face to the churning Atlantic, defying the waves that batter and submerge it for most of the year. Only a few mussels and barnacles cling on to its western edge, oblivious to the storms and sunsets I have watched from here since childhood. Continue reading Love on the Rocks at Mawgan Porth

A Winter Walk

Standing on the beach it’s hard to imagine how anything survives in our seas at this time of year. Fierce Atlantic winds send the waves surging high onto the shore, exploding against the rocks and blowing hair or sand into my eyes whichever way I turn. Yet on these dark winter days, when many of our land animals have migrated or gone into hibernation, most marine life is clinging on and waiting for spring.

Wintertime is tough even for the hardiest mariners. The strandline is strewn with those that haven’t made it Continue reading A Winter Walk

Pirate Rock Pooling Adventure

The leaves are turning, the swallows are no longer dipping over the rock pools, but this long, warm Cornish summer never seems to end. We set sail from Hannafore over a barely rippling sea in the good ship Red Canoe to seek secret beaches, pirate caves and, of course, photos of interesting marine creatures. Continue reading Pirate Rock Pooling Adventure

Rockpooling With Mum

My mum will be seventy this year, but she cuts a sprightly figure as she steps across the rocks at Castle Beach. In a rare, precious moment we have time together, surrounded by glittering pools and a wide open bay.

Mum exploring Cornish rock pools.
Rockpooling with Mum, Castle Beach, Cornwall.

These are the moments we hoped for not so many years ago when Mum was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a blood transfusion to give her the strength to make it through her cancer operation. Continue reading Rockpooling With Mum

The Selfish Shellfish – The story of a Cornish Rock Pool

It feels like we’re living out a scene from the children’s picture book about a Cornish rock pool, The Selfish Shellfish.

Grandma Paint Pot at Castle Beach
Grandma Paint Pot at Castle Beach

 I’m with the author, Grandma Paint Pot (Donna Painter), on Castle Beach in Falmouth, where her story is set. The tide is rising fast and we’re slithering about on a wet rock while we watch limpets, top shells and anemones coming to life as the waves push in. Continue reading The Selfish Shellfish – The story of a Cornish Rock Pool