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Discoveries on my Doorstep – Day Two (Hannafore, Looe)

Fairer conditions set in for the second day of rockpooling with the fabulous David Fenwick and the Coastwise North Devon team. Without the challenges of wind-blown pools and rain-spattered lenses to contend with, the day promises to be even more inspiring.

Martin holds a spiny starfish, Hannafore, Looe
Martin holds a spiny starfish, Hannafore, Looe

I’ve managed to replace Cornish Rock Pools Junior’s leaky wellies so he joins us to track down amazing creatures. Today we will focus on the lagoon and seagrass beds at Hannafore and I have no doubt I’ll be seeing something new.

Junior gets stuck into the task at hand; head down, bottom up, staring into the glassy water. He shrieks and comes wading over to me, taking care not to spill water from his precious tub. In it he has a plump sea slug, a ‘Great grey’ Aeolidia papillosa – or sheep slug as we call them.

Junior's 'Sheep slug' - Aeolidia papillosa - looking very fluffy
Junior’s ‘Sheep slug’ – Aeolidia papillosa – looking very fluffy

It’s a rusty colour from eating anemones and I’m allowed to stroke it. “It feels barely there, like air,” Junior explains. He looks after it for some while before returning it to the exact spot he found it.

I sight a little yellow blob and pop it in a plastic tube, expecting it to be a Lamellaria mollusc. A few minutes later it’s sprouted rhinophores on its head and is circling the tube like a hamster in a wheel. It’s a Jorunna tomentosa sea slug.

Jorunna tomentosa sea slug, Hannafore, Looe
Jorunna tomentosa sea slug, Hannafore, Looe

Meanwhile, David Fenwick is making amazing finds. He’s especially interested in the small spider crabs today and is keen to identify some more species. It pays off – by examining one under a microscope before returning it to the shore he discovers an Achaeus cranchii, last recorded in 1909. David has posted his fantastic photos on his site Aphotomarine here: http://www.aphotomarine.com/crab_achaeus_cranchii.html

A small spider crab - there are several species in Looe including some rare ones as we found out!
A small spider crab – there are several species in Looe including some rare ones as we found out!

Someone points out these stunning Eubranchus faranni sea slugs to me. They’re some of the most spectacular little nudibranchs I’ve ever seen. Although their body shape is the same, the two slugs are entirely different colours: one orange, one black. Both are feeding on hydroids (the tiny fern-shaped animals that you can see on the seaweed).

Eubranchus faranni sea slug feeding on hydroids, Looe
Eubranchus faranni sea slug feeding on hydroids, Looe
A more typically coloured orange Eubranchus faranni, Looe.
A more typically coloured orange Eubranchus faranni, Looe.
The black Eubranchus faranni sea slug showing the orange markings on its back.
The black Eubranchus faranni sea slug showing the orange markings on its back.

We all keep an eye out for baby cat sharks as this area is a nursery for their egg cases and we often see hatchlings this time of year. Rob spots one, a recently hatched greater spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) and we all gather to look at it. Junior touches its rough back and watches it swim a short distance.

The baby catshark, Scyliorhinus stellaris, resting on the bottom of the pool.
The baby catshark, Scyliorhinus stellaris, resting on the bottom of the pool.
Catshark, Scyliorhinus stellaris, Hannafore, Looe.
Baby catshark, Scyliorhinus stellaris, Hannafore, Looe. These sharks have skin that feels like sandpaper, but is very hydrodynamic.

When the tide turns we start to make our way back to shore; the water floods in quickly across these shallow lagoons and can easily catch you out. As usual, this is the moment when I make my best find. I’ve just said to Jan from Coastwise how nice it is not to look at stalked jellyfish, which, pretty as they are, are frankly becoming a bit tedious after a whole winter of dedicated surveys to record them. Then something catches my eye.

Stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) conjoined twins.
Stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) conjoined twins.

Yes, it’s a stalked jellyfish, but this one is different. It’s a Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, always a pretty species, only it appears to have a reflection behind it, an exact mirror image. Closer inspection confirms that this is a double-headed stalked jellyfish, the first I’ve ever seen. Jan and I take photos as the tide creeps up our boots.

My first double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis), Looe
My first double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis), Looe

After hours wading through the water, bending down, climbing over rocks and lifting stones, we’re all slump down, exhausted onto the pipeway to munch a late picnic lunch and swap notes while the tide pushes in around our feet.

By sharing our finds and knowledge we’ve all seen new things and I’ve learned a huge amount about this familiar shore.

A tortoiseshell limpet
A tortoiseshell limpet
A beautifully 'fluffy' isopod - Cymodice truncata male I think.
A beautifully ‘fluffy’ isopod – Cymodice truncata male I think.
A toothed crab (Pirimela denticulata), Hannafore, Looe
A toothed crab (Pirimela denticulata), Hannafore, Looe
Blue-rayed limpet, Hannafore, Looe
Blue-rayed limpet, Hannafore, Looe
Daisy anemone, Hannafore, Looe
Daisy anemone, Hannafore, Looe
A very well-fed Aplysia puncata sea hare
A very well-fed Aplysia puncata sea hare
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The Calm Before the School Holidays

Long sunny days, beaches and ice creams: there’s a lot to love about the school summer holidays in Cornwall. For us though, the influx of visitors makes it a challenge to go anywhere, whether on and off the beach. So, from the end of next week, Cornish Rock Pools junior and I will be adopting our much-loved summer routine of visiting remote local coves on foot. In the meantime, we have fun taking our friends to Hannafore beach to learn about sea creatures.

It feels like the calm before the storm. It’s so calm, in fact, that a thick sea mist has settled over the bay. Looe Island, a few hundred metres away, has disappeared. With no waves and not a ripple on the pools, the conditions are ideal for rockpooling. The damp air also means the animals are active without fear of drying out. As we walk across the shore we see crabs scuttling in every direction.

The fog has descended at Hannafore - Looe Island is nowhere to be seen.
The fog has descended at Hannafore – Looe Island is nowhere to be seen.

I’ve asked Junior to help me. He’s now spent so much time on the shore that he knows the health and safety spiel by heart and can identify crabs, fish and starfish in the blink of an eye. He takes on his role with unstoppable enthusiasm, telling his friends that they should look closely at the hermit crabs.

“If you’re really lucky you might find a rare one like Anapagurus Hyndmanni,” he explains.

It so happens that one of the first finds of the day is this very species, occupying a shell so small that my eyes ache from trying to focus on it. Despite its size, the Anapagurus hyndmanni is a feisty little crab, reaching as far out of the shell as it dares to threaten me with its miniscule pincers.

Anapgurus hyndmanni - this uncommon little hermit crab is often seen at Hannafore.
Anapgurus hyndmanni – this uncommon little hermit crab is often seen at Hannafore.

Close-up, its right pincer looks inflated, like it’s wearing a white boxing glove.

As always, the starfish are hugely popular with the children. We find cushion stars, brittle stars and a young spiny starfish and watch how they move.

Children love holding starfish - when you turn them over it's easy to see how they move around on their tentacle feet.
Children love holding starfish – when you turn them over it’s easy to see how they move around on their tentacle feet.

A friend returns from a distant pool with a fish I don’t often see on the shore here: a butterfish. It’s instantly recognisable from its wonderful marbled patterns and dark spots along its flanks. By gently touching it the children find out that it gets its name from its slippery skin.

A beautifully patterned young butterfish.
A beautifully patterned young butterfish.
The butterfish has a downturned mouth with big lips, making it look like it's frowning.
The butterfish has a downturned mouth with big lips, making it look like it’s frowning.

Among the rainbow weed at the end of the walkway we find a candy-stripe flatworm. It swims into my bucket and we watch it slipping along, feeling its way with its head tentacles.

The candy stripe flatworm swims straight into my bucket.
The candy stripe flatworm swims straight into my bucket.

We find the usual array of crabs, squat lobsters, prawns and anemones. A member of the public donates a large velvet swimming crab to our big bucket. The crab is less than pleased about its capture and draws gasps from the children with its quick pincers and gleaming red eyes.

Velvet swimming crabs - or devil crabs as Cornish Rock Pools Junior calls them - are impressively aggressive.
Velvet swimming crabs – or devil crabs as Cornish Rock Pools Junior calls them – are impressively aggressive.

A netted dog whelk also captures the kids’imaginations; its huge syphon reminds them of an elephant’s trunk.

Netted dog whelks are common on this silty shore and have an impressively long syphon.
Netted dog whelks are common on this silty shore and have an impressively long syphon.

All too soon the tide turns and we slip the creatures back into the still water, watch them swim away and the children disperse to eat their picnics on the beach. It’s hard to imagine how busy the town and beaches will be a week or two from now. I enjoy the calm while I can.

There will be lots of great family rockpooling events around Cornwall during the summer holidays – it’s the perfect way to find and learn about our fabulous wildlife. Take a look at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s events page for more dates of rockpooling and other marine wildlife events.

Broad-clawed porcelain crab
Broad-clawed porcelain crab

 

 

 

A week of nature photos

I did my first Facebook challenge this week: #challengeonnaturephotography. One nature photo a day for a week.

I normally operate a ‘just say no/ pretend I haven’t seen it’ policy when it comes to nominations for social media challenges, but this one caught my eye. It was hard to know what to choose, but, of course, I majored on photos of the Cornish rock pools.

Given how much I squirm when I’m nominated for anything, I haven’t tagged anyone to carry on the challenge. But, if you’d like to share photos of wild things and places you love with your friends, please do take it up.

So here’s what I picked… Continue reading A week of nature photos

Halloween in the Cornish Rock Pools

There’s a chill in the air and the pools are strewn with orange and yellow oak leaves, blown in from the nearby woods, yet there’s a crowd on the beach for the Looe Marine Conservation Group’s half-term rockpool ramble. It’s nearly Halloween and there’s no better way than this to get close to other-worldly creatures with some revolting habits.

We arrive late and everyone’s already gathered around the shore lab trays, sharing their discoveries. I’m called on straight away to identify a lugworm, its dark slimy body is oozing into a corner of the tray. You’d only have to blow it up to human size to have a classic horror movie monster.

Next up is an empty egg case and several keen kids at the front shoot their hands up and jump eagerly. “It’s a shark!” they call out. Lots of guesses follow about what species of man-eater might be lurking in the shallows. This case is actually from a lesser-spotted catshark, also known as a dogfish, which has some impressive teeth and grows to around 75cm, but is shy and harmless.

Egg case of a lesser-spotted catshark (dogfish) - Scyliorhinius canicula
Egg case of a lesser-spotted catshark (dogfish) – Scyliorhinius canicula

The rock poolers have gathered an impressive haul of starfish. There are cushion stars, a common starfish, brittle stars and a spiny starfish so large it occupies most of the tray on its own. We look closely and a stunning little starfish with a pumpkin-orange back. At first glance it appears to have five arms like the others, but on closer inspection we see two stumps. Continue reading Halloween in the Cornish Rock Pools