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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