Category Archives: Wildlife

Giants of the Cornish rock pools

Last week I shared with you the miniature world of the sea slugs, so this week I’ll super-size things and bring you some big fish. Silly-season reports of Great-white sharks often hit the headlines in Cornwall, but I prefer rock-pool giants; they’re not made up, and you can get close to them without having your leg bitten off!

Cornwall is brilliant in all sorts of ways, our network of local, grassroots marine conservation groups being just one of them. The public launch, last week, of the new Three Bays Wildlife Group brought experts and volunteers together and gave me a chance to explore some new beaches in the St Austell area.

Judging by the squeals of excitement from the children and adults alike, the crabs, pipefish, prawns and anemones we found at the main rockpool ramble on Portmellon beach near Mevagissey went down well. By the end of the day, the local group had recruited lots of potential new volunteers.

Green shore urchin at Portmellon beach - adorned in seaweed
Green shore urchin adorned in seaweed. Portmellon beach.

At the end of an event I’d usually relax and enjoy my sandwiches, but the group was keen to survey another local beach. The walk to Colona was like something out of an Enid Blyton adventure. Cresting the hill out of Portmellon, we passed a disused cattle grid filled with nettles, beyond which the view opened out to sheep-grazed pasture plunging down to the bay. The whitewashed house on Chapel Point, to the east of the beach, perches over azure waters and would be any rockpooler’s dream pad.

Walking down to Colona bay
Skipping down to Colona bay

Matt Slater from Cornwall Wildlife Trust was straight out on the rocks setting fish traps in the deep pools. Matt, of course, is a fully-licensed professional giant catcher.

After just half an hour of mooching about the pools looking at anemones and some fine lugworms, we clambered across to check the traps. The first looked successful. At the back of the yellow-mesh cage, several creatures wriggled while Matt hoisted them onto the rocks and eased them into an awaiting bucket.

Once the greedy shore crabs that had been feasting on fish-bait had been picked out, there were three fish left. Every one of them was large by goby standards. One in particular was what Junior would describe as “a whopper”. Matt’s face said it all. From the fishes’ fleshy lips that could out-pout Mick Jagger to the beady eyes, it was clear that all three were Giant gobies (Gobius cobitus).

Three giant gobies from the first trap.
Three Giant gobies from the first trap.

These fish have special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are at the northernmost point of their range around south west England. They’re not well recorded because they’re elusive and can be mistaken for the much more common Rock goby.

Giant gobies have huge lips, small eyes and lack the yellow band at the top of their first dorsal fin (distinguishing them from the Rock goby)
Giant gobies have huge lips, small eyes and lack the yellow band at the top of their first dorsal fin (distinguishing them from the Rock goby)
Another feature of the Giant goby is the fleshy lobe on their adapted pelvic fin - this helps them to sucker onto rocks
Another feature of the Giant goby is the fleshy lobe on their adapted ventral fin – this helps them to sucker onto rocks

To round off our week of giants, Junior and I took a stroll around a sheltered lagoon in Looe, after a Fox Club event and came across a fish even larger than a Giant goby. In fact, I was so busy examining tiny hydroids on seaweed looking for sea slugs that I practically tripped over the young catshark.

Greater spotted cat shark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) in a Cornish rock pool, Looe
Greater spotted cat shark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) in a Cornish rock pool, Looe

The Greater-spotted catshark goes by many different names (bull huss, nursehound, dogfish, etc.) and is far larger than a Giant goby, growing to around one and a half metres long when mature. The one I nearly stepped on in my neoprene beach shoes was just a baby, but still an impressive fish.

Catsharks tend to lie still for camouflage, so they’re easily approached to take photographs. If you touch one, as Junior did at the first opportunity, you’ll also notice that their skin is like sandpaper. Rough sharkskin is remarkably hydrodynamic, so much so that engineers are looking at ways to copy its structure to make swimmers faster and ships more fuel efficient, among other things.

This close-up of the catshark's skin shows how rough it is. You can also see the dark and white spots that are characteristic of this species.
This close-up of the catshark’s skin shows how rough it is. You can also see the dark and white spots that are characteristic of this species.

I think Junior would like it even better if we could stumble across a giant squid circling the pools, but for now, a shark will certainly do. The giants of the Cornish rock pools aren’t as easy to spot as you might imagine, but it’s well worth the effort.

 

 

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For the love of sea slugs…

I love sea slugs a bit more than is probably usual. My other half even made sure I have the t-shirt, which I wear with pride in the Cornish rock pools despite the odd looks it gets me.

Trend setting in my waterlogged wellies and 'I love sea slugs' t-shirt.
Trend setting in my waterlogged wellies and ‘I love sea slugs’ t-shirt. Hannafore beach, Looe.

If you don’t already have your own t-shirt, it might be that you haven’t yet met these amazing little creatures. Unlike land slugs, sea slugs come in a mind-boggling variety of colours and shapes and have cool super-powers.

So, this week I’ve been braving the traditional British summer-holiday weather to find top slugs to convert you to the cause. My lucky t-shirt worked its wonders…

If you follow my blog, you might remember my excitement earlier in the year at finding the rare Calma gobioophaga sea slug, which feeds on the eggs of gobies (fish).

It’s probably fair to say that a woman in an ‘I love sea slugs’ t-shirt has never been so excited as I was when I turned a stone this week in Looe, to find three sea slugs with some clingfish eggs. This was another new species to me – the equally rare Calma glaucoides.

Calma glaucoides and its eggs. See how pretty sea slugs are!
Calma glaucoides and its eggs. See how pretty sea slugs are!

This slug has striking long wavy cerrata (tentacles) down both sides of its back, with blueish glands running through them. The pattern of white circles on its back (part of its reproductive organs) help it to blend in among the white scribble-patterns of its egg strands.

The clingfish eggs on which Calma glaucoides feeds - there weren't many left under this rock.
The clingfish eggs on which Calma glaucoides feeds – there weren’t many left under this rock.
Calma glaucoides sea slugs
Calma glaucoides sea slugs – I have no idea what the collective noun would be.

Most sea slugs are ruthless carnivores, but not the Elysia viridis, which feeds on codium seaweed. For some reason up until now, I’ve tended to find blandly coloured brown specimens which don’t show their magic trick very well.

This week, I’m delighted to bring you an Elysia viridis in its finest regalia of green with vivid blue-green spots.

The photosynthesising sea slug - Elysia viridis, grazing on Codium tomentosum seaweed.
The photosynthesising sea slug – Elysia viridis, grazing on Codium tomentosum seaweed.
Elysia viridis showng the green colours and turquoise spots of the chromatophores it stores
Elysia viridis showng the green colours and turquoise spots of the chromatophores it stores

These colours contain chromatophores from the seaweed that the slug has eaten. In other words, it manages to retain the photosynthesising cells from plants and store them in their bodies where they continue to produce energy for the slug.

I almost popped with excitement when, after finding so many fabulous slugs, yet another one turned up during a rock pool event with Looe Marine Conservation Group. Rummaging on the lower shore for exciting crabs, starfish or squat lobsters to show the kids, I spotted some eggs belonging to a slug, the Sea lemon.

Next to a big clump of Sea lemon eggs (left) is a much smaller spiral of eggs
Next to a big clump of Sea lemon eggs (left) is a much smaller spiral of eggs

This egg spiral, in itself, was fairly commonplace but in its midst and alongside it, I noticed two more tiny spirals of spawn laid by something else that I didn’t recognise. After another minute of staring at the rock I spotted the slug.

A pale-coloured Favorinus branchialis sea slug
A pale-coloured Favorinus branchialis sea slug

This slug, the Favorinus branchialis, has two pretty groups of red-ish cerata along its back and a distinctive bulge in its rhinophores (the tentacles on top of its head). It is variable in colour and it took me another minute to spot the second slug, which was much paler, but with the same body form.

The darker of the two Favorinus branchialis sea slugs, showing the bulge in its rhinophores (the antennae on top of its head)
The darker of the two Favorinus branchialis sea slugs, showing the bulge in its rhinophores (the antennae on top of its head)
Favorinus branchialis swimming upside down because it can
Favorinus branchialis swimming upside down because it can

Cute and pretty though it is, this slug has a rather gruesome habit; it likes feeding on the eggs of other slugs. It was no accident that these slugs had laid their eggs right next to those of the sea lemon.

A slug with some serious weaponry turned up on my next foray into the pools.

Berthella plumula sea slug
Berthella plumula sea slug

The Berthella plumula slug (or Feathered Bertha as I call it), resembles a sherbet lemon, but is far more squidgy. I’d never advise actually squidging one, mostly because it’d be cruel, but also because they can secrete sulphuric acid when attacked.

This sea slug has a feathery gill on its underside - unlike most slugs which have their gills in a tuft on their back or in their cerata.
The Berthella plumula sea slug has a feathery gill on its underside – unlike most slugs which have their gills in a tuft on their back or in their cerata.

Interesting defences are common in sea slugs. Many aeolid sea slugs store the stinging cells from the food they’ve eaten, such as anemones or hydroids. If they’re attacked, the stinging cells fire from the tips of the cerata on their backs into their prey. Sea hares, on the other hand, have a similar defence system to squid and cuttlefish, squirting a cloud of purple ink out their bottoms to ward off predators.

Last week, my lucky t-shirt did me proud, so I’m looking forward to getting it on again to explore the shore on next week’s big spring tides. If you’d like to meet these cool creatures for yourself, there are rock pooling events taking place all round Cornwall through the rest of the summer holidays.

Here's your bonus slug for reading to the end - a Rostanga rubra which eats red sponges and is perfectly camouflaged on them.
Here’s your bonus slug for reading to the end – a Rostanga rubra which eats red sponges and is perfectly camouflaged on them.
A charming view of a Favorinus branchialis's bottom. You're welcome!
A charming view of a Favorinus branchialis’s bottom.

The One That Got Away… Cuttlefish in a Cornish Rock Pool

If you’ve ever been rockpooling, you’ll know the feeling: you’re in the zone, bottom high, head down, lifting a rock or staring into the water when a movement catches your eye. While you’re registering that it’s some interesting creature you’ve never found before, said creature is darting away under an overhang or boulder never to be seen again.

My camera is full of “things that were there only a millisecond before”.

Not the most accomplished photo of a Greater pipefish as long as my arm!
Not the most accomplished photo of a Greater pipefish as long as my arm!

So, you’ll have to take my word for it that I finally encountered an animal I’ve been longing to find in a pool. After four decades of failure, my big moment came while I was taking some friends rock pooling this week.

At risk of overtopping my wellies, I was wading in the centre of a long pool, staring through a clump of Sargassum weed to the sand beneath.  Some baby dragonet fish were zipping from spot to spot and I, as usual, was failing to take a photo of them.

As I bent in close to tease aside some seaweed, a few small creatures shot out. I only had a second to clock that they seemed to be swimming backwards with jerky movements. It was hard to make them out given their sandy colouring, but in the moment it took me to turn towards them and realise what they were, they were gone.

From their shape they had to be either young common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) or, very likely, the little cuttlefish (Sepia atlantica). These amazing animals can adapt their camouflage to match their surroundings or to signal their mood. It’s difficult to believe that such mobile, intelligent creatures are a type of mollusc, making them distant relations of limpets and mussels.

Cuttlefish, like this one in an aquarium, are masters of disguise.
Cuttlefish, like this one in an aquarium, are masters of disguise.

Along with an octopus and a seahorse they’re the thing I’ve always wanted to find (in the case of seahorses, I almost definitely never will).

This photo of a cuttlefish was taken in aquarium
This photo of a cuttlefish was taken in an aquarium

Without photos of the cuttlefish or much likelihood of re-finding them in this pool, my excitement was tinged with disappointment. It was going to sound like a tall tale of “the one that got away”.

The second after the cuttlefish disappeared, my eye was drawn back to where they had been. In the water, tails spreading behind them like minuscule comets, were several black blobs.

During their escape from the giant wellies and the hand parting the seaweed, they had fired off their defensive ink. The way the ink formed little clumps suggested they had deliberately mixed the ink with mucus to make it look like little decoy cuttlefish.

With a yelp of delight, I scooped up some ink in a tub and proudly showed my friends and Junior.

Cuttlefish ink in my tub
Cuttlefish ink in my tub

I’m not at all sure they were as impressed as I was.

But at least there’s a chance you’ll believe me that I really did finally see cuttlefish in a rock pool.  Perhaps next time I’ll capture some photos of an actual cuttlefish.

In the meantime enjoy your summer rockpooling adventures and don’t forget there are loads of holiday events for all the family that would love your support (and some decent weather for a change).

Here's one that didn't get away - a large edible crab which impressed my friends far more than my pot of ink.
Here’s one that didn’t get away – a large edible crab which impressed my friends far more than my pot of ink.
I also thought this Aplidium turbinatum sea squirt was rather lovely - and it doesn't move, which is always a bonus.
I also thought this Aplidium turbinatum sea squirt was rather lovely – and it doesn’t move, which is always a bonus.
This lobed sponge (Oscarella sp.) was a lovely yellow tinged with pink -
This lobed sponge (Oscarella sp.) was a lovely yellow tinged with pink –

Wrasse and wrack

The Cornish summers are anything but predictable. One day I’m sweltering in shorts and beach shoes and the next I’m shivering in waders and a thick jumper. Although the showers are back with a vengeance, there’s always something to be found if I can make it across the rocks without breaking an ankle.

Painted top shell, East Looe
Painted top shell, East Looe

My first outing is to the rocks beyond East Looe beach and I’m pleased to come across a new colony of St Piran’s hermit crabs on the mid-shore.

A St Piran's hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.
A St Piran’s hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.

They’re becoming a familiar sight around Cornwall and I’m starting to recognise them from the tips of their red legs, before their chequerboard eyes and equal-sized claws emerge from their shells.

St Piran's hermit crab showing its distinctive red legs and chequerboard eyes
A St Piran’s hermit crab showing its distinctive red legs and chequerboard eyes
This hairy crab was also out an about enjoying the showers.
This hairy crab is also out and about enjoying the showers.

Dragging the family with me on my next expedition, I take a look at the other side of Looe.

Junior and Other-Half exploring Hannafore in the rain
Junior and Other-Half exploring Hannafore in the rain

At Hannafore, the rocks are hidden under a thick brown  tangle of wracks, sargassum weed, and kelp making my feet slither with every step. It’s hard to make out where the pools are much of the time, let alone what’s in them.

Low tide at Hannafore, West Looe
Low tide at Hannafore, West Looe

Still, with some patience and careful sweeping aside of the long strands of weed, some treasures are revealed. This heart-shaped daisy anemone is the pinkest one I’ve ever seen.

An unusually pink daisy anemone
An unusually pink daisy anemone

As we wade in a long, deep pool a large fish passes between the fronds of sargassum near my feet. Moving slowly, I herd it towards a shallow corner, and, holding a bucket behind it take one more step. Nine times out of ten, I fail and the fish darts away never to be seen again. This time, the colourful fish takes me by surprise and swims straight into the bucket.

Junior getting to know our wrasse-friend
Junior getting to know our wrasse-friend

Here it is – is the first adult corkwing wrasse I’ve found in a rock pool.

Male corkwing wrasse have beautiful markings - they look almost tropical
Male corkwing wrasse have beautiful markings – they look almost tropical

Cornish Rock Pools junior comes over to admire the fish, talks to it and gives it a stroke. We look at its pouting lips and the iridescent blue stripes on its cheek, the typical colouring of the male corkwing wrasse. The female is much more dowdy.

After a few minutes, Junior lowers the bucket into the drizzle-spattered pool and we watch the wrasse swim free among the weeds.

I can see why most people see rockpooling as a fair-weather activity, but I’ve always liked the heavy calm of an empty beach on a foggy, damp day, and the animals are as colourful as ever.

Happy rockpooling!

Dahlia anemone, Hannafore
Dahlia anemone, Hannafore

A predator among the fish eggs: Calma gobioophaga sea slug

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed a pattern: I bimble about the Cornish rock pools looking for an exciting creature, fail completely, then find something unexpected. Well, hopefully you like the format because this week is no exception. I go on a quest to find fish eggs and discover this rare sea slug.

Fish eggs are amazing. If you catch them just as they’re nearing hatching you can see each baby fish staring out, its tail curled tight around its head like a scarf.

So, when Junior announces he wants to go for a big walk, I suggest Port Nadler. This slightly exposed rocky bay is ideal for Cornish clingfish. Their distinctive yellow eggs usually carpet the underside of the rocks and their developing babies are especially beautiful.

Clingfish eggs - with one newly-hatched fish (centre)
Clingfish eggs – with one newly-hatched fish (centre)

Only the tide today isn’t low enough to access the clingfishes’ favourite gully.

I look in the pools and lose count of how many rocks I lift. There don’t seem to be any fish eggs. As the tide drops a little further, I come across some Berthella plumula sea slugs and a sea hare.

A pair of Berthella plumula sea slugs
A pair of Berthella plumula sea slugs

There’s an anemone I don’t recognise. Translucent white all over with a base so wide it looks like a bowl. I later realise it must be the white form of Sagartia elegans (var. nivea).

Sagartia elegans (var nivea) anemone
Sagartia elegans (var. nivea) anemone

Junior finishes his digging in the sand at the top of the beach and wanders over to join me. We lift a rock together and finally here are some eggs. They’re not the yellow clingfish eggs I was looking for, they’re smaller goby eggs, forming black-specked carpet of grey. Under the camera, the specks become a sea of eyes looking up at me.

It takes me a long time to decide that the Calma gobioophaga sea slug (in the background here) is 'a thing'
It takes me a long time to decide that the Calma gobioophaga sea slug (in the background here) is ‘a thing’

I remember rockpool expert David Fenwick, who runs the fabulous Aphotomarine site, telling me a year or two back that there was a species of sea slug that specialises in eating these eggs. I peer into the greyness and see nothing, apart from a thin yellowish patch in the centre which looks like a piece of sponge or sea squirt.

I look some more. The eggs around the edge of the yellow patch look longer than the others.

I stare, stare some more then focus my camera on the patch and do yet more staring. Even then I’m not sure, but it could be…

It’s only when I see a tentacle move that I begin to see the slug properly. It’s over a centimetre long, but most of its body is covered in pointed cerrata the colour and shape of goby eggs, right down to the black dots that ressemble eyes.

Calma gobioophaga on its goby egg prey, its eyes showing through behind its long rhinophores.
Calma gobioophaga on its goby egg prey, its eyes showing through behind its long rhinophores.

This is the weirdly named Calma gobioophaga egg-eating sea slug. It’s the first I’ve seen and only the second record of this species in Cornwall.

The yellowish patch I thought was a sea squirt is the slug’s back. It’s covered in pale circles, which my books tell me afterwards are the mature gonads. Who’d have thought?

The books also tells me that the slug absorbs the fish eggs so well into its gut that it has no need of an anus. That’s right; it doesn’t poo. I’m not sure how that works, but it’s the sort of fact that gets Junior’s attention.

Calma gobioophaga - the cerrata (tentacles) on its back blend perfectly with the goby eggs. Only the pale circles on its back (gonads) stand out.
Calma gobioophaga – the cerrata (tentacles) on its back blend perfectly with the goby eggs. Only the pale circles on its back (gonads) stand out.

It’s not the easiest thing to photograph: a grey blob on a mat of grey eggs on a grey day in silty water. As I start to get my eye in to the outline of the slug, it glides towards me, feeling the eggs with its tentacles and swinging its long rhinophores forwards.

Tucked immediately behind each rhinophore is a distinct black eye, one of the characteristic features of this species.

Calma gobioophaga on goby eggs (probably the eggs of a rock goby) near Looe, Cornwall
Calma gobioophaga on goby eggs (probably the eggs of a rock goby) near Looe, Cornwall

The books suggest this species only eats the eggs of the black goby (Gobius niger), but slugs are not great readers and the other records from Cornwall and Brittany are, like this one, probably on rock goby (Gobius paganellus) eggs. In the Mediterranean this species has also been recorded on giant goby (Gobius cobitis) eggs. There’s another, closely related, species of sea slug, Calma glaucoides, that feeds on a wider range of eggs, including clingfish eggs and has been recorded in Cornwall too. Hopefully I’ll find that one soon!

The slug’s life cycle intigues me. As fish eggs are available for such a short period of the year, I’m not sure what happens to these slugs during the remaining months.

It comes on to rain heavily and as we’re already soaked from exploring the rock pools, we call it a day. I haven’t found a single clingfish egg, but, as is the way with rockpooling, I’ve discovered something even better.

Discoveries on my Doorstep – Rockpooling with the experts in Looe (Day 1)

There’s a questionable theory that 10 000 hours of practice makes you an expert and I may be close to ‘doing my time’ in the Cornish rock pools by now. However, I often feel I’m only scratching the surface of what’s out there. What better then, than to spend a few days on the shore with the genius that is David Fenwick, creator of Aphotomarine together with a fabulous group of fellow rockpool fanatics from Coastwise North Devon?

With layers and waterproofs aplenty, Junior and I joined them at Hannafore Beach, a site I know intimately, to see what new discoveries might await us.

 I realised within minutes that I should have brought a notebook. David’s knowledge of marine species is immense and he wasted no time in finding signs of nematode worms living inside seaweed, reeling off their names. It was windy, drizzling and cold and to make matters worse Junior sprung a leak in his wellies, but there was no doubt this is going to be a fascinating day. Leaving Junior playing at reconstructing ancient ruined cities from the rocks of a mid-shore ridge, we waded across the lower shore.

Sea hares (Aplysia punctata) were everywhere munching on the seaweed.
Sea hares (Aplysia punctata) were everywhere munching on the seaweed.

Some species were familiar. The sea hares were everywhere and so abundant that it was impossible to avoid them. This swirling cloud of purple ink in the water was a sign we’d accidentally disturbed one of them.

We must have accidentally disturbed a sea hare (Aplysia punctata), making it release a cloud of purple ink.
We must have accidentally disturbed a sea hare (Aplysia punctata), making it release a cloud of purple ink.

Although Greater-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) egg cases are commonly found on parts of Hannafore we found more than I’ve seen before in this particular area, suggesting the nursery is more extensive than I’d realised. The eggs were at various stages from recently laid, smooth cases to bio-encrusted cases that had been in the water for months and seemed close to hatching.

A recently-laid catshark eggcase clearly showing the yolk sac inside
A recently-laid catshark eggcase clearly showing the yolk sac inside

Rob from Coastwise North Devon made one of my favourite finds of the day, this hairy hermit crab, Pagurus cuanensis, had some of the hairiest knees I’ve seen in a while.

Pagurus cuanensis, the 'Hairy hermit'.
Pagurus cuanensis, the ‘Hairy hermit’.

David Fenwick was finding creatures at a dizzying rate. The speed with which he could pick out and name the different animals under each boulder was incredible.

Boring sponge under a boulder
Boring sponge under a boulder
A Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish
A Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish

Wading through the myriad colours of the seaweeds and past the many pretty Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish clinging to them, we came to some rocks that are exposed to more current than some other parts of the beach. (Check out David’s brilliant Stauromedusae site to find out more about stalked jellyfish),

Under a deep overhang where I sometimes see lobsters, there was a small cluster of green and turquoise jewel anemones. They look more impressive when they’re open underwater, with little beads on the end of each tentacle, but I love the colours.

Jewel anemone
Jewel anemone

After a while, I spotted a colourful squat lobster, Galathea strigosa, scuttling across the back of an overhang and dived headlong in to retrieve it.

Galathea strigosa - the Spiny squat lobster
Galathea strigosa – the Spiny squat lobster

The wind on the pools was making it difficult to see much and my camera lens was steamed up, but we crammed in a last few minutes of rockpooling, looking at sea slugs, fish and hermit crabs before calling an end to day 1.

Aeolidella alderi sea slug - this slug looks similar to the common grey (Aeolidia papillosa) at first sight but is more slender with a white 'ruff' of cerrata at its neck.
Aeolidella alderi sea slug – this slug looks similar to the common grey (Aeolidia papillosa) at first sight but is more slender with a white ‘ruff’ of cerrata at its neck.
The more common great grey sea slug (Aeolidia papillosa) looking like it has probably just guzzled a red anemone!
The more common great grey sea slug (Aeolidia papillosa) looking like it has probably just guzzled a red anemone!
An Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab.
An Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab.
Montagu's sea snail (a fish)
Montagu’s sea snail (a fish)
A small spider crab (Macropodia sp. I think...) - David found did an amazing job of identifying a few of these tiny crabs to species level.
A small spider crab (Macropodia sp. I think…) – David found did an amazing job of identifying a few of these tiny crabs to species level.

Coming soon – Part 2 of rockpooling with the experts!

All-Weather Rock Pooling

Much as I love the Cornish rock pools, there are times – throughout the year – when the conditions are grim. According to the forecast, today is going to be one of those days. I have reluctantly cancelled a meet-up with Junior’s friends because the charts show the sort of gales and lashing rain that have most little kiddies shivering before they even reach the pools.

I don’t want to make rockpooling a traumatic experience for other people’s children, but I don’t think Junior’s aware that staying in is an option. He’s so well trained to enjoy the misery that at 10am he’s merrily pulling on waterproofs and wellies and grabbing a bucket. We’re off to ‘the gully’ and no amount of buffeting winds or ominous clouds are going to stop him.

Junior's training in rockpooling in all weathers started early - out with Countryfile age 3
Junior’s training in rockpooling in all weathers started early – out with Countryfile age 3

We are climbing across the rocks from Plaidy beach towards our favourite spot when hail starts ricocheting off our buckets. We keep our heads down, turning our attention to the variety of colours in the pebbles. Junior crams his pockets with his favourites, the extra ballast helping to keep him upright against the howling wind.

The rocky gully is a little more sheltered if you crouch low enough. I adopt a sumo stance and waddle around checking rocks. Every single one conceals groups of worm pipefish, their bodies tangled together.

Entwined worm pipefish couple, Looe.
Entwined worm pipefish couple, Looe.

I’m taking photos of a blob, which is a stalked jellyfish marooned above the water-line by the big tide, when Junior announces it’s time to go ‘mountaineering’.

Out of the water, stalked jellyfish just look like blobs. Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, Looe
Out of the water stalked jellyfish just look like blobs. Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, Looe

I feign deafness for a few more minutes, looking at crabs and urchins, but he’s persistent and soon I’m scrambling up a slope in the rock and attempting to follow him as he leaps across the sharp ridges and shoots down the steep seaweed-covered slopes to the next gully.

A handsome Xantho incisus crab, Looe
A handsome Xantho incisus crab, Looe
A green shore urchin half-hidden by the shells, seaweeds and pebbles among its spines, Looe
A green shore urchin half-hidden by the shells, seaweeds and pebbles among its spines, Looe

The low pressure and large waves are keeping the tide from falling as far as it might otherwise, so I’m wading to the top of my wellies when I find this sea slug, a Limacia clavigera. On the rock it’s formless, so I pop it in some water to take photos.

Limacia clavigeira, the orange-clubbed sea slug. In the water its vivid rhinophores and markings are stunning.
Limacia clavigeira, the orange-clubbed sea slug. In the water its vivid rhinophores and markings are stunning.

Junior returns from his latest expedition across the rocks telling me there’s ‘something I have to see.’ Inevitably, his find involves more climbing and some perilous leaps, which are a challenge in my clunky wellies.

The narrow gap in some huge rocks he’s discovered looks promising and Junior assures me it’s the most sheltered place on the beach. I suspect this might be a good spot for Devonshire cup corals and some other species which like strong currents. I won’t find out today though. The waves are exploding through the gap and the water in front of me is chest-deep.

We explore the pools. A rockling is splashing among the kelp and on the overhang, an Arctic cowrie is grazing. The damp weather suits shore creatures just fine.

Arctic cowrie, Looe
Arctic cowrie, Looe

The tide is due to turn so we start to gather up our things. When it starts to hail once more, I abandon taking photos of a beautifully decorated little spider crab and we clamber up the narrow cliff path.

A small species of 'decorator' spider crab
A small species of ‘decorator’ spider crab

As the downpour slows, we take a breather and look back over the rocks we’ve explored. The beach is completely empty, except for a pair of calling herons flying over. Somewhere a lone oystercatcher is trilling away. Despite his coat being wet enough to wring out (and I suspect his socks are too…) Junior declares the expedition a success.

I don’t know where he gets it from…

It's not a proper day out if there's no water on the lens!
Like mother, like son… It’s not a proper day out if there’s no water on the lens!