Tag Archives: helford

Birthday Rock Pooling

It’s that time of year again. Amazing spring tides, ideal conditions and, of course, it coincides with Other Half’s birthday. Lucky him! What else could he possibly want to do but come rock pooling? To be fair, he needs no persuading that it beats a day in the office and, as a birthday treat, I offer him an evening out afterwards – watching me give a talk at the Cornwall Marine Recorders’ event in Gwithian (with a bar and nibbles).

We pile into the car ridiculously early in the morning to make sure we make it to Prisk Cove in time to meet our lovely friends and their twins to explore as the tide rolls out.

This beach is a little off the beaten track, but worth the walk. We find it empty of people and the tide so far out that the kelp hangs limply in shallow pockets of water in the bay.

The beach’s sheltered position between the Helford and Falmouth Bay, combined with the huge numbers of loose boulders, makes this habitat perfect for many marine species. Despite his initial certainty that he won’t find anything, Junior’s friend is first to find a spiny starfish. Its long tapering arms set with thick spines have an attractive purple hue.

Spiny starfish at Prisk Cove near Falmouth
Spiny starfish at Prisk Cove near Falmouth

We watch its many tentacle feet reaching out to explore the rocks.

Spiny starfish arm in action
Spiny starfish arm in action

The asymmetric heads of flat fish always intrigue me, so I am delighted when we find the first little topknot, then more and more of them. Some are sticking to the rocks, even clinging on when completely upside down, using their fringing fins to mould themselves to bumps and imperfections in the surface. Their mottled patterns can make them hard to spot and they stay completely still to avoid detection.

Topknot flatfish resting on a rock
Topknot flatfish resting on a rock
Flatfish like this topknot have their mouth set on one side of their head.
Flatfish like this topknot have their mouth set on one side of their head.

Under a large rock we find a large edible crab that makes the other twin shriek. She soon overcomes her nerves when I move it out of the way so that we can look at the fish, which are also sheltering here.

Everyone crowds round to see the stunning colours and impressive headgear of the tompot blenny, and the kids are amazed by the smoothness of the rockling’s eel-like skin.

Tompot blenny
Tompot blenny

Other Half holds the edible crab for a quick birthday photo before we pop everything back where we found it.

Edible crab at Prisk Cove
Edible crab at Prisk Cove

Out among the furthest accessible rocks, the twins’ mum is not being outdone. She brings some fish over to show me, among them a beautiful goldsinny wrasse. It’s not a fish I often see on the shore, but it is easily identified by its two dark spots, one at the front of its dorsal fin and the other at the top of its tail.

Goldsinny wrasse at Prisk Cove
Goldsinny wrasse at Prisk Cove

It has wide orange eyes with a flash of blue and the wonderful pouting lips of the wrasse family.

Goldsinny wrasse - a beautifully coloured fish
Goldsinny wrasse – a beautifully coloured fish

The finds flood in and I struggle to keep up with taking photos of everything to ensure that I can submit records afterwards. On one area of the shore I find a large patch of Wakame.

This invasive non-native seaweed is easily identified by its corrugated-looking stipe and thin, floppy fronds. Originating from China, Japan and Korea, it has spread widely in Europe and can out-compete native seaweeds.

White painted top shells, an improbably hairy purse sponge and an interesting anemone all catch my eye before the tide turns.

An especialy hairy purse sponge - presumably just a variant of Sycon ciliatum
An especialy hairy purse sponge – presumably just a variant of Sycon ciliatum
Painted top shells are usually pink, but this beach had many of the white variety
Painted top shells are usually pink, but this beach had many of the white variety

I also discover half a dozen shark eggcases of the Greater spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) attached to the rainbow wrack of the lower shore pools.

Catshark egg case among the seaweed
Catshark egg case among the seaweed
When it is in the water, Rainbow wrack is wonderfully iridescent
When it is in the water, Rainbow wrack is wonderfully iridescent

All too soon it seems, the tide is flowing in. At first it is a faint current, but it turns quickly into a churning river through the tight gullies and we retreat to enjoy a birthday picnic.

A lovely little Lamellaria snail, likely Lamellaria latens
A lovely little Lamellaria snail, likely Lamellaria latens
Limacia clavigera sea slug at Prisk Cove
Limacia clavigera sea slug at Prisk Cove
An especially small anemone growing on rainbow wrack.
An especially small anemone growing on rainbow wrack.

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.