It’s the shortest day of the year, but there’s no shortage of colour and life in the rock pools here in Looe.
I try out a pool I’ve not explored before and am blown away by the variety of animals going about their day, searching for food and shelter.
Easily my favourite find of the day is this European three-spot cowrie. Although they’re not uncommon here on the south-east coast of Cornwall, at low tide they’re usually retracted in their shells or abseiling from the rocks on a mucous thread.
To find one fully extended out of its shell, its orange syphon probing the weeds and its leopard-print mantle curled around its shell, is fabulous. I’ve always loved finding these shells washed up on the beach, but the live animal is incredibly colourful. It looks far too tropical for our cold waters.
It’s not a great low tide but this large, shallow pool is ideal for all sorts of creatures.
Everywhere I look, there are more animals going about their business. Hermit crabs scurry past me and a fish takes shelter under my welly.
From now on, the days will get longer, and before long the sea slugs and fish will begin to move in to the shore to spawn. It seems some can’t wait for spring – even today I find a pair of Berthella plumula sea slugs under a stone!
If you’re in Cornwall this Christmas, take a look at the rock pools. You won’t be disappointed.
A sunny bank holiday weekend followed by a sunny half-term week is nothing short of a miracle. That the second weekend also coincided with some big spring tides is more amazing still.
I’ve seen some wonderful photos this week of rockpooling finds all around Cornwall. Some fabulous creatures. And if you haven’t been able to explore the shore yourself, Springwatch tonight (8th June) are going to be showing footage of the remarkable comeback of the Clybanarius ethryropus (nope, still can’t pronounce it) hermit crab, filmed with Cornwall Wildlife Trust at Castle Beach, Falmouth.
The stars of my pretty perfect day of wading through pools in the blazing sunshine at Port Nadler, near Looe, were the baby fish.
There are plenty of young fish around at the moment but the new hatchlings can hard to spot. I took this photo of clingfish eggs to capture the eyes staring out of each eggs and the little spotty tails curled round them.
It was only when I uploaded photo to my laptop that I realised I’d managed to capture my first hatchling (in the centre of the picture). I can’t get enough of those golden eyes.
Fish often stick around to guard their eggs and sure enough there was a proud parent next to this rock.
I was up to my waist between rocks leading to the open sea when I saw this pale creature, about 4cm long, wriggling amongst the darker kelp. From its elongated, looping form I expected a worm.
On closer inspection the large eyes and fins were clear. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a baby pipefish.
Judging by the yolk sac still attached to its belly, this little fish hatched very recently. I saw several more in the water, their curling movements reminding me of their cousins the seahorses. I wondered if the dad was close by – like seahorses, the male pipefish looks after the gestating eggs in his pouch until they hatch – but he’d be too well camouflaged to spot in this seaweed.
The rocks were crawling with crabs and the pools were busy with the fry of larger fish that use these sheltered waters as nurseries. My camera battery was low, but this Limacia clavigera sea slug was worth draining my battery for.
The water was so warm after a week of sun that I put on my snorkel for the first time this year and enjoyed a leisurely float across the bay, watching wrasse skirting the rocks and snakelocks anemones waving in the current.
If this weather carries on, I can see myself returning to Port Nadler regularly this summer to watch the baby fish growing up.
There are lots of benefits to having a summer birthday; the sun usually shines, the rock pools shimmer and it’s just about warm enough to put my snorkel on and jump in. The beach has lots of presents in store for me today, including a huge greater pipefish, a cousin of the sea horse, and a rare sea slug. No unwrapping required.
It’s holiday season , but a little planning and some walking is all that is needed to find a peaceful cove. We set off to Port Nadler in perfect, calm conditions loaded with wetsuits, buckets and an ample picnic.
Under a rock I spot what I think is a very large anemone, but it looks odd. I’m still trying to puzzle it out when it crawls away, unfurling long ear-like tentacles from its head. It’s a sea hare but more bulky than the ones I normally see (Aplysia punctata).
As it oozes towards me across the rock I’m struck by its face, more like a hippo than a hare with wide flapping ears and a broad snout. Very occasionally larger sea hares, Aplysia depilans, have been found around the southern shores of the UK, and I begin to wonder.
I contact experts who have seen them before and they confirm it is a juvenile Aplysia deplians – a rare find and a species I’ve never seen before. Happy birthday to me!
It’s still cold for snorkelling and I only last about a quarter of an hour before my teeth start to chatter, but it’s worth it. After several minutes of seeing nothing but kelp, silt and the occasional two-spot goby, a long snake-like body catches my eye. It’s the unmistakeable shape of a greater pipefish (Syngnathus acus).
These fish grow to about arm length and have a hexagonal cross-section. This one hardly moves, relying on camouflage for defence, its long nose stretching out over the sand.
I drift back into shore, and find a compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) stranded in the shallows. It takes its name from the beautiful markings on its back, but I don’t go too close – sea nettle is its other common name.
Back on the shore, I huddle on the sand, wrapped in jumpers and towels, shivering and eating cake. Birthdays don’t get any better than this.
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