Tag Archives: Rock Pooling

Wishing on a Rosy Feather Star

It’s been a while since I posted – thank you for bearing with me. I have so many rock pool adventures to share. I hope you will love this rosy feather star as much as I did.

“Do you see many feather stars?” Libbie asks. We’re on a favourite north coast beach, where we randomly first met a few months back. This time, she has brought her sister in law, Lynne, whose joyous rockpooling Twitter feed I highly recommend: lynne (@lynne08777205) / Twitter.

Asterina phylactica cushion star among seaweed
An Asterina phylactica dwarf cushion star among the seaweeds – one of our first finds of the day.

I admit that I have never seen one. Neither have Libbie or Lynne. I am convinced feather stars are somewhere here on this very beach, but it feels as though I’m looking in the wrong way. Perhaps between us, we’ll spot one? We all agree that sometimes you find things just because you have decided to. This, we say, will be our lucky day.

There is plenty to keep us occupied, including some new life. This is good to see after the heat-bleached seaweeds and poor water quality we have experienced around the coast over the summer. Young Montagu’s blennies flit between the rocks and turn their large eyes to watch us. Libbie discovers a juvenile white-ruffed sea slug (Aeolidiella alderi) under a small slate.

Juvenile Aeolidiella alderi slug found by Libbie.
The second slug of the day – another gorgeous white-ruffed sea slug, Aeolidiella alderi.

Nearby, an even smaller solar powered sea slug, Elysia viridis is out in search of seaweeds to eat. Under my camera, we can see the green and turquoise colours, clues to the presence of chloroplasts from algae it has consumed, which are still photosynthesising – making glucose inside the slug’s body.

A “solar powered” sea slug – Elysia viridis

While the tide recedes, we take a leisurely look into pools packed with St Piran’s hermit crabs and discuss Lynne’s wishlist for the day (Celtic sea slugs, Scarlet and gold cup corals and blue-rayed limpets). They are all species that don’t move far or fast and conditions are ideal.

Excitingly, there are some very small baby St Piran’s hermit crabs like this one in the pools. The next generation is doing well.

Junior, who now knows these rocks as well as I do, sets a course across the slippery stream bed towards an area where we’re almost sure to find everything we’re looking for.

The painted top shells come in especially striking colours on this beach.

As always, progress is slow. There is so much to see and we can’t resist checking every pool. There are vivid pink painted top shells and all sorts of fish and crabs. To my excitement, we find a species I haven’t noticed before, Perophora listeri – a cluster of small bubble-like sea squirts on the red seaweed.

Perophora listeri sea squirts
Perophora listeri sea squirts

In a wide pool near to where Junior is searching for Celtic sea slugs, we settle down to look closely at the rainbow wrack. Not only is this bushy seaweed a brilliant iridescent turquoise color and a favourite place for catsharks to lay their eggcases, it is also teeming with life, like a miniature forest.

Pheasant shell
A cowrie moving over an Asterina phylactica cushion star and a turf of other creatures.

Pheasant shells roam the canopy, young anemones cling on like epiphytes and the dense animal crust of sponges, sea squirts, hydroids and bryozoans around lower ‘branches’ attracts cowries and other small predators. Pretty Asterina phylactica cushion stars are everywhere and as I look down into the base of the seaweed, something else grabs my attention.

There is a bright pink, branched shape that doesn’t look like seaweed. I crawl in close to get my camera in position, but I already know what it is. “A feather star!” I gasp. It seems ridiculous to find one just because I’m looking, but there it is.

Our first rosy feather star!

As we watch, the rosy feather star extends and retracts its arms, uncurling them to show the alternating twiggy branches along the sides. These are fringed with a little comb-like structure to catch passing food. The animal is clinging onto the seaweed with its hooked pink-striped “cirri”. It is such a shocking coral pink colour that it seems impossible I would overlook one, but it is well hidden under the seaweed and camouflaged against the crust of pink seaweed and the coral weed that lines the whole pool.

Convinced there must be more feather stars here, I search for a while without success. In the meantime, Junior has found everything on today’s wish list and is keen to show Lynne and Libbie before the tide comes up. Sure enough, we are treated to scarlet and gold cup corals, blue rayed limpets and quite a battalion of Celtic sea slugs!

Celtic sea slug
Blue-rayed limpet on seaweed

Soon the oystercatchers are moving up the shore with the tide and it is time to retreat. We sit at the top of the shore, watching kestrels hovering over the clifftop while we enjoy a much-needed picnic. Buoyed by our success with the feather star, we reckon we should carry on actively looking for unlikely things next time. Soon, we have a whole list. Cuttlefish, octopus and seahorses, here we come!

A few more bonus creatures from our day’s rock pooling!

Clingfish sp. – probably small-headed clingfish.
Candelabrum cocksii hydroid
Botryllus leachii colonial sea squirt
A pretty chiton (a type of mollusc). Lepidochitona cinerea

This website is a labour of much love and the content is available for free to everyone. My wonderful readers often ask if there is a way to support my work. You can now ‘buy me a coffee’ through my Ko-fi.uk page. (Just click donate and you can set the amount to pay by PayPal). Thank you!

A Window to the Underwater World

The pools sparkle as the sun finally shoulders its way through the February murk. Beneath the surface, the seaweeds are sprouting up, the first sign of spring in the rock pools, and with them come the sea slugs. Many of these minute molluscs choose to spawn in the shallow waters around the shore, where their favourite foods such as sponges, sea squirts and seaweeds are abundant.

A baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata, grazing on seaweed.
A baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata, grazing on seaweed.

How they travel such distances to find mates and lay their eggs here is something of a mystery to me. They are delicate, squishy little things at best, and mere blobs of jelly out of the water. Once in the water, though, they reveal their colours and shapes, and most rockpoolers delight in finding them. Today, I see mostly pale, blobby ones rather than their spectacular cousins, but they are intriguing nonetheless. Continue reading A Window to the Underwater World

Scarlet and Gold Cup Corals -A Treasure Quest

The sea, viewed from the top of the steep valley, is a distant pool of blue decorated with a scattering of rocky islets. Here ‘my people’ (as my other half puts it) gather, unperturbed by the intense hail shower that sweeps over us. We pull on our wellies and waterproofs in the shelter of our car boots until the storm slinks away, uncovering a cleansed sky.

A few years back I hosted a Coastwise North Devon field trip to the south Cornish coast. Today I’ve been invited back for a north Cornwall foray with this dedicated group of marine naturalists. There could be no more serious band of rockpoolers. Should there be any unusual species on this shore, they are about to be discovered.

The walk down the valley to Porth Mear beach never disappoints, even in the muddy aftermath of a hail storm. Our party is accompanied by the trills of the first skylarks of summer and the first swallows dancing over the marshes.

Porth Mear beach at low tide.
Porth Mear beach at low tide.

My main objective today is to photograph the corals. Like so much of our colourful marine life, the scarlet and gold cup coral (Balanophyllia regia) is barely the size of my fingernail and prefers to live in the most awkward spots possible.

When I last found corals here, I crawled into a damp overhang on my belly, discovered the space was too small for my camera’s waterproof casing and removed it so I could hold my camera at arm’s length into the dripping cave (it died soon afterwards). The resulting photos showed blurred bloblets. The colours were lovely but beyond that you had to use your imagination. I suspect my new camera can do better.

Scarlet and gold star coral
My very best blurred bloblet photos from last year…. can I do better?

The water is slow to run out today. A swell is building in advance of a storm and waves are rushing into the gullies that I was hoping to explore; the ones where I last saw the cup corals. Despite that, it’s one of the best tides of the year, and with so many expert eyes on the case it’s not long before a shout goes up and people gather round. 

In a shallow pool at the back of a rocky grotto are dozens of scarlet and gold cup corals, spots of colour as bright as a sunset. Each one has a central disc of fiery orange fringed in rays of saffron yellow tentacles. I can only see this by lying down and pulling myself over the rocks until my head is wedged in the overhang  so deeply that salt water dribbles down my forehead. I have a small head, small enough to wear my child’s bike helmet; just occasionally that’s useful.

Scarlet and gold cup corals growing all along the base of the overhang.
Scarlet and gold cup corals growing all along the base of the overhang.

This time my camera fits easily through the slit in the rocks and after a fair amount of wriggling I find a way to position it in the water and focus. A clear shot of the cup coral, translucent spotted tentacles and all, appears on my screen. I bang my head on the rock in my excitement, then take fifty more photos – just in case.

Scarlet and gold cup coral at Porth Mear
Scarlet and gold cup coral at Porth Mear

I could spend all day here, except that the spray is already breaking over my back from the waves pounding the seaward rocks. Soon the tide will swallow this gully once more. The cup corals need these fierce currents to bring them food, but I wouldn’t last two minutes in them.

More scarlet and gold cup corals
More scarlet and gold cup corals

We carry on our explorations, making more discoveries and enjoying the sunshine, so unexpected after the morning’s hail.

There may be places where the sea shows its treasures more willingly, where large, colourful wildlife swims all around you without having to clamber over slippery rocks, lift boulders or traipse back up a steep hill at the end of the day. But I prefer this. Just as adventure stories would be dull if the quest were over on page one, finding marine treasure would be less fulfilling if you didn’t have to work at it; or so I tell myself.

Finding and managing a decent photo of a scarlet and gold cup coral has taken me nearly forty years. Even now, I’ve only managed it thanks to having ‘my people’ around me, sharing my fascination with these creatures. I couldn’t ask for more.

Scarlet and gold cup coral in a Cornish rock pool
Scarlet and gold cup coral in a Cornish rock pool

A rockpooling warm-up

You might not think that rockpooling is the sort of activity that requires a warm up, but there’s nothing like practice for getting your ‘eye in’. The more and closer you look, the more you’ll see. What better excuse to get out on Cornwall’s beaches before, during and after this week’s massive tides?

I’ve been out on a few family rambles on the local shores the last couple of weeks to make sure I’m ready for some serious rockpooling this weekend (like most weeks, but they don’t complain).

If you’re wondering what you might see if you head down to the shore in the next few days, here are some of the things I’ve been finding…

Go slowly and look closely - this little ring of jelly contains thousands of eggs from a sea lemon (a type of slug).
Go slowly and look closely – this little ring of jelly contains thousands of eggs from a sea lemon (a type of slug).

Continue reading A rockpooling warm-up

Lazy Sunday rockpooling

This time of year when the roads are busy and the beaches packed, the summer can feel anything but relaxing. It’s Sunday today and we’re taking it easy, so what could be better than a stroll to a local cove that’s a bit off the beaten track for a spot of quiet rockpooling. Starfish, sea slugs, fish and stalked jellyfish await me. 

Going slowly and looking at the seaweed can reveal some beautiful encrustations of sea squirts and bryozoans
Going slowly and looking at the seaweed can reveal some beautiful encrustations of sea squirts and bryozoans

It’s always a good idea to move slowly in the rockpools and today I have nothing to rush for. By staring at the seaweed for a very long time, I begin to notice more details and my eye is drawn to a stalked jellyfish. The blobs between the arms are primary tentacles, suckers that the jelly can use to move around.

Stalked jelly Haliclystus ocroradiatus showing its primary tentacles (blobs between the arms)
Stalked jelly Haliclystus ocroradiatus showing its primary tentacles (blobs between the arms)

A little further on I find another species. This one doesn’t have the blobs between the arms and is flecked with pale spots, which contain stinging cells. Continue reading Lazy Sunday rockpooling

The Zen Guide to Rockpooling

  • Pick a quiet day of the week
  • At a quiet time of year
  • On a day with quiet weather
  • Go slowly and quietly
  • Stop. Watch. Let time go

February is a wonderful month for rock pooling in Cornwall. Well, we think so, although we consider a packet of chocolate biscuits a pre-requisite for achieving anything, especially enlightenment, so Continue reading The Zen Guide to Rockpooling

Pirate Rock Pooling Adventure

The leaves are turning, the swallows are no longer dipping over the rock pools, but this long, warm Cornish summer never seems to end. We set sail from Hannafore over a barely rippling sea in the good ship Red Canoe to seek secret beaches, pirate caves and, of course, photos of interesting marine creatures. Continue reading Pirate Rock Pooling Adventure

‘The best day of my life.’ – Rockpooling with Cornwall Home Educators

It’s amazing to watch the rock pools appear. Just an hour ago, as we ate our picnic on Hannafore beach, two ladies were swimming just a hundred metres away. Now the tide has slipped back to reveal the dark, alluring rocks. An egret flies down to stalk the distant pools and oystercatchers follow, trilling loudly.

Hannafore Beach with Looe Island Nature Reserve in the background.
Hannafore Beach with Looe Island Nature Reserve in the background.

‘I want to go rockpooling. Now. Now,’ a little boy pleads, dragging on my arm. Tide and time can never move fast enough when you’re five. Continue reading ‘The best day of my life.’ – Rockpooling with Cornwall Home Educators

Summer Holiday Rock Pooling Events in Cornwall 2014

Rock pooling with the experts is a great way to explore the shore this summer. Below is a full list of events where you can find amazing rock pool creatures and learn all about them.

Asterina phylactica cushion star

Have a fantastic summer!

Please check the full event details with the relevant organisation page before attending in case of changes and cancellations. Continue reading Summer Holiday Rock Pooling Events in Cornwall 2014