Tag Archives: winter

Festive Rock Pooling

Tis the season for overspending, overindulgence and over-exhaustion, so what better way to recharge the batteries than some fresh air and rock pool exploration? It’s a family tradition for us this time of year to head in the opposite direction from the shops and to take a breather on the beach.

Christmas cards don’t often depict the traditional Cornish winter weather for good reason. Between the fog and the persistent mizzle, we have to imagine the view through the valley to the beach. Even when we arrive on the shore, we can barely make out the sea, although we can hear it crashing over the rocks and surging up the gullies.

Waves breaking out of the mist at Porth Mear
Waves breaking out of the mist at Porth Mear

The lower shore might be unsafe, but there’s no shortage of colour and variety in the sheltered pools. The rain kindly stops for long enough to let us enjoy our potter through the pools and we have the beach to ourselves.

Other Half finds a large common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, tapping at a shell and we wonder if the crab’s about to move house. Looking closely, the shell it’s interested in is smaller than its own shell and when I look inside there are legs in there. Most likely our hermit is carrying a female around with her until she moults, hoping to mate with her when she does.

Hermit crab holding on to his mate at Porth Mear
Hermit crab holding on to his mate at Porth Mear

The rock pool wildlife couldn’t care less that it’s Christmas, but the bright anemones can’t help but look festive and are all the easier to see now that the seaweeds have died back for the winter.

Snakelocks anemone
Snakelocks anemone
Beadlet anemones at Porth Mear
Beadlet anemones at Porth Mear

Stalked jellyfish are also easier to see on the remaining short crops of Irish moss and red seaweeds in the pools. In a short stretch I find Haliclystus octoradiatus and a beautiful red Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly.

Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish at Porth Mear
Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish at Porth Mear
Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly
Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly

Another jelly blob catches my eye, just a minute red speck among the seaweed. It seems to be moving, so I focus in with my camera to reveal a baby sea hare grazing its way across a tuft of seaweed. Its red sides seem to be snow-speckled with white and its black-fringed parapodia look like a tiny chimney pot.

Baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata.
Baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata.

In a few months’ time, if it survives the winter, this slug will swell and grow into a fat brown lump many times this size, feeding on the spring growth of seaweed.

Zipping across a shallow pool, a fish smaller than my little finger heads for the shelter of a low rocky ridge where it lies still, relying on its camouflage. The young shanny obligingly sits still for a couple of photos.

A young shanny (Common blenny)
A young shanny (Common blenny)

Soft rain begins to blow into my face as I work my way back over the slippery rocks to rejoin Other Half and Junior, who are entertaining themselves with the noble sport of throwing stones at other stones.

No Christmas stress for us... with the beach to ourselves and an endless supply of stones to throw.
No Christmas stress for us… with the beach to ourselves and an endless supply of stones to throw.

With our wallets intact and our appetites renewed, we’re ready for the feasting to begin.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. Here’s to more rock pooling adventures in 2019!

A Christmas cushion star!
A Christmas cushion star!

 

Fifteen Minute Rockpool Challenge (and some mutants)

I’m not sure who cancelled spring, but I’m not impressed. Yet again, the spring tides are accompanied by ear-numbing winds and a flurry of snow. Just the thought of plunging my hands into the pools makes my fingers ache, and yet, like the fool I am, I wade into the pools to see what’s there.

Due to my reluctance to leave my warm house, it’s half-past low tide by the time I hit the beach. The easterly winds are dashing the waves against the rocks and the gully I’d hoped to explore is well and truly submerged. All that’s left is an average-looking pool.

My average-looking pool for the 15 minute challenge
My average-looking pool for the 15 minute challenge

I’m tempted to give up and go home, but I’m always telling people that there’s something in every pool. That you just need to go slowly and look closely. I set myself a 15 minute challenge to find as many species as I can.

One of my first discoveries is this wonderful mutant cushion star. According to the books, these have five arms. Clearly this one hasn’t read the books. At some point it has lost one or more of its arms and in an incredible feat of regeneration it has sprouted an excess of new ones.

A Cushion star trying to pass as a seven-arm starfish.
A Cushion star trying to pass as a Seven-arm starfish.

In fact, this cushion star has put so much energy into sprouting arms that it now has a total of seven arms. I do sometimes see another species, the Seven-armed starfish, but they are bright orange and have longer arms so I’m not fooled. It’s a nice try though.

There are lots of molluscs including several colourful painted topshells.

Painted topshell
Painted topshell

Nearby, a colony of dog whelks huddles in a crack in the rock, around their yellow egg capsules.

A colony of dog whelks with their yellow egg capsules
A colony of dog whelks with their yellow egg capsules

It’s hard to see through the wind-rippled water into the tangled seaweed below, but this Calvadosia campanulata stalked jellyfish catches my eye. Its bright-white stinging cells stand out among the pink and red seaweed fronds.

Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish
Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish

There are several more stalked jellies, including this Haliclystus octoradiatus. This species has a blob between each pair of arms, which acts as a sucker (‘primary tentacle’)  allowing the jelly to flip upside down and cartwheel along the seaweed. This one seems to have two suckers between some of its arms. It also has an extra arm (nine arms instead of 8).

I start to wonder if this pool is going to be full of mutants with extra arms and tentacles.

Another mutant - a nine-armed Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish with some extra primary tentacles.
Another mutant – a nine-armed Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish with some extra primary tentacles.

The waves are breaking over the rocks and splashing over my back and the water level is rising precariously close to the top of my wellies. I take a few more quick photos of some wriggling worms, strawberry anemones and a banded chink shell just a few millimetres long.

Banded chink shell
Banded chink shell (Lacuna vincta)

As I leave the pool, I find a Saddle oyster shell. These small oysters attach to the underside of rocks and have round hole in the upper valve.

Inside of a saddle oyster shell showing its incredible mother-of-pearl colours
Inside of a saddle oyster shell showing its incredible mother-of-pearl colours

It may be a grey day, but the inside of the shell is coated in the most brilliant mother-of-pearl, shining with every colour of the rainbow. I’ll take it as a sign that spring’s on its way.

 

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

A Winter Walk

Standing on the beach it’s hard to imagine how anything survives in our seas at this time of year. Fierce Atlantic winds send the waves surging high onto the shore, exploding against the rocks and blowing hair or sand into my eyes whichever way I turn. Yet on these dark winter days, when many of our land animals have migrated or gone into hibernation, most marine life is clinging on and waiting for spring.

Wintertime is tough even for the hardiest mariners. The strandline is strewn with those that haven’t made it Continue reading A Winter Walk