It is that time of the year again: gales, rain and darkness. The only good thing about late autumn/winter to me is that the wind blows interesting things on the beach. Portuguese Men o’ War (Physalia physalis) have been a common sight the last few years (see this post from 2017), perhaps more so than it used to be, but not sure this has been properly investigated. Yesterday we saw several dozen at Loe Bar near Helston, including the smallest specimen I have seen so far. No By-the-Wind-Sailors Vellella and no Violet Snails Janthina, and definitely no Porpita or Glaucus; maybe someday!
The weather today was pretty bad, but it was still very nice to go for a quick stroll on the beach; we chose a new destination: Gunwalloe near Helston. The beach and cliffs here are more reminiscent of some of the North Coast spots, quite barren. At the moment, Facebook and Instagram are overflowing with pretty pictures of washed up Portuguese man o’ wars (or Portuguese men o’ war?) in Cornwall, but we only saw two small shrivelled up ones (at Holywell Beach) so far. It was therefore great to see ten or so on the high tide strand line at Dollar Cove and Gunwalloe Church Cove. The smaller ones measured only five cm or so, with the largest one close to 20 cm (the size refers to the pasty-shaped, gas-filled float or pneumatophore). Unlike true jellyfish, which can move by contracting muscles around their bell, the Portuguese man o’ War (Physalia physalis) just sails. More amazingly, they actually are not individuals but colonies comprised of different, specialized individuals (it is getting late writing this, so I will lazily refer to Wikipedia). Stunning colours and truly great finds!
This Sunday the weather was not too bad and we went for a stroll on Sandy Acres Beach in Hayle on the North coast. Not much exciting had washed up after Storm Angus. However, there was an enormous amount of nurdles, small plastic pellets that are the base material to produce final plastic products. These things end up in the sea due to spillages and present a large environmental problem as animals mistakenly feed on them. They concentrate pollutants on their surface and break down in even smaller particles (ending up in smaller animals), exacerbating the problem. I should have counted them, but there were definitely between 10 and 100 per meter strandline. I recorded the find at the nurdlehunt website, a good place to start to learn more.
Sunday was a beautiful spring day and we headed out to a new spot: Sandy Acres Beach on St. Ives Bay, North Cornwall. Beautiful dunes and a vast beach with very few people on it! With the kids running amok, I had only very little time to scour the high tide strand line. However, even with only 50 meters or so covered, it was the best bit of beach combing so far. Many cuttlefish bones, bits of Horn wracka and quite large mussels covered in seaweed holdfasts. Below a quick snap. At the bottom, I am not 100% sure, two Thornback ray Raja clavata- a Spotted ray Raja montagui and just above that a tiny Small-spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula mermaid’s purses (egg cases, see here for a useful key). Next to the mussel Mytilus edulis, some Hornwrack Flustra foliacea (a Bryozoan), two sponges which might be Mermaids glove and Chocolate finger sponge (thanks Steve Trewhella at the Beachcombing facebook group) and a spiky piece of Sea beard Nemertesia antennina, a hydroid. At the right of that a piece of a whelk Buccinum undatum egg cluster (better pic here). Not a bad haul, looking forward for a proper walk along this beach very soon!
The winter season is the time for beachcombing and so I was very happy that Santa gave me The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline; a fantastic guide to objects washed on British (and NW European) shores by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher. One of the things that sets it apart from other guides is that it not only covers biological ‘objects’ (shells, fish, mermaid’s purses, sea beans etc) but also strandline debris of human origin (e.g. buoys and nurdles). After a walk at Praa Sands beach, it helped me to identify the Goose barnacle Lepas pectinata. A must-have book for anyone who likes to spend time on the beach! At Praa Sands I also found several Chama bivalves attached to a tangle of rope. David Fenwick has recently described three Chama species, all from (around) Florida (there are no native species), see here for much more detail. Unfortunately it is very difficult to tell what species it is from only the lower valve of the ‘Jewel Box’. It is interesting to see that even commonly encountered bits of rope and net can be from as far as the other side of the ocean. Hopefully there will be some westerly January storms to wash up more interesting species!
The weather has been awful lately (October in the UK, no surprise there) with lots of wind. A good time for some beach combing! I have not done much of that actually (here one old post) but hope to head out more over the winter. Last week a large piece of a space rocket washed up at the Isles off Scilly, but I am willing to settle for something less exciting… We headed for Chapel Porth Beach west of St. Agnes on the North Coast, a very rugged bit of coast. Because of the rain and the sand blasting, it was not very suitable for the kids so we stayed only for a very short while. Plastic debris high on the shore, some pieces of dead bird and a big buoy covered in Goose barnacles Lepas anatifera and potentially Lepas hilli (thanks David Fenwick); I find it difficult to distinguish between the two.A very large number of small Mauve stinger Pelagia noctiluca jellyfish had also washed up. I tried a couple of quick underwater photos but I should have taken a little more time to get them right. We then took the decision to head from the North coast to the South coast (which are only 25 miles apart), specifically Marazion at St. Michaels Mount. The weather can vary quite a bit locally and we figured it could only be better on the other side. The tide was still low and here the wind was onshore as well, however, not a single object seemed to have washed up. It kept raining and so we cut the beach combing short. Better luck next time!