Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The North Sea

The North Sea in music
Yesterday, unexpectedly, my great friend Gav turned up at my door on a surprise visit from London. We grew up raising binoculars side by side and saw innumerable birds together for the first time. Gav is an opera singer and was full of excitement about a Proms performance of Britten's Peter Grimes in which he'd sung last week. Without knowing he was in it, I'd caught the end of the show on Radio Three as I drove home from leading a bat walk at Kelling Heath. It was thrilling, in a little-hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck way, to hear my old friend talk of his excitement at singing in a performance of rare brilliance of this, Benjamin Britten's troubled take on the North Sea and a North Sea community.

Fish not seen near the North Sea
Gav knows greatly more about fish than I do and has been breathing down my neck (and operatic basses can breathe quite powerfully) about the paucity of fish on my list. He's right of course and, spurred by his visit and by his tip-off about a good spot at which to lob bread at common and mirror carp (sadly, for my purposes, two forms of the same species), today I bought cheap bread and lobbed it. I couldn't find the right spot so I went to another nearby. No carp came and I looked a sad specimen chucking little balls of bread at the water.

Fish seen in the North Sea
Though I failed to score the carp I was more successful with fish in the rockpools at West Runton, adding two new species to my list. I like to make it look as though I lead rockpooling sessions in order to advance the cause of marine conservation but no! The real reason is that small children are demons for finding scarce fish and bringing them in buckets for me to identify. Thus today I finally saw my first long-spined sea-scorpion of 2012 (a species which deserves a mention in dispatches for its name alone) and a five-bearded rockling (also no shirker on the name front). If I'm honest (always) there's a slim chance it was a shore rockling as I neglected to count its barbels but my erudite friend Dawn Watson of Seasearch East is happy that my identification is sound.

Cephalopods ancient and modern
Though not a vertebrate, today's rockpool star was a small cephalopod found by Peter Waltonmy delightful Kelling Heath naturalist colleague. It was either a little cuttlefish Sepiola atlantica (which Dawn tells me are abundant off our coast at present) or a young European common squid Alloteuthis subulata (slightly confused where habitat is concerned). Either way, it was great to see a living cephalopod as I spend much time telling children about fossils on the beach and giving them handfuls of belemnite fossils. Belemnites were more-or-less comparable cephalopods which lived in the sea covering what's now Norfolk in the Late Cretaceous some seventy to ninety million years ago. How wonderful to show children ancient fossils and their still-living relatives side by side. If a design works, why change it?

Birds over the North Sea and its coast
A Mediterranean gull, a swift, two yellow wagtails and a fulmar. Everyone on the move.

Belemnite fossils from West Runton beach 

New in the rockpools today


long-spined sea-scorpion
Taurulus bubalis
five-bearded rockling
Ciliata mustela

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 849
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

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