Whether you visit a sandy cove, rocky shore or seaside town, there’s always something to look out for at the seaside.
However, there’s more to the beach than sandcastles, ice cream and deckchairs – here’s my top ten wildlife highlights. Plus there’s a bonus number 11 as well...
Gulls don’t just nick your chips – they’re a quintessential part of our seaside heritage. Whilst black-headed gulls are now losing their black heads ready for winter, listen out for the raucous calls of herring gulls, perhaps the classic seaside ‘seagull’. Don’t just ignore our gulls though, they are part of the charm of our coast and should be cherished as such.
Along with gulls, crabs are a seaside classic. Rock pools are a good place to spot these critters as they scuttle around, pincers at the ready.
Again, you’ll be looking in rock pools for these colourful relatives of jellyfish. Except, unlike their jellyfish cousins, adult sea anemones have taken a sedentary lifestyle – anchoring themselves to rocks and catching food as it floats by. There’s likely to be several species in rock pools, how many can you find?
OK, this might be a tough one, but it’s worth a look isn’t it? Although called a shark, these 11 metre giants are fish and have no teeth. You’ll probably need to be on the west coast of the UK, but our friends at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) have received several sightings this year. If you do spot the world’s second biggest fish, hovering up plankton off our coast this summer, make sure you let them know...
Often hauled out on sand bars enjoying the sun like us, there’s two resident species of seal in the UK – common and grey. Confusingly, the common seal is actually less common than its bigger grey relative. You’re more likely to see a common seal popping its head up inquisitively at you from a harbour or the beach though.
Another creature that’ll have you peering into rock pools is the family favourite the starfish. The common starfish is the one we’ll all recognise – orange and with five arms. Amazingly, starfish can re-grow these arms if injured. That’s pretty handy, don’t you think?
Have you ever actually looked at the seaweed you see at the seaside? Either covering rock pools, clinging to the side of jetties or simply washed up on the shore, you may be surprised to find that there are over 600 species of seaweed in the UK. That’s a lot of seaweed – and each one is supremely adapted to its habitat. See how many different ones you can see?
Just this week one swam up the River Dee towards Chester! That one is a common dolphin, but the more familiar bottlenose dolphins are around too. Cornwall and the western side of the UK are good, as is the English Channel. But, it’s possible they’ll turn up anywhere. Don’t confuse them with their smaller cousin porpoises, though.
You’ll find limpets clinging to rocks, and other hard surfaces. With their hard shell as protecting a soft body, they move around at high tide grazing algae and sea weed, before returning to the same resting spot. Apparently they also change sex, starting as males but then changing to females after a couple of years.
There’s loads of fish in rock pools, from gobies to blennies. Just watch as they dart around the little pools, looking for food and waiting for high tide, which will bring more!
I couldn’t include fossils in my top 10 as they’re not alive! But I couldn’t leave them out completely! As a kid I scoured the pebbly north Norfolk beaches for belemnites. These are long-lost ancestors of modern day squids, and I amassed quite a collection. When the tide was out, my brother and I hunted through the chalk rock pools for ammonites – the holy grail of fossils as far as I was concerned! I never did find one though.
What will you discover?
So that’s my top 10, complete with special bonus fossils. How many of these can you find on the beach this summer? Wherever you visit keep your eye out and let me know what you see, or what would make your top 10...
Yes - a trip to Havergate sounds excellent. I think I can accept avocets.
It's about time I visited Havergate again. I did a stint volunteering on the island and had to count all the avocets - took me a while! But I first took the short boat ride on when I was about seven. Everyone should go to Havergate at some point.
your list sounds pretty complete and makes it really difficult to add something.
How about a short boat trip, to feel and smell a nice breeze of salty air whilest listening to the gulls overhead and trying to spot something from your list in the water?
A very good place to do that could be Orford on the South Suffolk Coast. You could head out to windswept Havergate Island to spot a huge flock of elegant Avocets in late Summer.
Being one of the outstanding birds around the estuaries, maybe you would accept them as another coastal wildlife hightlight?
The next RSPB trips to the 'Island of Avocets' will be on the 30 August and 1 September, by the way.
Maybe I will meet you on one of these trips to Suffolk's only island?