Sunday, 13 October 2013

The animals who let us share their world.

One of the most heavily thumbed books on the boat is the ‘Kingfisher concise field guide to plants and animals’ which is now held together by duck tape and wishful thinking. We have met a number of unusual and interesting animals in our travels and manage to get very close to some.

Mullets - or harbour fish as many people know them - have followed us everywhere getting bigger as we headed South. They enjoy eating growth off the side of boats and old bread and are very easy to attract they are though difficult to catch because of their soft mouths and apparently not worth it because of their taste! We’ve seen seals bobbing around in rivers, oyster catchers and stone turners on beaches. Kingfishers have brightened the pontoons on several occasions flashing in the light as they zoom away, bats often flit around in the evenings and plovers working hard on the beaches or pontoons, cute little birds that always look busy.

Mullets during the 'spring run'

Some animals have surprised us with their behaviour, limpets munching on a harbour wall leave big tracks in the algae and in Spain during the winter large flocks of Robins were a common sight. In some cases such as the dolphins (you may have noticed us mentioning dolphins once or twice) it was almost like they were watching us not the other way round, one time after a pod had swum off, two adults each with a calf came up to us briefly then swam off after the others. It was almost like two of the little ones had said “Mum, I didn’t get to see the humans” and that they had been brought over to have a good look at us.

Limpets on the harbour wall
There have also been some odd things such as brain shaped sea weed, whelk egg balls and goose barnacles.

Cuttlefish are a special favourite and watching cormorants diving down into clear water so you can see them going down into the depths and the stream of bubbles coming up. We have seen many kinds of jellyfish and are still amazed at how tough these fragile looking creatures are, crabs are fascinating to watch and urchins are really spiny. We’ve seen pine cones the size of the deckhands heads, flowers in dazzlingly deep shades of red, blue and purple, dune plants such as sea holly and really evocative flowers such as the hollyhock which have brightened our travels with their colours. Then there were the snakes, butterflies and many sorts of insects.
bottle brush plant in the Basque country
Starfish still attract gasps when we see them, at Cameret we hung over the dingy to spot them, we’ve seen sunfish, some beautiful hoopoe’s and a skua. There have also been fire salamanders and lizards, fulmars (which look like seagulls that have flown into a brick wall), praying mantises with their strange gait and gannets which sweep down and glide over the waves on their enormous wings. Then there are things like Common ormer shells with their beautiful silver inside and lots of other shell fish including scallops, dog cockles with their pink tongues, shear waters, cardinal beetles, a coypu, peacocks tails (a type of aquatic worm), black redstarts and the great northern diver (as in Arthur Ransoms book).

Fire salamander basking on a wall

Some things it has been harder to find out what they were. A strange shaped jelly like but solid thing was seen on many pontoons and we were not sure if it was plant or animal, unable to find it in a book or on the internet we finally saw it in the aquarium at Brest and asked the staff who did not know the English but was able to tell us the French and Latin (Ascidiacea) names for it and that it was ‘not quite a sponge’. Using this we were finally able to track it down and find the common name for what turned out to be the sea squirt. In other cases it has been others (thanks Dad!) who have managed to identify things for us like the violet oil beetle.

Sea squirt on a piling at low tide
We have kept a note book of animals and birds we have seen and a few of the more dominant/regional/obvious plants and have many photos, drawings and, most importantly, fantastic memories of watching them going about their everyday lives.

A visitor on Tarquilla's deck

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