Tuesday, 10 September 2013

bird skulls ... a misidentification, a few new ones and lessons learnt

My blog post the other day 'bird skulls from Samson' led me to look closer at some of the skulls I've have for ages. I was given a few years ago and have always believed the little labels that went with them not thinking that they might be wrong.

How I never noticed this buzzard had been labelled jay I don't know. I'm guessing over the years the labels got muddled. Anyway this is huge compared to the jay I've just unearthed and look at the hook on it. I apologise for mislabelled drawings and photos previous to this ...

... and I now know that it is a jay skull in this piece from 2011.

Finding out more about bird skulls also made me panic about the ones I had buried in my garden. I realise now this is not the best method to get them clean. Though it seams like the easiest way you can easily loose bits especially with small ones. I got them all out the other day and was a bit disappointed to find I'd left some of them for far too long.

My beautiful jay broke in half, the razorbill lost the chunky black and white sheath that I really wanted to preserve and the tiny blue tit had disappeared mostly and I had to throw it away.

But they are still beautiful and I love them all. Especially the magnificent gannet.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

sea holly

Sea Holly. Probably my favourite coastal plant. I look forward to finding it at Kitchen Porth Beach every year we visit Bryher. It grows at the top of the beach just where we and all the other visitors who bring kayaks to that part of the island, leave them to be safe from the high tides.

Every day the boats are dragged over them, people chuck weight belts, fins, buoyancy aids, paddles and all sorts over them and even stand on them - at their peril in bare feet! Yet despite the daily battering these tough little plants seems to thrive.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


I have been fascinated by sea urchins for ages. As a kid coming down for holidays in Polzeath I remember seeing baskets of the shells outside tourist shops and have been hunting for them in rock pools ever since but I have learnt more about them lately, especially as I have been finding quite a few of their shells or tests around Scilly.

The first urchin test I found was about twenty years ago. I have a book that calls it green sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris.

No more than 3cm wide I've never found another one since. It was so lovely I framed it with drift wood and still have it on my wall.

A few years later I found a few potato urchins Echinocardium cordatum. I just called them heart urchins not realising that there are a few species of heart urchin found in Cornwall.

So last year on Scilly when I found the live one on the right I assumed it was the same as the others. But now, having looked really closely at the tests we found this year, I know it is a purple heart urchin Spatangus purpureus. Beautifully coloured when alive with a perfectly heart shaped test. I found the one in the middle. It is not complete and quite small but it still has colour and spines and I love it. The one on the right was found by my beach combing kindred spirit http://jokehyaian.blogspot.co.uk/ A fabulous thing about 8cm in diameter.
Two other heart urchins are found in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Echinocardium flavescens and Echinocardium pennatifidum but I never found these. Next year maybe.

I did find the tiny pea urchin Echinocyamus pusillus. These are from the beaches of St Martins. No more than 8mm long. Exquisite.

And the last urchin I came across on Scilly was the common or edible sea urchin Echinus esculentus (the large one they sell in baskets outside tourist shops) Coming in to Kitchen Porth at low tide from a kayaking trip I was lucky enough to find one stranded on a pile of kelp. I held it in my hands, turning it upside down to see its mouth - the Aristotle's lantern - and watched it moving in the water when I put it back under the kelp fronds. An amazing thing. Unfortunately I had no camera. We saw them later in the week as we snorkelled but still no photos. Beginning to think an underwater camera would be a fine thing to own.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

bird skulls from Samson

I was trying to sort out the things I found on Scilly but ended up spending the whole evening  measuring skulls and bills and working my way through my Tracks and Signs book. I found this amazing website for identifying bird skulls skullsite.com, also this site about seabird osteology.

Me and my friend paddled to Samson, an uninhabited island off Bryher, early one morning. We had it to ourselves and as we wandered on one of the little beaches we found these three skulls.

The one on the left is an oystercatcher and I was pretty sure about that before we came home. The long straight bill and black and white feathers amongst the rest of it gave it away. It cleaned up beautifully though I lost a couple of bones and can't quite figure out where they go. But many of the skulls I find are incomplete as they come off the beach and are bleached and worn by the sea.

The middle one is beautifully bleached and turns out to be a herring gull.
And the one on the right is a corvid of some kind. A crow probably but I'll sort that one out when nature has done a bit more work on it - its out in the garden with the others now. The others? A gannet, a razorbill, a jay, a sparrow, a herring gull, an unknown small gull and now a crow - I think.

Then I got to looking at some of my other bird skulls. Some of them I know but this one has confused me for a while. Somehow I overlooked it in the book. Found it in the end. It's a fulmar. A fabulous fulmar, one of my favourite sea birds.
I found out I have a wood pigeon and a blackbird too.

Now I am in chaos. Books and boxes of shells and bones and things everywhere and not very sorted as planned. 

But a fascinating evening. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

back from Bryher ...

I'm back from two beautiful weeks on Bryher ...

there I beach combed and found many wonderful things  ...

... filled my sketchbook with words and paintings

and took loads of photos...

but the treasures I wrapped carefully and held tight in my hands to bring home will take a while to uncoil.

I was only there for two weeks. Much of that time I spent with my family and friends, swimming, kayaking, snorkelling and wandering about doing nothing - not drawing and painting or thinking. Then I have spent the weekend sorting out all the camping gear and washing and packing everything away. Oh and swimming and kayaking and enjoying the last of the summer... and now I have to go back to work.
So things will emerge here slowly.

I'm thinking about why I love going back to Bryher and the Scillies? I go every year, never wishing to be anywhere else, always wanting to stay longer, always finding inspiration and things I've never seen before and loving it more and more each year. What is so special? I will probably never travel to exotic far away locations but I'm beginning to think I don't need to. There is a great richness to going to a small place and returning again and again to that place. Bryher is exotic to me. I don't live there and it is beautiful and full of strange things, but it is also close and familiar. The land, the sea and the wildlife make sense to me. Full of adventure and beauty, exotic and familiar at once.
Just like Cornwall, my home.