Just off the coast of Brighton, tucked away beneath the waves we have a huge variety of marine habitats including hidden chalk cliffs and reefs – with their rich and colourful diversity of life, they are as good as any tropical reef! Sussex’s skies are filled with an array of coastal birds – not just gulls, and our rockpools are teeming with weird and wonderful life. In this section, The Booth Museum and partners including Brighton Dolphin Project, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the RSPB aim to show you some of our favourites.
Close to Brighton Marina or in Shoreham you may see the little aptly named Turnstone, running along the water’s edge and turning over pebbles, seaweed and shells, looking for small insects, snails and worms. They look a rather like pebbles themselves so look carefully!
Another colourful bird with a bright red beak and red legs is the Oystercatcher. You may see little groups of them. Look for them near Brighton Marina, along the Undercliff walk, and at Shoreham. You may hear them before you see them. They make a “p-teep p-teep” sound as they fly away. Oystercatchers do not catch oysters! A better name for the Oystercatcher would be “Mussel cracker” as they eat mussels, shellfish and lugworms.
Black headed gulls are handsome birds with – not black heads in fact but a dark brown hood. Take a careful look next time you see one. They have lovely red beaks and dark red legs. Their cheerful call is “kreear”. You can see them near the beach but also inland looking for worms and insects in some ploughed fields.
Marine and coastal life has changed dramatically over the past century. But how do we know this? And why is this useful to us now? Pieces of this puzzle can be put together through delving into our natural history collections from the past 100 years.
Want to see a prehistoric looking bird? I think you should look no further than the cormorant! Cormorants have an ancient dinosaur like look about them, as they sit on boats or rocky cliffs and stretch their wings. Look out for the young birds which have a cream coloured chest.
In the Number One spot it has to be – the Herring Gull! I always think they have a mean glint in their eye! But that is just my fancy. Love them or loathe them they are a familiar sight around Brighton and Hove as they eye up the sandwiches you take to the beach. Herring gulls are the coastal birds most likely to come into conflict with humans. So let’s take a look at why that is the case and what it tells us about human behaviour too.
Herring gulls are big, bold and have a yellow beak with a red dot on it. The young birds are brown. They are seen all year round. The behaviour of Herring gulls has changed very radically since the 1920s. At this time the herring gulls nested on the chalk cliffs and fed out at sea or foraging on the beach. Gradually Herring Gulls learned that seaside towns like Brighton offered safe places to nest up on the rooftops and an easy source of food, as people dropped litter with some waste food and eat picnics out on the beach. The numbers of cliff nests dropped dramatically. Why bother foraging and using lots of energy flying out to fish at sea when there is a handy take away snack in a human’s hand or on a rubbish tip?
If Herring gulls have a mean glint in their eye, I think that the little kittiwake looks sweet and gentle. Why is it called a Kittiwake? That is the sound it makes. It has a black beady eye and is smaller than the herring gull. Unlike the herring gull, the kittiwake will not steal your chips or sandwiches. It catches fish out at sea for food instead. You will only see them locally between about March and August, when they nest at Seaford Head.
The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae, which are commonly referred to as “true seals” or “earless seals”. In the UK average weights are 233 kg (514 lb) for males and 154.6 kg (341 lb) for females with Bulls reaching 1.95–2.3 m (6 ft 5 in–7 ft 7 in) and cows typically 1.6–1.95 m (5 ft 3 in–6 ft 5 in) long.
Did you know?
Grey seals can stay underwater for up to 16 minutes, diving as deep as 300 meters, but usually diving to around 70 meters
The harbour seal, also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. The most widely distributed species of Pinniped (walruses, eared seals, and true seals), they are found in coastal waters of the northern Atlantic, Pacific, Baltic and North Seas.
An adult can attain a length of 1.85 m (6.1 ft) and weight up to 168 kg (370 lb).
Did you know?
Harbour seals can dive deeper than their Grey cousins, diving to 427 meters and staying underwater for almost 30 minutes. However, the average dive is usually a few minutes, going down to 90 meters. They also like to observe humans walking on beaches from the safety of the water, but are wary of humans on land and will rush to the sea if disturbed.
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