Trevose Head

Was last Wednesday the last sunny day of the year? It might well have been and so it was good I had taken a day off to drive to the north coast for some rock pool snorkeling at Trevose Head near Padstow. A beautiful, empty beach at Booby’s Bay led to the low cliffs of Trevose Head. I did not make it that far up the headland as there were some deep gullies and the waves were pounding below. If you slip and fall on your head you could be in real trouble on these solo outings, so easy does it. Like St. Agnes and Fistral at Newquay the pools were dominated by Brown fork tuning weed Bifurcaria bifurcata, one of my favourite seaweeds and not a species I have ever seen near Falmouth. In contrast to my local Castle Beach spot, the coral weed Corallina officinalis was not bleached but a deep purple and growing much more vigorously. I lowered myself in some of the deeper pools and although the viz was not the greatest I instantly knew the trip was worth it. I tried to get some overall impressions of the pools. What would be really cool is to try to make panorama photos underwater; I might order an underwater tripod for that! There was some green Ulva, a variety of small red seaweeds and Bushy berry wrack (and a little bit of Bushy rainbow wrack) and Sea oak with the same colour as the tuning fork weed. Many limpets were covered in quite a big variety of seaweeds. Not many shots came out well (due to the strong light, overcast days might actually be better) but it would be fun to do a post just on limpets and their mini-ecosystems of epizoic seaweeds. The pools are teeming with Montagu’s blennies Coryphoblennius galerita, I would say more than 10 per square meter. They are very curious and swim up to you, although the little ones then are so skittish that it is still tricky to get a shot. The fish below was a very good model though, quiff up high. Only through this close-up shot I noticed the strange flaps in the corners of it’s mouth. The blueish spots seem striking but also make for excellent camouflage amidst the coralweed.  Beadlet-, Strawberry- and Snakelocks  anemones were common and I also spotted large Dahlia anemones and small Daisy anemones. I saw a large (for the species) Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa as well. In the sun, my wide angle wetlens diffracts ligth on the subject which usually is not what you want but resulted in an interesting effect in the second image of the retracting anemone.

Finally, the bright red seasquirt Dendrodoa grossularia which I remember seeing before in Falmouth without realising what it was (the squirts are very small and clumped together). A green stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus attached to coral weed unfortunately is not in focus but I like the very striking colour contrast. If only I could get my strobe to work and get good macro shots! This has the best north coast rockpooling site so far and I’d love to go back as soon as the weather (and tide) allows!  

rockpool photography

I have been out twice this week with the Canon G16 with the hope of snapping a few good photos (out of the hundreds I take). It was trickier than usual, in part because the viz was not great but also because I am making a bit less progress I feel. Investing in an expensive DSLR + housing will get me further but I do not know if it will be worth the money. However, I still have a lot to do when when it comes to mastering the principles of photography, especially getting to grips with manual settings. In this post I will highlight some of the ‘issues’ am facing; who knows I will be lucky and get some feedback via the blog (and instagram), sharing is caring! As usual, I focussed on the seaweed diversity, although at this time of year it is not the best looking. The photo above is nothing special (the seaweed looks a bit straggly) but I like the blue background. It is interesting the wide diversity of seaweed species on the Red rags in the photo below and I like the contrast of the green sea lettice versus the brown Bushy berry wreck in the second photo but both pics are a bit meh. A main difficulty is that many times the sand (orthe bleached coral weed) contrast with the subject of the photo resulting in excess highlights. I try to counteract this by reducing F-stops (resulting in an overall darker picture) and reduce highlights during post-processing. @chris_exploring recommended to choose overcast rather than sunny days which is probably the best approach (and I will have plenty of opportunities to test this the coming months!) The first pic below of a Two-spotted goby is OK but I could not get quite close enough. The second photo is of course out of focus but I included it anyway to show that some of these photos have great potential. It inspired my own photography rule (the ‘Vos Index’): the beauty of the subject (on a 1-10 scale) times the difficulty of a shot (on a 1-10 scale). We are all trying to score a 100: a perfect capture of a beautiful organism. I am stuck with mediocre captures of beautiful things. Sometimes I get a very good capture but then mostly it is of something not-so beautiful. I shoot JPEG + RAW, which is a bit of a pain as I do not want to clog my hard drive and reviewing and deleting JPEGs and then having to filter for names to delete the associated RAW files is annoying. I actually keep few RAW files because very few photos are worthy of any advanced Photoshop editing, and also the standard Windows photo editing software is not half bad. For example see the photo below of whitebait (impossible to tell if it is herring, sprat or pilchard). It is very low contrast and bluish; by reducing highlights, increasing ‘clarity’ and a bit of cropping the image is completely transformed (although still relatively unusable as the resolution is quite bad).   Finally macro. I just cannot seem to get my strobe to work which is annoying so the pics below are all ambient light. I need to up my game with this as there are so many cool subjects around to shoot if you take time to look. Below some tiny (3-4 mm) snails Rissoa parva. I wanted to zoom in more but was unable to unfortunately. Next a much bigger (2 cm) Netted dog whelk Tritia reticulata (sigh, I knew this as Nassarius reticulatus, and Hinia reticulata but the name has changed again). Next, a baby (3 cm) Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine which are one of the easiest fish I know to photograph, not very shy! Finally another challenge to photograph, a mermaids purse (egg case) of a Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris shark with a tiny (2-3 cm) embryo visible. I had a little light with me that I used to illuminate it from the back but this could be improved upon as well!

St. Agnes

I did a little ‘recon’ last Sunday in beautiful St. Agnes on the north coast but my timing was a bit off (the tide came in, with sediment getting suspended and the water becoming super-oxygenated, resulting in lots of bubbles on the wetlens). Luckily, this Thursday with no wind, the sun out and low tide, I had the opportunity to nip out again: awesome! Trevaunance Cove has a small beach, with rock pools on either side, I chose the Trevellas Cove side. Coincidentally, Shoresearch Cornwall (facebook here and here) had a survey and so caught up with Matt and Adele as well as Thomas from HydroMotion Media who I had not seen in a while. The north coast is quite different from the south coast I am used too: more exposed and this site for instance had none of the long Thong weed and Wireweed which dominate Castle Beach. The pools are also wider and in parts have a rocky, gravelly or sandy bottom. One spot had a considerable rock overhang, and I probably spent a full hour alone just at these six meters or so as there was so much to see. With the tide out, it was only about half a meter deep, with rocks encrusted in purple corraline algae, pink and orange sponges, bryozoans, tunicates and red seaweeds. The over-under shot is not particularly great but gives a rough impression, as do the two underwater shots (note the mysis shrimp in the last photo): There is a great diversity in red seaweeds, but I find these species quite hard to ID. The red rags Dilsea carnosa look pretty ‘ragged’ in Falmouth at the moment, but in this shaded, high wave energy spot they looked very fresh (first photo). I made a lot more photos but I was really struggling, as the bright sun reflected on the sand, with the seaweeds sticking out from the shaded overhang, such as Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea. The third photo give a good impression of the beauty of this habitat. Black scour weed and Discoid fork weed manage to scrape around in the shifting sands. Serrated wrack hangs and drips from the rocks into the pools below.Apart from the mysis shrimp in the water column, very large prawns patrol the rock surfaces and Edible crabs, Velvet crabs and Spiny squat lobsters hide in crevices. The prawns are curious and really beautiful. Most spectacularly, I found a large lobster in a cavity and at one point had a small lobster walking over to me: Many fish could be spotted as well: Topknots are common (you can just about see one glued to the rocks behind the lobster in the photo above) and there were a couple of big fat Tompot blennies around as well. Dragonets patrol the sand and are very well camouflaged (and hard to approach). A juvenile fish was hiding on and in a sponge; I first thought it was a juvenile Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi, but in subsequent facebook correspondence thought of a Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita (very common here) but then settled on a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine. This would have been a very good subject for a proper macro-shot if only I could get to grips with my strobe! In general this was a great place and time for fish. Apart from the topknots, tompots and Montagu’s blennies (juveniles were abundant, present even in the tiniest pools), I saw sand eels, corkwing wrasse, a pollack and horse mackerel (both a bit lost in these shallow pools), corkwing wrasse, shannies, sand gobies and rock gobies. I thought I spotted a Giant goby, but this turned out to be a very large rock goby Gobius paganellus (thanks Matt Slater). After the large goby photo, a tiny Rock goby (I think), a Shanny, a Cushion star and Snakelocks anemones. I cannot wait to get back to this beautiful site, but will need to wait a bit for the next good tide…

back in the water

It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp,  Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…

Gilthead Seabream

Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).

First dive of 2018: the N.G. Petersen Wreck

It was time this Saturday: my first dive of 2018! Leaving with Atlantic Scuba‘s Stingray rhib from Mylor Harbour, we plunged in the cold (9°C) water above what remains of the N.G. Petersen in Falmouth Bay. Frustratingly, the indicator light of my strobe kept flashing red and green, so taking decent photos was out of the question. Luckily, I am able to post a nice little clip of this dive made by fellow diver Glyn Kirby (thanks Glyn!). It gives a good impression of life on the wreck and the plankton bloom, reducing the viz quite abit. Inbetween the rubble, some urchins, edible crabs, spider crabs and lobsters. Also great to see five or so (small) Rock Lobsters and some wrasse and shoals of Bib (with some other gadids hanging about too). We saw a small freeswimming Conger Eel and a very big one sticking its head out of a tube (photographic evidence below the video, such a shame the flash did not work because the angle I got was nice). All in all a good dive together with excellent buddy Al. More diving soon I hope!

Two November Boat Dives

I had the pleasure to go on two dives with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba on the ‘Stingray’ RHIB this weekend and last, leaving from Mylor Harbour (see photo above). The first dive was in the Helford Pool, a deep area in the otherwise shallow Helford river. Buddied up with Sue and Al, we descended to 18 meters to swim over a gravelly area covered with tunicates and sponges. This was a drift dive but we did not get all the way to the eastern end of the pool where some small maerl beds are located. Swimming crabs and Leach’s spider crabs were very common; there were not many fish though. One exception was a cute little John Dory Zeus faber. I was struggling to take any decent photographs, in part because I have not used my strobe much yet and because I should have two, not just one! Sue Barnes kindly let me use a photo she took of the John Dory for the blog; also added is a photo of a sponge, one of the few half-decent ones I managed to take: The dive today took us to the cannon ball site, roughly a mile from Pendennis Castle, and an area where many of the cannon balls fired for practice ended up. With buddy Alex we descended to around 16 m using a shot line. Again a flat ‘rubbly’ area with few fish. The seafloor was covered with Common brittlestars Ophiotrix fragilis. The viz was quite good, and it was much lighter than the previous dive. I also had *a bit* more luck with the strobe. Leach’s spider crabs were common, and we also saw some Sea lemons, Doris pseudoargus, a large seaslug. Up next three common species: a little Rock goby Gobius paganellus, the colonial Antenna hydroid Nemertesia antennina and the colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans (thanks David Fenwick). I keep my eyes open for seaweeds too of course, there were some small red species and what I suspect is Desmarest’s prickly weed Desmarestia aculeata. I found out back on the boat that I completely missed a small octopus that Alex pointed out, argh! I was very happy though that I managed to spot an Imperial anemone Capnea sanguinea, which is an uncommon species. The photo of this all-white individual was taken without a strobe; I really should have taken more time to get a decent shot. A good reason to go back though, and maybe we can spot some cannon balls then too. The water is 13-14 degrees and so it is still doable to dive with a wetsuit.

recent rockpool sightings

During my ‘seaweed sessions’ I of course keep my eyes open for animals too. Most prominent are the beautiful Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis (see also here). Other anemone species seem much more rare, such as the Dahlia anemone Urticina felina. Little schools of Mysis shrimp are very common (and very hard to photograph) but fish seem less common than a few months back. The common dragonet Callionymus lyra is (as the name suggests) not uncommon but hard to approach, the third photo was the best I could do and demonstrates how masterfully it is camouflaged (but see here what fullblooded males can look like!). Next a very pretty pink sea squirt species and a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles, completely flat so, very-well adapted to living under rocks. Finally, a tiny stalked jellyfish Calvadosia campanulata. Stalked jellies seemed to have disappeared over summer, but like the seaweeds are making a little comeback during autumn. There are not many around though, I have seen less than one per hour snorkelling (see this post for better stalked jellyfish photos; I need to work on the depth of field!).

Practising Fish Photography

This Thursday afternoon was quite bright with low tide still in the ‘OK’ range, however it was quite gusty, resulting in bad viz. As seaweed photography was not an option, I opted to lie down in a midshore rockpool and look at things up close instead. There are a surprising amount of fish in rock pools when you stick your head in and so I chose to have a go photographing them. Most common were Corkwing wrasse, but these are very shy. A pair of Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavenscens hung around a ledge and were easier to photograph. Still tricky though as my standard settings result in limited depth of field; I need to play around with the aperture next time. I will also bring my strobe and videolight to try to bring out the colours more. I tried a split-shot which half-worked but you really need a wide angle dome port for that (not a ‘wet’ wide angle lens). You can see the steps leading from the tunnel entrance to the shore.Two-spotted gobies hover above the substrate instead of lying on it as most other goby species do, but you can see they are very well camouflaged against the corraline algae. Two Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine swam up to me. These are the least shy of all the rock pool fish (their cousin the Shanny did not come very close) and easy to photograph as they kept checking me out, striking all kinds of different poses. I need to try to photograph these with my macrolens next time. I turned over a stone and found a Long-spined sea scorpion Taurulus bubalis, these keep very still and are also easy to photograph. Prawns were of course around and are actually really pretty with blue and yellow legs and striped body. Finally a shot of seaweeds in this pool showing fresh growth of many red species and a shot with green Cladophora showing limited visibility due to wave action. Btw, I see this is the 200th post on the blog!

Blue sharks

This Monday I was lucky to be invited to join several colleagues for a trip to find Blue sharks with Chris and Annabelle Lowe of Atlantic Diver. Blue Sharks Prionace glauca are not uncommon around Cornwall at the end of summer but they are a pelagic species and usually do not come close to land. We left at 8:00 from Newquay harbour to go 20 miles offshore, get in a cage and see what would swim up! Chum was made by cutting up mackerel and mushing it in a bucket with a spade, out at sea, it was hung overboard in bags to create a trail. On the way I saw my first ever Sunfish Mola mola; a tiny one (30-40 cm or so) flapping about on the surface. We also saw a variety of seabirds: European storm-petrels, Fulmars, a Great skua and Gannets attracted by the chum. The picture above was taken at the end of the day when the weather was a bit more settled, but it was quite rough when we were on board. Let’s say I added a bit to the chum trail! The Fulmars are supposedly a good indicator of sharks, as they are the firsts to fly off. Not this time though, we spotted a small Blue shark (a bit over a meter in length) but all birds seemed oblivious to it. I had expected for the shark to be a bit closer to the surface, but it remained 5-10 meters deep and was quite hard to see. We took to the cage in pairs. It was bobbing about quite a bit and the water was flakey with mushy mackerel. The shark swam in big circles around the cage, once or twice it touched the cage but otherwise it kept her distance. We believe we saw a second shark of about the same size, but they did not appear together. The slender profile and deep blue colour of the sharks were very striking. One of the sharks had a parasite trailing from the tail fin, probably a copepod. The cage might seem a bit overkill for these sharks (there are two tour operators on the south coast who go out on trips without one), but perhaps not when considerably bigger specimens could also turn up (see this link for a recent angling record) and there are multiple confirmed Blue shark attacks on humans. The swell and ‘mackerel snow’ made it hard to focus, but more frustratingly my camera let me down once again by being unresponsive, so I have to really send it out for repair. I also brought my GoPro (one of the old models without a viewfinder unfortunately).  The longer first clip does not show the shark all the time (GoPro switched its software from ‘Studio’ to ‘Quick’, and whereas it is now easy to add a generic dubstep soundtrack, editing out bits does not seem possible) but gives a good impression of the experience nonetheless. All in all it was a great outing and I hope to go again some time. Many thanks to Chris and Annabelle, a very friendly and knowledgeable couple who are highly recommended for their sea safaris!