Last Wednesday I went for a quick dive at Silver Steps in Falmouth, good viz and the water is no longer cold. Buddy Chris (above) and I rummaged around the U-boat wreckage (less impressive than it sounds) and unfortunately did not see any cuttlefish. What was new was a largish Topknot Zeugopterus punctatus which was gone before I could take a decent photo. I also saw seacucumbers for the first time diving (have seen them before when rock pooling, including parasitic snails). They could be Pawsonia or Aslia, but with the bodies wedged in the rocks and only the feeding tentacles visible it is not possible to tell. Sand eels were abundant and Sand smelt Atherina presbyter were also present at the surface. I hope to go back soon to practice with the strobe. I did a second dive in Flushing with Thomas too. Enjoyable but not too many great shots. I included one of Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega and fan worms Megalomma vesiculosum.
I was lucky to go diving twice this weekend, first at Grebe beach next to Durgan in the Helford Passage. As the photo above shows, this is as pretty as Cornwall gets, and the water looked crystal clear at high tide as well. It was a pain to get all picknick stuff and diving gear down (no parking nearby) but it was worth it. Unfortunately I left my fins in my car, so it was a very slow swim out. I emptied my stab jacket and tried walking over the seabed which half-worked (let’s say it was an interesting way of diving). Unfortunately the viz was not as great as expected. I spotted a small squid but it took off before I could take a snap. Other than that no special sightings. Below two images of the eelgrass, two frisky Sea hares Aplysia punctata and a macro photo of a Necklace shell Euspira catena. I had the rented tank refilled at Seaways in Penryn in case there was an opportunity to go out Sunday. The opportunity turned out to be limited to the village where I live, Flushing (opposite the harbour of Falmouth). I had never seen divers in Flushing or heard of anyone diving there, and judging from the siltier conditions and presence of boats that seemed to make sense. However, I always was a bit curious how this bit looked underwater, especially I wanted to check out the extent of the eelgrass emerging at very low tides (see this old rock pooling post). The visibility was not very good and near the shore there was only decaying seaweed. After a while though, lots of eelgras appeared. I was unsure whether this spot is known for eelgrass so I recorded my findings on the seagrass spotter site. This was the first time I brought my new strobe to have a play with, I need lots of practice for sure. Below a Thornback ray Raja clavata photographed with and without flash (no postprocessing used). The eelgrass looked very tall and healthy and many plants were flowering (middle of the photo). Towards the channel the eelgrass thinned out which allowed to observe little mud dwelling creatures. Sea lemons Doris pseudoargus are not that little actually (egg masses present). Finally, a lucky shot. Looking through the eelgrass, a curious school of Seabass Dicentrarchus labrax circled around me quite closeby. (After I left the water I heard a seal was near too but it would have had to be right in front of me for me to see it.) All in all it was a very interesting shallow dive close to home and I will definitely try to return soon.
Finally, time for a (solo)dive last Saturday, at probably the most accessible local site: Silver Steps in Falmouth (you can just make out the steps in the photo above). The sun and high tide had attracted quite a lot of other divers too, including University of Exeter and Falmouth University students learning the ropes. I was very keen to get in the water and take photos but my approach is probably not the best: I just shoot whatever happens to be in front of me. Better results could be obtained to specifically look for macro subjects, to stay in the water column and search for jellies, befriend the Ballan wrasse or stay put in front of a Leopard-spotted goby hide-out (or check out seaweeds of course). I’ll do one of these things next time, for now, some random shots. I spotted several Spider crabs; these are always shy and try to quickly retreat, except for one. This big crab came after me as soon as we spotted each other. I should have tried more shots, as unfortunately he did not fit the frame. You can see in the short movie why I didn’t!
The viz was not great (I find it hard to estimate it in meters though). In the water I noticed a small hydrozoan Leuckartia octona. The underside of some wreckage harboured Light bulb sea squirts (see previous post) and some were predated on by Candy striped flatworm Prostheceraeus vittatus. (I brought my new LED light with me to help bring some colour out but I just ended up with combinations of glare and shadows so stuck to my normal natural light pics.) Next, a curious Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta. Finally, some not so clear shots that nevertheless give a good impression of how tall the invasive Wireweed Sargassum muticum are growing. Hopefully more dive posts soon!
OK, it was the plan to post a general Falmouth seaweed/rock pool photo post every month but I am faltering the second month in… It is not for lack of trying, because I have been sneaking out of the office quite a bit, but the weather has been pretty awful. Lots of wind, choppy waves, rain, cold and bad viz. I had one good day this week and I am posting some of the better pics from that session. Again a photo of Nursehound mermaid’s purses attached to Bushy rainbow wrack, pretty much the only seaweed species these sharks use to attach their egg cases to. This must be because this seaweed species is very sturdy, and especially because it is a perennial: the eggs can take up to twelve months to hatch! Below three more Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia photos. The first photo shows a short plant with few epiphytes but the following photo shows that this species is an especially great substrate for all kinds of other seaweeds, including Harpoon weed, Fern weeds and Juicy whorl weed. The plant in the third photo (unfortunately out of focus) is completely covered by a beautiful flat red species: Above a general impression of the scene before the sun reappeared. Btw, most of the photo’s have not been post-processed but some I have tweaked a little using the standard photo editor that comes with Windows 10, which is actually really good. The seaweeds have been growing quite a bit since January. A few have become more prominent, such as Slender wart weed Gracilaria gracilis (first two photos) and (I am not 100% sure) Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum in the two photos after that. I have a bunch more photos that show different seaweed species, but I hope that I can take better pictures of these later this month for a follow-up post (I am trying to find a balance between showing what I have seen and posting ‘good’ photo’s, which is a bit tricky!). I have a macro lens now as well, which I will mainly use for animals but also can be used for the smaller seaweeds; the last photo is a first attempt.
I have not posted as much on the blog as I would have liked this year (in fact, I keep posting less and less: 24 times this year, compared with 33, 46 and 64 posts the previous years). My new year’s resolutions will be to dive more, to go rock pooling more and to blog more. For now, I will post some miscellaneous photos from this year that I did not bother to put on the blog at the time (as I did last year). Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina on the beach in St. Ives as well as a young cormorant looking for food taken with my new Canon G16:I caught a number of different fish this year, the first photo shows a small Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita in an aquarium net which were fun to watch in a little aquarium. Next a Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis caught with my big net off the quay and a Sand smelt Atherina presbyter (see here for a movie). The latter species did not last long in my tank unfortunately. I mentioned in the last aquarium update that a Topknot I caught seemed to have died in the tank too, but I found out it is still there, it just likes to hide behind the rocks.I visited the quirky Victorian Horniman Museum and Aquarium on a trip to London which features lots of stuffed animals and diorama’s which I find quite fascinating. The aquarium part is small; there is some behind the scene coral (sexual) propagation research going on which sounds very interesting. There were two or three coldwater tanks too, the larger tanks were not much too look at (I know how hard it is…) but I really liked the Victorian fountain-style aquarium. A quick snap here; see this video for a nice overview. I would like to collect some Black brittlestars Ophiocomina nigra next year, they can be very abundant at slightly deeper sites.I also visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth for a second time. It features the deepest aquarium in the UK, complete with plane wreck and some Sandtiger sharks. I was more interested in the coldwater stuff, of which there was quite a bit. I especially liked the Lesser weever Echiichthys vipera which can be caught on sandy shores; their venomous sting would make handling a bit tricky though. There were some cute pipefish (these need live food and I do not want to commit to that) and a round display with loads of Snakelocks anemones (see the first picture posted on this blog). I have placed a couple of these in my aquarium again, perhaps I need to get a few more, as they are so pretty and easy to keep. I did not manage to get a good shot of the very impressive Wreck fish or Stone bass Polyprion americanus in the large coldwater display unfortunately. Next up a washed up sponge in Falmouth (species unknown) and a live one (Aplysilla sulfurea) under a rock, both taken in Falmouth with my iPhone. I have only been diving a couple of times this year and did not post about the rocky shore dives (here some photos of the maerl and eelgrass beds). I have seen a variety of interesting animals, including cuttlefish, a conger eel and lobsters but next year I hope to go out a bit further and dive a bit deeper to finally see jewel anemones and dead man’s fingers. I am not sure I want to commit to a flash and strobes though, instead I’d like to practice my rock pool (seaweed) photography.
It has been more than five months since the last update on my Red Sea Max 130D so high time for nr 16. I have bought a media basket to force the water more through the filtration material, which cannot be a bad thing, but otherwise have done very little. I have not been diving as much as I wanted, and still have not gone to any of the deeper sites where I perhaps could have found some Dahlia anemones, larger Brittlestars or other interesting things. I have a red seaweed growing from the rocks; it has encrusted all rocks in a deep red colour and grows out of in a bit of a lettuce-shape. At first I thought it was the invasive species Grateloupia but the shape and colour are a bit different, I will enquire at the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group what it is. I have some green algae but they grow in tufts that can be easily removed so I cannot complain really. Below a shot of the tank, it does not look great but there you have it:The anemones are still so-so. I think that plumose anemones need very fines foods and water changes, which I do not really do and as a result they are often closed and not growing. The strawberries and beadlets still don’t do as well as they did, no idea why. My Red-speckled anemones (Anthopleura ballii) on the other hand do great and are my favourites. Below a photo of a specimen I collected at a good low tide in Flushing this week and one in my aquarium that has grown quite a bit. It fluoresces in the middle. I have some squat lobsters rummaging around as well as a cool hairy crab. I have got rid of prawns as they are so aggressive! Every time I opened the hood and stopped the pump, they came swimming to the top, legs tickling and scraping on the plastic and attacking my fingers. They are part of the reason that my fish have not fared too well. I had some Pollack for a while but they eventually succumbed. I believe my flow is on the strong side, and with an occasional missed feeding and less energy, the prawns and anemones will not tolerate any slip up! I caught some Sand smelt (see here for two videos) with my big net from the quay but these formed a meal for other inhabitants within the day. I caught a Topknot (by hand) (see here) but that disappeared after a while too. I have two or three Cornish suckers that do well though. As soon as I feed they stick their noses from under rocks and dart out to catch some defrosted shrimp but otherwise you hardly see them. I was lucky to catch a bright green juvenile Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta of the quay which does great (they are not as nervous as the more common corkwing wrasse). I caught another individual (I only ever caught three) but the first one started picking on it, changing from bright green to a more subdued marbled green. I was not in time to release one of them and the second fish died unfortunately.
Already a while back I ordered a tiny (‘pico’) aquarium from US-based Microreef, which has a beautiful range of aquariums, especially acrylic tanks which are suited for temperate setups due to their insulating properties. The acrylic tank I ordered was only two US Gallon (7.5l) and came equipped with an IceProbe chiller fitted in a HOB (Hang On Back) filter. The IceProbe is a type of peltier chiller, working very differently from larger conventional compressor-based chillers. I must say that when I first tried it out, the temperature did not drop by that much. Since I first wanted to set up a temporary tank with rock pool critters anyway, I did not bother switching it on. I will have to fiddle around with it some more though. Below a photo with an iPhone to show just how small this tank is:As a first experiment, I caught three Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita from the pool described in the previous post. (See this dainty little fish in its natural habitat in one of Thomas Daguerre’s short clips here.) I decorated the tank just with some pebbles and found a tiny (<5 mm) prawn as a hitch hiker. As a light, I used a cheap Arcadia stretch LED. The fish (and prawn) readily fed on frozen foods and generally were quite active. Below a short clip with the largest individual (still less than an inch in lenght) showboating. I have since released the fish as the tank and filter did not do that well with the heavy feeding. I have to think about a new setup, especially with the chiller working and critters that would not be suited to the larger tank (about which I will post an update next).
I recently sat down at a very small rock pool high up on the shore on Castle Beach in Falmouth. Just sitting down and concentrating on one square meter for a bit is essential to discover small organisms (see also this old post). If you want to end up with some half-decent photo’s, it is essential to go back several times to the same spot too, so that is what I did. The pools in this spot are very shallow, too shallow to stick your head in and look through the view finder, and often too shallow to even get the camera submerged. Biological diversity this high up the shore is relatively low. Common in these pools are periwinkles, flat top shells and thick top shells, beadlet anemones, prawns and shore crabs, as well as Serrated wrack and a diversity of small red seaweed species.Along with Shanny’s, juvenile Montagu’s blennies Coryphoblennius galerita are very common here (larger individuals must move to deeper pools lower on the shore). I only saw fish between 1.5 and 2.5 cm, tricky to photograph, I need a macro lens! Looking more closely, this tiny pool harboured snakelocks anemones alongside the beadlets, as well as a tiny Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa.
I had a few rock pooling sessions recently to play with my new camera (and wide angle lens). The main one was a workshop with North coast-based Thomas Daguerre of Hydro Motion Media (facebook). I am just a beginning photographer and so learning the ropes from an experienced hand proved immensely valuable. The session started with going through some of the basics (white balance, focusing etc), after which we headed out to the rock pools to put some of the theory in practice. We headed down to Thomas’ stomping ground of south Fistral Beach (I visited once before). Although the timing was not the best tide-wise, it was a beautiful day. This was the first time I actually submerged myself in rock pools to take photo’s; of course, being able to look through your view finder is the only way to do it right. It is hard to not stir up sediment though and in some pools salinity gradients made for bad viz. I used Thomas’ G16 setup with video lights and a strobe on a tray (something like this; should have taken a picture of it) which was very difficult! As a result of all the experimentation I ended up with few blog-worthy photos, but this session made clear that trying to capture ‘rock pool scapes’ is what I would like to focus on, the variety of seaweed species, colours and shapes I find especially cool. I really need to try to go back to these pools and try to get better photo’s. I also will arrange a second session with Thomas later in the season to start learning how to post-process RAW files. What was very interesting to see is that the pools here teem with Giant gobies Gobius cobitis, a protected species in the UK. We saw two lying side by side in a crevice but they are shy and it was hard to get a good shot. Thomas has recently made an excellent series of short films highlighting various charismatic local marine species, and one of them features the Giant goby (see the Hydro Motion Media site for the other eleven films):
Last Wednesday I went for a sneaky worktime dive across the Fal estuary on the Maerl beds between St Just in Roseland and St Mawes. Maerl is a slow growing, calcified type of seaweed (looks more like coral) which forms a unique and quite rare habitat, see these older posts. The water was 17°C so nice and comfortable and it was probably the shallowest dive I’ve ever done, no deeper than 3 meters. I took my new Canon G16 in a Fantasea housing and went all semi-pro by adjusting the white balance first (not that I had a go at any other settings…). I was really pleased with the results, a world of difference to the Canon D30. The beds are an expanse of maerl nodules with very little to break it up, no rocks, no sand, just the occasional old bottle and so it is hard to get any exciting angles. Still there is always something to see. In order: a baby Smallspotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula, a Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a (breadcrumb?) sponge, a closed-up Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (a rare sight), a Parasitic anemone Calliactis parasitica, a Fan worm Myxicola infundibulum, a Harbour crab Liocarcinus depurator, a Velvet swimming crab Necora puber and a very well-camouflaged Spider crab Maja squinado.