Two weeks ago we werelucky to spend a mid-week on St. Martins, one of the Scilly Islands. The Scillies are a group of tiny inhabited and uninhabited islands 28 miles off Lands’ End (before I moved to Cornwall eight years ago, I had never even heard of them…). The water over there is bluer, the sand is whiter and the viz much (much) better than in ‘mainland’ Cornwall, so a true paradise for snorkelling. I tried to get underwater as much as I could, in-between exploring the island (and going to the one pub). As we did not have much time, I mainly snorkelled in the seagrass just off Par Beach. It does not really look like England does it!? The seagrass was teeming with stalked jellyfish. However, because of the great viz I stuck with my fisheye lens, which meant it was tricky to photograph them. This species is Calvadosia campanulata, a protected and generally uncommon species, so worth recording (which I will get on when work is quieter and the weather is crappier). The ID was confirmed by expert David Fenwick, have a look at his excellent site on stalker jellies stauromedusae.co.uk (and his general site for marine species in the SW of the UK aphotomarine.com). Dave also pointed out some other organisms growing on the seagrass seen on these pics: the small red algae Rhodophysema georgei and the slime mold Labyrinthula zosterae (the black bits). As always, I learned something new talking to Dave. Snakelocks anemones were abundant on the seagrass, and the sand inbetween was full of Daisy anemones and Red-Speckled anemones Anthopleura balli (one of my favourites, they do well in my aquarium). As always, I bother crabs by sticking a lens in their face. Bigger Green Shore Crabs Carcinus maenas can get a bit feisty and attack the dome port (maybe because they see their own reflection). Finally a juvenile Straight-nosed Pipefish Nerophis ophidion (about 3 inches), a new one for me. I am always facinated by piepfish (and hope to one day see a seahorse). Unfortunately the shot is not in focus, I really needed a macrolens for this one. Still, you can marvel at the white sand and blue water! Some photos are allright, but I could do a lot better with a bit more time. Luckily we rebooked for a stay in spring already!
Just three pics of the same shark egg case (‘mermaid’s purse) laid by a Nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris), also known as Large-spotted dogfish, Greater spotted dogfish or Bull huss. My camera was only five centimetres away from it (this technique is called ‘close focus wide angle‘). Mostly attached to perennial and tough Bushy rainbow wrack (Cystoseira tamariscifolia).
Some more March shots of seaweeds but this time taken in a large, very shallow pool a bit higher up on the shore. It is dominated by Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens together with some other favourites (but many other species, such as Palmaria, Polyides or Furcellaria are missing this far up shore). I have added the names to some species, as Francis Bunker (one of the authors of the Seasearch guide to the Seaweeds of Britian and Ireland) had done previously on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook page for another photo (see this post). Nice to be able to get so many species into one shot. Next an over-under (well, a bit) shots for another general impression (see the shadow of my camera), some Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia, False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata surrounded by other species and a tiny fluffy red seaweed (do not know which species) that has found a foothold on the bare bedrock. The photos are not as sharp as I wished unfortunately. I have another batch on the computer that turned out better luckily, will post these soon!
Two days after the last post I went back to my usual spot, fisheyelens on the camera. After a little recce it was obvious that the water was too milky, so I went back to the car and changed to the macrolens. It was overcast and the water was chilly. I’d seen some stalked jellyfish (see this great resource stauromedusae UK) the last time. Of course, when you are specifically looking for something you don’t find it, but in the end I noticed a Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, the most common species around here. I still struggle with my strobe, so all photos were riddled with backscatter. I could remove most of that in Photoshop luckily, but it is frustrating, especially as I had a run diving last year when I had no such issues at all. I encountered a 15 cm or so Longspined scorpion fish Taurulus bubalis as well. I cropped the shot and could put some colour back in using Windows Photos. Hope to go back over the weekend.
I joined a seaweed identification get-together at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust organised by Matt Slater last week. It was fun to chat with likeminded people and also made me want to stick my head underwater again! The weather has been horrible for over half a year now and I have been in only a few times, with little chance to take decent photos, hence the blog inactivity. This has been especially frustrating as March is the best month for seaweeds (see the 2017 Falmouth Seaweeds tag) and I am missing my window. I therefore jumped in the next day. The tides were at their very lowest, actually too low for most of my usual rockpool spot! The viz was not great due to the 20+ mph winds but just about good enough for the fisheye lens. I really hope for some good weather in the next 2-3 weeks to be able to make the seaweed photos I really have in mind.The very top photo is Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius shot with a very shallow depth of field. The single stone above hosts a whole variety of species. The largest is Slender wart weed Graciliaria gracilis and just as the Berry wart cress it is covered in mucus threads, which must come from the tiny gastropods Rissoa parva that can be seen on it when you zoom in. To the left the wiry Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata. To the back the invasive Devils tongue weed Grateloupia turuturu. Green Ulva and young kelp can also be seen. Below some Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata. The snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis were also out in force. I hope the weather settles soon!
This was the year I switched from my trusted Canon G16 compact camera (with wetlenses) to a mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (with ‘actual’ lenses). Throwing money at things is not necessarily a guarantee for improvement, but it definitely helps! The shot above (from this post) was commended at the 2019 Falmouth Underwater Film Festival. This was made using the few times I went out with the mzuiko fisheye lens and is shot using natural light. (For some more natural light wide angle shots taken snorkelling on the north coast see this post.) I mostly used the mzuiko 60mm macrolens in combination with my strobe. The weather at the start of the year was so foul I initially used it abovewater during rockpooling. The shot below of a Flat periwinkle is quite simple but one of my favourites ‘topside’, together with the shot of the two Shore crabs: Below are some favourite underwater macro shots (the best pics I also post on instagram). Macrophotography I find easier, as the camera settings remain quite invariable (small aperture with a short shutterspeed because of the flash) and the composition is often (but definitely not always!) simpler compared to shots of say an entire rockpool. First some taken snorkeling in rockpools. The first is a Chink shell on Bushy rainbow wrack. The iridescent nature of the seaweeds means it is bright blue or purple viewed from one direction, but a dull brown from the other. If you get it right, it makes a very striking background and it is definitely a subject I want to explore more. After that, detail of the tip of a Spiny starfish, a European cowrie and a pill isopod. Below some macroshots taken while (shore)diving off Silver Steps in Falmouth. A Blackfaced blenny, a Leopardspotted goby and a Devonshire cupcoral. Many more photos of course if you scroll down. I have now also invested in a new strobe and new strobe arms. Having two strobes will allow me to take wide angle photos without depending on (dim) natural light, for instance whilst diving. My second strobe is manual so I can ramp up the strobe power if needed for macro too. I still struggle with positioning even a single strobe, so having two will be frustrating in the beginning I am sure. I am hopeful this new investment will pay off though. As for the blog, I have updated the links page. It is high time I post an update on the tank. I have not been diving much but hopefully next year I can collect some new species of anemones for it (and of course take photos, although the two activities are pretty much mutually exclusive). My new years resolution will be to get in the water more. I wish all blog readers a happy and healthy 2020!
The tide was bad (i.e. low and too early to catch it on time), the water was cold and it was very windy but it was good to go for a dip this morning. I now have a different strobe arm which makes it easier to position my strobe, which has often been tricky. Time for some macro practice. The photos are not that special but I hope interesting enough for you blog readers! Above a Peacock worm Sabella pavonina sticking out of an abandoned piddock hole. Below a common Hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus, a Grey chiton Lepidochitona cinerea, a very small Dahlia anemone Urticina felina (note the warty, adhesive column) and some Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus.
It has been a while since exploring the rockpools, as the weather has been pretty horrific. However, I had a good go last week and this weekend. Although quite bleak, there was no wind and no rain. The water is getting down to 11 degrees probably (I have not measured it), so pretty chilly. There are quite some solarpowered seaslugs Elysia viridis on the Codium seaweed but I did not manage to get any good photos. In fact, I am still struggling a lot just getting the strobe to properly light up what I am aiming to photograph. A bit frustrating but that is why I keep practicing. Above a pill isopod, probably Cymodoce truncata (with the fringing hair on the rear uropods indicating it is a male). Below, a tiny Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa. There are a lot of small Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus amidst the Coral weed, they look brownish but when you zoom in there is some blue as well. Finally, a Netted dogwhelk Tritia reticulata, which are very common and active in the rockpools. Cold but always nice to be in the water. Luckily I emerged right on time when I saw my Sainsbury’s bag with glasses, car keys and phone drifting away due to the incoming tide!
Some photos from Last Sunday at Castle Beach in Falmouth. Above, the periwinkle Littorina littorea, which aggregrates in great numbers on the upper shore. Below, three echinoderm cousins: a Cushion star Asterina gibbosa and a little Sea cucumber Pawsonia saxicola with a Brittle star in the background. It was the first time I saw this beautiful colour variant of the Risso’s or Furrowed crab Risso pilipes. More common is the very similar Montagu’s crab Risso hydrophilus, there are usually 5-10 individuals under a single rock. The small ones especially come in a range of colours that make them excellently camouflaged against the pebbles. Next a juvenile Shanny Lipophrys pholis, a detail of a Corkwing wrasse (I could pick it up, that is how low the tide was) and a shot of the beach, showing the versatility of the mzuiko 60mm lens.
Some pics from today at Flushing Beach. Above, a pair of Green shore crabs Carcinus maenas, below two Furrowed crabs Xantho hydrophilus. (I probably should have gone for a whole crab series, as I saw several other common species…) Instead I took loads of random photos, of things that were 150 mm to things that were only 5 mm, with varying success. For instance of a Painted Topshell Calliostoma zizyphinum on the invasive Bryozoan Watersipora subatra. Also the underside of the urchin Psammechinus miliaris, showing its mouth (Aristotle’s Lantern). Photobombing top left is the commensal worm Flabelligera affinis (which I noticed as well the last time I took a version of this picture). Bit random but it was fun practicing. It actually is more difficult to take photos abovewater compared to underwater due to the glistening and the awkward position kneeling on wet gravel/rocks. Next time I might try a tripod (ideally remote flash would be used but I do not think I am going to invest in that). Btw, if you are on instagram, I also post pics as @an_bollenessor.