Furbellows

One of the nice things about Cornwall is that there are so many coves and beaches, that even after seven years of living here, there are still plenty left to discover. This weekend we visited Kennack Sands on the Lizard peninsula. Two fine sandy beaches separated by a small hill and a rocky outcrop in the sea. What I also like about Cornwall is that every rock has a name. The rocks we explored are called Caerverracks. The tide was pretty good, the weather as well (except for a brief shower). The viz however was quite bad, and so I hope to go back one time when the sea is flat to retake some of these pictures. The rocks did offer some shelter though and it was great to be in the water. I focused (no pun intended) on a type of kelp called Furbellows (Saccorhiza polyschides). It is called that way because of the ruffles on the stipe (in dress-making, furbelow is another word for ruffle). These wavey frills help to dissipate wave energy, which of course can be very intense on Atlantic shores. This seaweed is much more prone to epiphytic groth than the surrounding Laminaria kelp. This must be the reason why it is always covered with grazing Grey topshells Steromphala cineraria. As with other kelps, it is home to the Blue-rayed limpet Patella pelucida. As the conditions were bad, I was forced to limit myself to a large, abundant and non-moving subject, but it was actually quite nice to work within such constraints. One of my favourite seaweeds and when conditions are better (and when I am by myself, with more time and a weight belt so I can dive down instead of holding the camera down and shooting ‘blind’), I definitely want to try again!

Olympus seaweed shots

Last weekend it was THE BEST weekend in the year for seaweeds here in Falmouth: the short window where most species peak (just before the bluebells are flowering on land), with a low tide, flat seas and sun. Unfortunately I was still waiting for my my new camera to come back from repair, which was very frustrating…. I took some pics with the Canon Powershot instead, but they are not really worth posting. I finally got my camera back last Tuesday: no damage to the lens but some replaced camera parts; with a bill under £150 it could have been a whole lot worse. As soon as I received the camera, I drove to Castle Beach and went for a 2.5 hour snorkel. The weather was not great, and the viz was neither. I took my strobe but that ended up in a big scatterfest so I quickly proceeded without it. First some general impressions of the rock pools with lots of Sargassum, Jania and Ulva. I also noticed quite a bit of Desmarestia ligulata (3d pic down):

I went fully Manual, varying ISO, shutterspeed and aperture which went surprisingly smoothly. The bad visibility and overcast skies however made it tricky to get good results and most photos were underexposed (of course still with some blown highlights). Also, I noticed the 8mm fisheye results in quite a bit of distorsion around the edges, more so than the wetlens I am used too even, which is slightly disappointing (but partially solvable by cropping). I tried a quick over-under shot which will I will practice more using a strobe (as the above water part is much brighter), but the main challenge will be to find a background that is more interesting than a bit of rock! Having a camera+ lens in a housing rather than a wetlens stuck on a housing is a huge improvement but I stilll have issues with having lots of bubbles on the dome. The seaweeds are happy at the moment and photosynthesising lots. The pic below of Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata shows all the oxygen bubbles on the plant. Next, two photos of False eyelashweed Calliblepharis jubata and of Beautiful fan weed Callophyllis laciniata (I think!). Finally some animals. I discovered a small (3 inch or so) and exquisetly camouflaged Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis under the Thong weed, can you spot it? This is a shot that really needed a strobe but alas….Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis are common here. Again this pic is a bit underexposed and the vibrant colours do not come out but it shows the beautiful shape of this animal at least. What I need to do the coming months is too practice (especially with the strobe) so I will be well-prepared for the second seaweed season in autumn! (See the ‘2017 Falmouth Seaweed’ tag at the bottom of the webpage for posts showing how seaweed species wax and wane over the year.)

More Macro

These photos are from a couple of weeks back; since the weather has been hideous most of the time I have not been out much since. More practice with the m.zuiko 60mm macro lens abovewater. Above a small Strawberry anemone. Below a small Cushion star Asterina gibbosa and my finger tip for size. Below that the hydroid Candelabrum cocksii and an Idotoea isopod species (there are several common Idotoea species but I have not paid much attention to them yet I must admit). Finally, the adorable Worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis which is common and usually found in small groups under rocks (I have never seen them underwater as they are small, slow, well-camouflaged and probably hidden most of the time). Definitely will try to get some more portraits of these lovely fish!

more macro rockpooling

Another quick, brisk trip to the rocky shore in my village of Flushing today to practice my macro photography with the 60mm lens. I used the highest F-stop, varied the output of the flash and let the camera decide the shutterspeed and ISO. I did not find anything too special, but the very common organisms are just as pretty as the rarer species. Above and below juveniles of the Flat topshell Gibbula umbilicalis and the Grey topshell Gibbula cineraria on pink encrusting algae. Still not quite used to not having optical zoom as with my old Canon Powershot but quite happy with the shots, especially as all were hand-held. As I am lazy, these are JPEGs with some  tweaking using Windows photoviewer.

Below a Black-footed limpet Patella depressa, a more ‘atmospheric’ shot of a periwinkle, might be the ‘normal’ Littorina littorea but not 100% sure, and a baby Edible crab Cancer pagurus. Really looking forward to go into the water again, but not only is it still cold and grey, it is very windy and choppy so bad viz. Probably another rockpooling post next weekend!

new camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II + M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Santa Claus was very generous last year and I am now the proud owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless camera! A big step up from my Canon Powershot G16 compact camera (which I still find a great little camera btw). Apart from a better sensor, greater dynamic range, more pixels etc, the main reason for going for a so-called micro four thirds camera was that I can use separate lenses. By that I mean lenses that actually go on the camera rather than wetlenses that are attached to the camera housing. The wetlens approach has the problem that air bubbles can form on three surfaces rather than one, and also, water seeps out from between the lens and housing every time you lift it out of the water (which I tend to do a lot in rockpools less than a meter deep). I first thought of going for an SLR, but these are much more expensive (the housings at least), require looking through a viewfinder which seems annoying to me and also they are considerably bigger, which is also not handy in rock pools. Luckily I learned that mirrorless cameras also existed! I bought an M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens as well. I have not been in the water yet, as the weather has been grim, but took the camera out for some above-water rock pooling last weekend. The first day I did not take the separate flash, which demonstrates my ignorance (to maximize the depth of field, a small aperture is needed which lets in little light, resulting in long shutter times and high ISO). The photos were not great, but the next day with flash it went a lot better. Above a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles and a Long-clawed porcelain crab Pisidia longicornis. Next time I will bring a ruler to show exactly how tiny these crabs can be (these are juveniles).

Above a flat worm (check the eyespots!) and a Thick top shell Phorcus lineatus. A main problem is that all subjects are covered with a film of water, resulting in glistening highlights when using the flash. Another issue is the shallow depth of field. The next time I might try to do some photo bracketing/stacking, merging images of a different focal depth (I need a tripod for this). The great thing is that there is no shortage of subjects: turning over a single rock can reveal multiple species each of echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans, bryozoans, worms, flat worms etc. Below a selection of chitons, I have not had time to check out which species; there are not that many here but they are tricky to identify from photographs. I will check Ian Smiths fantastic photo resources on flickr to do so.

 

iPhone macro photography

I used to have an olloclip lens for my phone (see these old posts), but now I have a new phone (an iPhoneSE) I bought a much cheaper 3-in-1 clip-on lens set. I mainly bought it for the macrolens, which in this case magnifies 20x. This is actually a bit too much, as you have to almost press the lens on top of the subject and the depth of field is very minimal. The image size corresponds to 9 x 9 mm. I went rock pooling twice in Flushing and it was a lot of fun playing around with it. The photo above is a detail of the Flat topshell Gibbula umbilicalis, which I found quite revealing: the surface is very weathered and the stripes are not that regular anymore viewed up close. Below the first whorls of the same shell, a small Painted topshell Calliostoma zizyphinum, a chiton (believe Lepidochitona cinerea as the shell plates are granular, but it is not possible to make out the girdle due to the depth of field issues) and a tiny Littorina saxatilis (probably, there are similar-looking species).         Next, the invasive but very pretty bryozoan Watersipora subtorqata. Common in marinas and on boats but also under rocks on this site. Some colonies are red, others black with a red rim.  Finally, some barnacles (I have not given these much attention so far, which is a shame, as they are very interesting animals (and were an important inspiration source for Darwin). The first are very small Verruca stroemia, then Semibalanus balanoides (I believe; I need to check aphotomarine and the excellent flickr accounts by Ian Smith some more). Next, a tiny brittlestar and finally the funny face of a limpet Patella vulgata. I will be switching from snorkelling to rockpooling in the winter months and thus will use it a lot more. Most lichens are perfect for this little lens as they tend to be flat and have beautiful colours and textures so I will post about these soon.

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…

First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!IMG_9393

over-unders

It was cold last Thursday, but I had a window to go to the shore at low tide so I did. Optimistically, I went in full snorkel gear, but when I arrived I could not muster the courage to stick my head underwater! (5 degrees, water probably 9 degrees). So I waded in kneedeep and held my camera underwater to try some ‘over-under’ or split-shots’, with both the underwater- and above-water world in view. This is tricky using a wetlens, as there is water between the housing and the lens, which slowly leaks out when lifting the housing out of the water, resulting in a meniscus. The only way to do it is to be quick and frequently resubmerge the housing and get the lens off and back on. I brought my strobe as well (not attached to a tray but holding it in my other hand). This is crucial, as the above water part gets really over-exposed. I compensated 2 or 3 f-stops to prevent this; the strobe then lights up the even darker below-water part. At least, that was the idea, the strobe often made it too bright underwater (I have a simple ‘TTL’ strobe and not one where the strobe output can be manually adjusted) so I had to fiddle increasing the distance I held it from the camera. Post-processing bringing down the highlights was definitely necessary. Anyway, it was good fun to play around, and some of the shots are half-decent considering the circumstances. I definitely will try this more when it is a bit warmer and I can snorkel and look through the viewfinder. (At the end a conventional shot of a small snakelocks anemone just because it was pretty.)

Carne Beach

I have not been tempted to go back snorkeling yet, but had an hour of nice rockpooling last Saturday, at beautiful Carne Beach on the Roseland Peninsula. I had been here only once before, and found my first stalked jellyfish then. The stalked jellies (Haliclystus octoradiatus) where still there, in different colours: brown, yellow and grey (I will keep to my resolution to record my findings from now on, when I find the time). My old trusted iPhone 4S finally gave up the ghost last week so I upgraded to an iPhone SE which proved a real upgrade. (I was too lazy to bring out the Canon G16 in the underwaterhousing, which would not have been much use anyway as the pools here are very shallow.) The pools were teeming with (mating) polychaete worms and there were many juvenile Sea hares about as well. I saw whole mats of pink wriggling tentacles sticking out of the sand, something I had never seen before. These (most likely) belong to the worm Cirriformia tentaculata, quickly identified by David Fenwick, see here for very good photos of the whole animal on his aphotomarine site in addition to the rather bad snap here. I found a hermit crab inhabiting the shell of a (juvenile) pelican’s foot Aporrhais pespelecani, a species that shares the sandy beach with the razor clams that were washed up all around. The highlight for me were the anemones. Snakelocks and strawberries were common, and in addition to red Beadlet anemones, there were green ones as well (I never see these in Falmouth). Some pools at the edge of the rocks and the beach were filled with Daisy-, Gem- and Dahlia anemones. I am ready for some more seaside adventures, but the weather is rarely cooperating these days. More on the blog soon I hope!