The Isles of Scilly: St. Martins

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!  

Seaweed Gallery

Some long overdue seaweed pics from the end of the seaweed bloom when the tides were low. I took many photos but few, if any, very good ones; sometimes you just are a bit out of luck I suppose. I have also started a Seaweed Gallery page (link also pinned at the top), gathering photos of as many different species I can find here in Cornwall. It is very much a work in progress and not a proper guide at all, but I hope it can help complement exisiting guides. Note that just a photo often is not enough to correctly identify species, so I have kept it at more easily recognisable things. On another note, I recently gave a ‘lockdown’ zoom presentation about my very niche hobby of taking photos of seaweeds for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. If you are interested you can find it on youtube (I have not watched it back myself as if there is one thing I dislike it is seeing myself talk on video (actually, there is one thing I like even less and that is seeing myself talk on a video that is there to see for the whole world!)). I talked not so much about photography or seaweed biology as I am far from an expert in either topic, but more about how I started out with rockpooling when I moved to Cornwall in 2012, and how this slowly spiralled out of control and ended up with me lying facedown in rockpools year-round taking photos of seaweeds. Anyway, a few species below: Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Berry Wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius, Red Rags Dilsea carnosa and Desmarest’s Flattened Weed Desmarestia ligulata.

Mermaid’s Purse

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). 

March Seaweeds II

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!

March Seaweeds I

Last week it was time to check the state of the seaweeds and as expected they looked glorious. Unfortunately it was a bit windy and choppy and so the viz left something to be desired, argh! These are some of the better pics. I am in the process of creating a gallery of seaweed species (just reds to begin with), see the link at the very top of the blog. This is by no means a proper guide, as for that you often need more detail than just underwater impressions, but extra images might help in conjuction with a proper guide such as  the “Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland” Seasearch book. Anyway, I have started gathering old pics and hope to add more soon. The common flat red species in the photos above and below is very pretty but it is one of these species you need to look at under the microscope so I will not attempt to label it with a name (yet). Other species can be identified more easily, such as Under tngue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides (two photos below). Below, Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata, Little Fat Sausage Weed Champia parvula and Juicy Whorl Weed Chylocladia verticillata and a bit of Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia covered in red epiphytes.

Spotted Kaleidoscope Jellyfish

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.

seaweed checking

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!

Macro Practice VI

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.

Dahlia anemoneDaisy anemone Daisy anemone

Macro Practice V

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!

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!