Silver Steps Diving IV

A solo dive early evening at the Silver Steps site. It was a couple of weeks I last went, and this time it was already dusk when I entered the water. My intention was to find cup corals and other small creatures growing on rock overhangs below the kelp line. The viz was good and sure enough I found what I was looking for: Devonshire cup coral Caryophyllia smithii, a solitary stony coral which is relatively common. They are very beautiful and the right size for the macro lens. I will definitely go after them again. Other finds were a golfball sponge Tethya aurantium, a baby Longspined seascorpion (this shot had potential, but it swam away unfortunately), a tunicate and a Painted topshell (very common). At the end of the dive unfortunately it was getting too dark to find objects or too properly focus; I need to sort out a dive light!

Macro Practice III

What friends predicted happened last Sunday morning: someone scrambled down the rocks to check if this figure lying motionless in a shallow pool was dead or alive. Luckily, I was feeling very alive indeed, watching a sizable Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis moving over the rocks using its hydraulic tube feet. A beautiful blue-grey colour, the surface of these animals are very richly textured. I am not sure exactly what is going on at the tips of the arms: the very end shows a red organ, potentially light sensing. It is surrounded by nodules, which might be the precursors of the centres of new plates covering its body, or something else. The tube feet at the tips are smaller and orange-tinged and I am again not sure whether they are just newly developing or having special sensory functions. I noticed the madreporite at the top of the animal: this sieve plate is involved in pumping the water in the body for hydraulic locomotion. It resembles a stony coral ‘madrepore’ colony, hence its name. In general, the seastar surface resembles a coral I think. The photos are nice, but I know I could do a lot better: next time!

Macro Practice II

I am running out of original blog post titles; these are just some more macrophotos practicing with the mzuiko 60mm lens. Friday afternoon was a gorgeous sunny, windstill day here in Falmouth. Although I somehow did not manage to find a stalked jellyfish, there were plenty of other things to see floating around in the shallow pools. I tried my hand again at the European cowrie Trivia monacha (see last post) with better results. It is hard to get the strobe position right, so I now hold it in my hand (rather than attached to the ‘tray’ that also holds the camera) to try to take as many different shots as possible. Below, a small Light bulb seaquirt Clavelina lepadiformis and the colonial seasquirt Morchellium argus. Finally, I noticed a shanny Lipophrys pholis hiding in a crevice. It was too large to capture its whole face with the macrolens so I tried to get one eye at least. It will be fun to try to get some fish portraits next time. Btw, catch me on instagram: @an_bollenessor.

Macro Shenanigans

I had my first two outings trying the the mzuiko 66mm macrolens with strobe this week. I managed to make some OK pics more due to luck than wisdom! It is actually not that difficult to find interesting subjects, but getting finding them back in the zoom finder is quite tricky (I usually point at a subject with my finger and then try to find a big white blob back when looking at my camera, then hoping to encounter the animal somehwre nearby). I managed to find a Least chink shell Lacuna parva spent on a Rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia plant and spent 30 minutes looking at it.  Although there is not much definition on this tiny (5mm) all-white organism, the blue background looks great. I will definitely go back to specifically look for (slightly bigger) things on Rainbow wrack! (The iridescence of this seaweed means that if the (strobe)light hits it at a different angle it is a dull brown rather than a deep blue or purple.) To give an idea of how tiny some things are see the photo above of the shell-less mollusc Runcina coronata (this is an ophistobranch, it does not have gills on its back as do nudibranchs), it was really, really tiny! This photo is nice for ID purposes but I do not expect I can take good photos of species this small (you reallly need an additional macro wetlens for that). I only later noticed the even smaller mollusc Flat skenea Skeneopsis planorbis next to it. (I identified this species using the excellent new Essential Guide to Rockpooling by Julie Hatcher and Steve Trewhella by the way, highly recommended!). I also noticed I need to clean my finger nails! (More tiny molluscs were present, including Eatonina fulgida.) Next, the mollusc Tritia reticulata (which I knew under the names Nassarius reticulatus or Hinia reticulata….) or Netted dog whelk in common parlance. These are very active and fun animals. The macrolens really brings out how battered and overgrown the shell is and the beady little eyes also stand out. A little hermit crab posed nicely as well. Another difficulty is working the strobe. Unlike the ‘normal’ ambient light photography I am used to, the image after clicking is different from that seen through the viewfinder so it is trial by error. Often the subject is not properly exposed. Also, floating particles cause backscatter. Perhaps I should try a snoot to minimise this effect, which can ruin an otherwise decent (in focus) photo, like this one of a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus which are common at the moment. (Notice the tiny molluscs on the seaweed in the background.)Finally some random pics: a Light bulb seasquirt Clavelina lepadiformis, two colonial seasquirts (a Morchellium argus and a Didemnid species) and a Bryozoan (it is late and I have not looked up the species). A whole new world opens up if you look at the tiniest denizens of rock pools, all complex, colourful and fascinating!

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!  

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!).

Helford Mudflats

This Sunday we went on a lovely walk from Helford Village to St. Anthony in Meneage on the south coast of the Helford river. The tide was very low, so we decided to follow the mud flats for a bit before heading to the woodlands. The mud flats are a brown-grey and strewn with shells, pebbels and, unfortunately, litter. Not as pretty as the rock pools, but still interesting. There were small banks with mussels, cockels, slipper limpets and oysters, both the native oyster Ostrea edulis (quite some juveniles) as well as the invasive Pacific (or Portuguese) oyster Magallana gigas. Of course also the abundant, barnacle-covered periwinkles Littorina litorea.  I saw my first Auger shell Turritella communis (which does not reflect rarity at all, just the fact that I usually stick to rocky shores); the small shells around it are Needle whelks Bittium reticulatum. Finally a Chinaman’s hat (probably no longer the prefered nomenclature!?) Calyptraea chinensis.We met up with David Fenwick and partner-in-crime Carol who were busy sampling around Treath. David’s interest was caught by a mooring rope covered in seasquirts, and a boxful was collected for careful examination under the microscope later. The clump I am holding below shows the Compass seasquirt Asterocarpa humilis (red, middle) (invasive), Morchellium argus (orange, top) (native), the Dirty seasquirt Ascidiella aspersa (three grey ones) (native) and the Creeping seasquirt Perophora japonica (tiny yellow zoids connected by stolons growing over the Ascidiella) (invasive). Astonishingly, by the next day, in a single tupperware box filled with muddy seasquirts, David had found 70 species! (With 142 species recorded in total on the day.) To finish this post full of grey blobs and brownish molluscs, I am adding photos David made of four out of nine species of Heterobranchs (Nudibranchs ‘proper’ as well as Ophistobranchs) present in the sample. Stunning images and proof that there is tremendous biodiversity to be found on a muddy bank if you know how to look for it. More of David’s nudibranch work is featured in this old post. See for his continously expanding collection of images, from seaweeds to fish and from tiny marine fungi to stranded seaturtles, aphotomarine.com.

Feather Stars in Bretagne

Last week I was on holiday in Bretagne (Brittany), France. There was not a lot of opportunity for snorkelling or rock pooling activities, but the last day I checked out the pontoons of the large marina in Trinité-sur-Mer. I was not disappointed; the pontoons in Cornwall are full of life, but these ones 200 or so kilometers further south were exceptionally diverse. The most striking find was that of orange, red and purple Rosy feather stars Antedon bifida. These also occur in the UK but I had not seen these yet here so I was quite excited. I did not go into the water myself and the photos I took holding my camera under ended up being not great so I took some shots from above water as well, too bad I did not have more time!The first photo below gives a good impression of how abundant and diverse life attached to these pontoons is. Many species are the same as the ones I see in Mylor marina, including invasive species such as the Bryozoan Bugula neritina and the tunicate Styela clavata. In addition to the many sponges, anemones, mussels, oysters and colonial tunicates I even saw things such as scallops (not sure which species) and urchins (Psammechinus). The peacock worms were absolutely huge. The plumose anemones Metridium senile looked different to the ones I am used to here to with orange individuals having brown collars which sometimes were really big and wavy. It seems no one that moors their boat in a marina ever takes notice of what is attached to the pontoons, but they should, as the diversity and beauty can almost rival coral reefs. I hope I can go back one time to properly investigate but for now I will check out the local marina’s and keep an eye out for feather stars…

First Dive of 2017

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!