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!  

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…

End of Year Pics

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:img_5943img_5922I 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.img_5174img_4810img_4794I 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.img_5376I 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.   img_5721img_5734img_5724Next 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. img_3410 img_5619img_2736 img_6979 img_6910 img_6904

Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita in a Microreef pico aquarium

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:img_2860-2As 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).

a tiny rock pool part II

img_5088I 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.img_6053Along 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. img_6532img_6146img_6076-copy-copyimg_6642

diving

Having a diving certificate, being passionate about marine life and having lived in Cornwall for the past few years, it was a bit of a crime to not have been diving (bar a single dive last year). Last week I had the opportunity to join some experienced divers and went for two dives. The first dive was at local spot Silver Steps in Falmouth. We did not go deep (8 meters or so) and could stay in for over an hour. We spotted some cuttlefish (too shy to be photographed), a Greater pipefish Syngnathus acus and two Snake pipefish Entelurus aequoreus. A picture (made with my recent Canon Powershot purchase) of me (looking rather angrily) holding the latter species:IMG_0131For the second dive, we went to Porthleven, west of the Lizard peninsula and sheltered from the easterly winds. It was hard to figure out where to best enter the water; east of the village the cliffs seemed a bit high. In the harbour itself we still had to clamber of some rocks and then had to swim out a bit first to stay out of the way of any passing boats:IMG_0150This dive site was prettier than the first one: there was a larger rock face covered by seaweeds (notably the large Desmarestia ligulata that was completely absent from Silver Steps) with a clean sandy bed beneath (loads of Two-spotted gobies around as always). Lobsters Homarus vulgaris seemed to be relatively common, as we did not particularly look hard but found two individuals (as well as a Spidercrab Maja squinado):IMG_0168

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IMG_0191One of my dive buddies pointed out a fish, I enthusiastically but mistakenly chased a small Bib Trisopterus luscus; much to their bemusement they were actually pointing at a Red gurnard Aspitrigla cuculus. It was not shy at all:IMG_0176

IMG_0178Finally, when getting out of the water, amongst the Shannies I noticed a beautiful Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita:IMG_0203

Fish

When looking for pictures of the squat lobster, I realized I have quite some neat old pictures to post. I should have started the blog when starting up the aquarium to keep things chronological, I will use the next couple of posts to get rid of this back log. First the fish. I have two Rock gobies Gobius paganellus in my tank. The big one is voracious and after a feeding session has a visibly distended belly. It is a curious fish that often comes to check me out when I am taking a picture. It is beautiful too:

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However, I will attempt to catch it and release it, as I suspect it to be a bit too large (three inches) and rash. My worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis are very shy and they might be bullied by large gobies and blennies. I actually suspect the big rock goby to have eaten my recently disappeared beautiful little Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita, a species I have only found one time:

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A worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis. To replace the rock goby, I will try to catch some Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavescens later. This species is also beautiful, but smaller and it spends more time in the water column which is nice. It is not a rock pool inhabitant though; it lives among seagrass. I have seen many last year when snorkelling. I need to look into a good net to catch them! I had two  large Shannies Lipophrys pholis as well that I released again, I still have a small one left:

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I also had three thick-lipped mullet Chelon labrosus in the tank. These fish are quite ugly as adults, but juveniles are nice, restless silver fish. All  fish mentioned above are benthic (hang around the rocks rather than in the water column), whereas this species mostly swims at the surface and so really adds to the aquarium. I released these three when changing up the tank once and I now regret that. They are fast swimmers so quite difficult to catch (at least with the small aquarium net I use). Since they are so restless I did not manage to take a decent photograph. I have also added a Shore rockling Gaidropsarus mediterraneus and the cling fish the Cornish sucker Lepadogaster purpurea at one point. I should have known that these were mistakes as these are fish that mainly hide under rocks and I have not seen them since adding them to the aquarium. I will post some pictures of these fish in their natural habitat later.