Corals at Porth Mear Cove

I met up this Friday with Tom from Hydro Motion Media to look for Scarlet and gold star corals (Balanophyllia regia) in a cove that was new to me: Porth Mear, between Newquay and Padstow. It was a beautiful day, sunny and crisp, but with frost on the ground. Tom was keen to capture timelapse videos of feeding Snakelocks Anemones using his GoPro. (Follow him on instagram @hydromotionmedia to see his videos.) I was keen to get some photos of the beautiful yellow coral polyps. We met recently on Fistral Beach in Newquay to look at this species in the ‘Cave of Dreams’ (see here for an old post) but I did not get any good shots that time. Tom knew exactly where to find the corals in a shallow gully. These corals are solitary but they occur in small clusters. I saw several dozens of polyps; a few stood out by being fluorescent yellow instead of the normal orange and yellow. They are tricky to photograph, awkwardly located under overhangs and with an ugly greyish ‘animal turf’ for a background. The cove was very pretty and had some really good rock pools; I will definitely try to come back here!

Macro Musings

Foul weather in Cornwall at the moment (it is November, so no surprise there!). Not tempted to go in the water but still wanted to take photos, so I spent some time on the foreshore of my village Flushing looking at Flat Periwinkles (Littorina obtusata). This species is very common, and the only snail that actively crawls about above the waterline. The trouble with macro photography is that with a small aperture, the depth of field is large and everything is in focus, but this includes the usually cluttered background that takes away from the subject. With a large aperture, it is possible to get an aesthetically pleasing, soft focus bokeh background, but the depth of field is much smaller, and too much of the subject is blurry (see the pic on the right). I tried my hand at focus stacking, in which the camera takes a bunch of photos each with a different part of the subject in focus, and then merges them so the depth of field is greater (whilst still having the out-of-focus background). This proved too difficult with a handheld camera (especially on my knees in seaweed). I therefore reverted to ‘normal’ manual photography and it was fun to practice. However, I did not manage to improve on my best Flat Periwinkle photo I took when I first got my Olympus….

Nudibranch

Two entries back I posted photos of the Goby egg-eating seaslug Calma gobioophaga. Last week I was lucky enough to spot its cousin, Calma glaucoides, who is a bit less fussy and eats different types of fish eggs, as well as cephalopod eggs. I found it by turning over a rock whilst snorkeling in a very shallow (<50 cm!) pool. Next to a depleted patch of clingfish eggs, it was circling around, busily depositing eggs of its own. A fantastic surprise, and I really need to get on with recording such findings.


new strobe

Long time no post! Due to a combination of not-so-good weather and work I have not been in the water much the last few months. I attempted some seaweed photography but most times the viz was bad; the one time the conditions were great, somehow all my photos turned out to be a bit meh and I could not be bothered to post them. (For some older shots on seaweed diversity see here, and many older posts as well.) Anyhow, my exciting news is that I finally bought a new strobe (an INON D-200 for those who are interested) because my old Sea&Sea strobes just proved to be too temperamental. Something I should have done a long time ago, but the thrifty Dutchman in me just never pulled the trigger. I have now taken it out twice this weekend and it works like a charm! Now I just need to practice, as it is actually still very hard to go from an OK photo to a truly good pic. Above a shot of a baby urchin Psammechinus miliaris. The true stars of the weekend however were nudibranchs.

A very special find (shown to me by fellow rockpool photography enthusiasts Martin and Greg) were two Goby egg-eating seaslugs Calma gobioophaga. This tiny species can only be found on the goby eggs it eats. With such a ‘niche niche’ and with very good camouflage it is no wonder that reports of this species are rare. A fun fact: its protein-rich diet means it does not have to poo and it therefore does not have an anus…The rock with the eggs and nudis was very shallow and so it was a challenge to get the port of the camera housing under water. Luckily Greg assisted with pointing out the nudi and holding my strobe in place. Freshly hatched goby fry could be seen hovering above the eggs (the fact that a predator was munching through their brothers and sisters might have triggered some of the hatching). The cerata (the fleshy lobes on the nudi’s back) seem to have two goby eyes in them to make them better blend in!

Finally, two other nudibranch species, neither very colourful. Both are predators of anemones: first the largish Grey sea slug Aeolidia papillosa and second the smaller species Aeolidiella alderi. Both adequate shots but I need to practice to make them truly good. I will probably buy a second INON strobe so I can practice wide angle shots as well when diving. I hope to go out a lot more during summer and will make sure to post here about my finds and progress!

Macro

The weather has been horrible lately, with three storms coming in straight after each other. On the upside this means that there is good potential for beachcombing, but alas, the one beach on the North Coast we checked was as clean as a whistle, just sand! So here are some photos from a few weeks back when the weather was good better. On top a Spotted Kaleidoscope Jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus), about 15 mm across, on some Irish Moss seaweed. Please see this site for more information on these beauties; there are several species in our rockpools, but you have to develop a bit of an eye for them! Some other pics below: Blue-rayed Limpets (Patella pellucida) on kelp and a Thicklipped Dogwhelk (Tritia incrassata (when I was young Nassarius incrassatus…). Still need a lot of practice with the strobe, these shots I was very happy with, but most were way off the mark somehow. Looking forward to spring!

Candelabrum cocksii

It was a nice day and a good low tide last Wednesday and so I decided to go for a snorkel; I was glad I did! Last year, I had been trying to take photos of this weird little animal, Candelabrum cocksii, but failed miserably, this time it worked. It is a hydrozoan that was first described in Victorian times on the exact beach I always go snorkelling here in Falmouth. It is tiny (see last pic) and lives underneath rocks, so it goes mostly unnoticed (and therefore does not have a common name). To take this photo, I had to do some ‘underwater rockpooling’, turning over a rock to find them. I am not sure what the deal is with these guys; I know the white bulbous structures at the bottom are reproductive structures, and the reddish bit at the top is for feeding (this bit can be stretched out quite a lot). It is colonial just like the Portuguese Man O’War. Please correct me if I am wrong hydrozoan experts! Shout out to David Fenwick and his ID site aphotomarine.com, which I highly recommend.

Other notable finds were stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and my very first Wentletrap (which is a Dutch word: wenteltrap=spiral staircase) Epitonium clathrus. As I had my macrolens on the camera I could not shoot any general impressions but the pools started to look beautiful again. The big Wireweed and Thong weed plants were all gone (new ones emerging) and the red seaweeds (Sphaerococcus, Plocamium, Chylocladia) were already quite big.

It was great to be back in the water today and it is my New Year’s resolution to spend a lot more time underwater than I did in 2021! Who knows I will even learn how to use strobes. A happy 2022 to all blog readers!

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!

Silver Steps Diving III

I will keep this post short, as my third Silver Steps shoredive of the year was a week ago. As you can see above, my dive was made by encountering the beautiful nudibranch Antiopella cristata (although I prefer the old name Janolus cristatus…). My camera battery strangely gave up straight after taking these pics (argh!), otherwise I would have bothered it for at least another ten minutes! The 60mm lens is great. Look at the European cowrie Trivia monacha below which is less than a centimeter in length. Not a great shot but it shows that it is possible. Finally, a common Phoronid worm Phoronis hippocrepia (Thanks Allison, please check out her great blog Notes from a California naturalist). I hope the wind will die down and I can go back soon.

Macro Practice IV

Viz at the south coast was bad last week, so I stuck to macro (=less water between the subject and the lens). In a particularly shallow pool, I noticed a couple of ‘subjects’; some tiny Mysis shrimp for example. I had a lucky shot of these with my old camera (see here), but could not get it right this time. Same for a tiny Polycera quadrilineata nudibranch. Then I noticed something bright red in the corner of my eye: a worm sticking out of its tube. It was so shallow that I had to remove my strobe from the tray and hold it in one hand. I believe this is a Serpula vermicularis (right next to it in the second photo is another species with a keeled tube). The red and white disc sticking out between the tentacles is the operculum used to close off the tube when the animal retracts (for instance, when you move your camera too close). Even the least exciting looking things on the shore become interesting and beautiful when you take a look up close!