I have been out twice this week with the Canon G16 with the hope of snapping a few good photos (out of the hundreds I take). It was trickier than usual, in part because the viz was not great but also because I am making a bit less progress I feel. Investing in an expensive DSLR + housing will get me further but I do not know if it will be worth the money. However, I still have a lot to do when when it comes to mastering the principles of photography, especially getting to grips with manual settings. In this post I will highlight some of the ‘issues’ am facing; who knows I will be lucky and get some feedback via the blog (and instagram), sharing is caring! As usual, I focussed on the seaweed diversity, although at this time of year it is not the best looking. The photo above is nothing special (the seaweed looks a bit straggly) but I like the blue background. It is interesting the wide diversity of seaweed species on the Red rags in the photo below and I like the contrast of the green sea lettice versus the brown Bushy berry wreck in the second photo but both pics are a bit meh. A main difficulty is that many times the sand (orthe bleached coral weed) contrast with the subject of the photo resulting in excess highlights. I try to counteract this by reducing F-stops (resulting in an overall darker picture) and reduce highlights during post-processing. @chris_exploring recommended to choose overcast rather than sunny days which is probably the best approach (and I will have plenty of opportunities to test this the coming months!) The first pic below of a Two-spotted goby is OK but I could not get quite close enough. The second photo is of course out of focus but I included it anyway to show that some of these photos have great potential. It inspired my own photography rule (the ‘Vos Index’): the beauty of the subject (on a 1-10 scale) times the difficulty of a shot (on a 1-10 scale). We are all trying to score a 100: a perfect capture of a beautiful organism. I am stuck with mediocre captures of beautiful things. Sometimes I get a very good capture but then mostly it is of something not-so beautiful. I shoot JPEG + RAW, which is a bit of a pain as I do not want to clog my hard drive and reviewing and deleting JPEGs and then having to filter for names to delete the associated RAW files is annoying. I actually keep few RAW files because very few photos are worthy of any advanced Photoshop editing, and also the standard Windows photo editing software is not half bad. For example see the photo below of whitebait (impossible to tell if it is herring, sprat or pilchard). It is very low contrast and bluish; by reducing highlights, increasing ‘clarity’ and a bit of cropping the image is completely transformed (although still relatively unusable as the resolution is quite bad). Finally macro. I just cannot seem to get my strobe to work which is annoying so the pics below are all ambient light. I need to up my game with this as there are so many cool subjects around to shoot if you take time to look. Below some tiny (3-4 mm) snails Rissoa parva. I wanted to zoom in more but was unable to unfortunately. Next a much bigger (2 cm) Netted dog whelk Tritia reticulata (sigh, I knew this as Nassarius reticulatus, and Hinia reticulata but the name has changed again). Next, a baby (3 cm) Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine which are one of the easiest fish I know to photograph, not very shy! Finally another challenge to photograph, a mermaids purse (egg case) of a Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris shark with a tiny (2-3 cm) embryo visible. I had a little light with me that I used to illuminate it from the back but this could be improved upon as well!
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…
This Thursday afternoon was quite bright with low tide still in the ‘OK’ range, however it was quite gusty, resulting in bad viz. As seaweed photography was not an option, I opted to lie down in a midshore rockpool and look at things up close instead. There are a surprising amount of fish in rock pools when you stick your head in and so I chose to have a go photographing them. Most common were Corkwing wrasse, but these are very shy. A pair of Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavenscens hung around a ledge and were easier to photograph. Still tricky though as my standard settings result in limited depth of field; I need to play around with the aperture next time. I will also bring my strobe and videolight to try to bring out the colours more. I tried a split-shot which half-worked but you really need a wide angle dome port for that (not a ‘wet’ wide angle lens). You can see the steps leading from the tunnel entrance to the shore.Two-spotted gobies hover above the substrate instead of lying on it as most other goby species do, but you can see they are very well camouflaged against the corraline algae. Two Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine swam up to me. These are the least shy of all the rock pool fish (their cousin the Shanny did not come very close) and easy to photograph as they kept checking me out, striking all kinds of different poses. I need to try to photograph these with my macrolens next time. I turned over a stone and found a Long-spined sea scorpion Taurulus bubalis, these keep very still and are also easy to photograph. Prawns were of course around and are actually really pretty with blue and yellow legs and striped body. Finally a shot of seaweeds in this pool showing fresh growth of many red species and a shot with green Cladophora showing limited visibility due to wave action. Btw, I see this is the 200th post on the blog!
Went on a good dive at Silver Steps in Falmouth yesterday.The visibility wasn’t that great, but for the most part we were rummaging under overhangs in gulleys just off the coast. Sweeping aside the kelp reveals many fine red seaweeds, sponges, bryozoans and small Devonshire cupcorals. We saw the ubiquitous Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine as well as a Bib (or Pout) Trisopterus luscus. Overhead there were many Sandeels as well as some relatively large Pollock Pollachius pollachius hunting them:However, there was a much more remarkable fish we spotted, namely the Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi. We first saw a male, bright yellow with a black head and beautifully skyblue-lined fins. Only after a while we noticed the inconspicuously coloured female. The male is coured this way only in the breeding season. (We later saw another larger male, no female, although that was probably closeby.) My fish guides tell me that this Mediterranean species was first spotted in the UK in the 70s and that it is currently present in only two or three locations on the South West coast. Some browsing on the web has told me that in recent years they have been recorded in more locations but they still must be relatively rare (and I therefore won’t be attempting to catch them). Global warming will likely extend the range of this species more firmly northwards; one of the very few positive effects of our addicition to carbon… Lastly, I now managed to get a shot of the Candy striped flatworm Prostheceraeus vittatus:
The aquarium was in desperate need of a make-over (again…). I hauled a ton of rocks over from the beach and stacked them up. (I thought at first that I would need something to stick the rocks together (epoxy, superglue or waterfall foam) but that wasn’t really necessary). I also removed most of the gravel and replaced it with sand. So quite a big change but it really looks a lot better. However, my nice burrowing Red-speckled anemones suffered a bit when putting the sand in, and even after siphoning it off again I could not really find them anymore….hopefully they turn up again! The aquarium is still a bit bare and I have to go out and collect things that will live on the rocks, such as anemones and seaweeds. However, there is some progress on the seaweed front. There is a bit of Irish moss Chondrus crispus growing spontaneosly from the back wall. There are also some patches of pink corraline algae; which must be Coral weed Corralina officinalis judging from one outgrowing patch. Having this species grow would be great, but they do not seem like fast growers. Chrysymenia wrighti is still thriving on the circulation pump; I remove a bit every now and then, so it acts as an ‘algae scrubber’, removing nutrients from the water. I have placed a couple of other seaweeds in the aquarium, a bit risky as they can die off and start trouble, but I can’t help it. The red Soliera chordalis below has done well before but unfortunately has started to die off a little already (first pic). I have a big piece of a flat red species that has started to grow from nowhere as well (second pic).One day, the aquarium was full of strings of Painted topshell eggs. I noticed when feeding a day later that the water was not very cold: I had forgotten to switch the pump/chiller back on two days previously! So the trick to breed this species is to increase the temperature, although I am not expecting much to happen with the eggs. Either the Thick-lipped or Netted dogwhelks are also occasionally sticking their egg masses to the glass. I placed a chunk of orange Estuarine sponge in the aquarium; this was devoured by Painted topshells and Cushion stars, so it is a good bit of live food to add. I had planted a little washed-up eelgrass plant to see if it would survive and indeed it has grown more roots. (If you want to try this yourself, please always use washed up plants and don’t dig out any, as eelgrass beds are vulnerable habitats.) It would be great to have a second tank dedicated to eelgrass….The little scallop is still happy (see close-up). I have added another filter feeder: a Leathery sea squirt Styela clavata. Butt-ugly, but that is actually fun too. I am trying it out as they are an invasive species and so probably pretty hardy. A Sting winkle seems to like it (but not eat it). I have never seen my two Sting winkles eat anything actually. They move about very slowly, but they have grown.Now the snakelocks anemones are gone, I have added some more fish. I have caught some juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius with my net. At first I caught ones that were less than an inch, but they did not survive. Of the six two-inch or so ones I caught, three dissappeared after one day, but the remaining three are going strong. Very nice looking fish! I also caught a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine (by hand at low tide). It is quite shy, but is increasingly showing itself. A beautiful little fish! I have one remaining Two-spotted goby. The Common goby is doing very well and eats from my hand. I think I’ll go for another little tompot, more Pollack and Two-spotted gobies. Ideally I would catch some Leopard-spotted gobies with a trap when diving, let’s see….The other fish I would like to have again is the Goldsinny wrasse: very pretty and not as nervous as Corkwing wrasse.
The tide this Sunday in Flushing was as low as it was the day before in Mount’s Bay and the weather was just as great too. We could walk among the Eelgrass and Golden kelp Laminaria ochroleuca. There were lots of Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis around; especially striking were patches of what must be clones. The tentacles are much shorter than the ones in my aquarium or those found deeper on kelp, must be due to being less exposed to the waves. Loads of fish as is usual here, a single overturned rock yielded five species alone! Again pictures of the Connemara clingfish Lepadogaster candollei, a Butterfish Pholis gunnellus (very wriggly, hard to get a good shot) and Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine eggs:
This site is sheltered and silty and some species are more characteristic for this habitat and much less common in Castle Beach in Falmouth. Examples include the Keyhole limpet Diodora graeca, the Elephant hide sponge Pachymatisma johnstonia and the Yellow-plumed seaslug Berthella plumula:
The diversity of seaweeds was very high and I think the pictures below give a good impression of that. Very low on the shore Bushy noduled wrack Cystoseira nodicaulis can be found; in this case almost as iridescent as is Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia. We found some Beautiful kidney weed Kallymenia reniformis, here David Fenwick is taking a photo of it on his first visit to my local haunt. All in all one of the best rock pooling weekends so far!
I made some pics last weekend when low tide wasn’t very low, but since this weekend the tides hit record lows I will first post about these finds. First up, the sheltered estuarine conditions in Penryn river in Flushing, opposite Falmouth’s port. The conditions are silty, with lots of sponges, tunicates, variegated scallops, sea lemons, European cowries and enormous amounts of Squat lobsters (see also this old post). With the tide this low, we were able to see some other stuff as well. The water went as low as the Eelgrass:Shannys, Rock gobies, Rockling, Worm pipefish and (to a lesser extent) Butterfish are easy to find in Flushing. Today we saw for the first time two Connemara clingfish Lepadogaster candollei (first pic). Next a Rock goby Gobius paganellus. We also saw many large Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine which live subtidally and only now could be seen:
High time for a snorkel, and few better places in the area than ‘Silver Steps’, between Castle Beach and Pendennis Point in Falmouth. I took my little Lumix camera (goes up to 10 meters deep, no optical zoom) with me to take some sub-standard pics (all other photos on the blog are taken with my iPhone). This site is a mix of rocks covered in kelp and gravel and even the remains of two U-Boats (they are no longer recognisable as such though, see here for more specifics on these and other wrecks off Falmouth). There is always something to see: schools of Smelt chased by Sand eels, hovering Two-spotted gobies, Corkwing and Ballan wrasse, Spiny starfish and loads of seaweeds. In fact, there was so much to see that I have divided the pictures over two posts. First a photo of the site and some of the U-Boat wreckage:
We were in for a nice surprise: a good-sized John Dory Zeus faber at around seven meters depth. I have posted a very nice picture from my first and only dive in Cornwall courtesy of Charlotte Sams, but here a short, jittery video as well:
Anyway, a perhaps even nicer find were Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. Some sources make it seem like this is a rare species only ever encountered by divers, but it is actually not uncommon and we saw them at two meters down (the tide was low though). It is a shy species that lives under ledges, burying between the rock and the gravel. The picture is crap but also proof I am not lying. The next picture is of a Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine peeking from a crack in the rocks. Large snakelocks anemones are everywhere on the kelp, and although a month ago I saw none, many of them again housed commensal Leach’s spider crabs Inachus phalangium. (These anemones and crabs do well in the aquarium btw, see here.) It would be interesting to know if these crabs arrive from deeper waters or just grow up really fast.
I have a love/hate relationship with public aquariums: love because I am a bit aquarium-mad, and hate because quite a lot of them really are disappointing. Of course, I know all too well that it is not easy to create (and maintain) good-looking aquariums. Also, the paying public needs to be pleased and it wants to see ‘nemo’s’ and sharks which often results in the same sets of standard tanks. Although I do understand the need to educate the public, I am quite allergic to all kinds of video installations and boring props taking up space that could have been filled with tanks. I am not even talking about walkways decorated with fake polyurethane caverns or ornamental treasure chests in tanks…
I try to visit public aquariums whenever possible and from now on will review them on this blog, specifically highlighting the smaller, temperate saltwater tanks that could serve as inspiration. Last week I was in Slovenia for work and a short holiday and passed by the lovely town of Piran which has a small (about 10 large and 10 small tanks) public aquarium, all with local animals. Here is one funky looking tank housing some writhing moray eels and Grey triggerfish Balistus capriscus, the latter also present in Cornish seas:
I am not so sure about larger-sized Mediterranean Sea aquariums, as there is not a lot of potential to make them visually appealing: some rocks and the odd human implement as decoration and the fish are often not overly spectacular (see the Two-banded bream Diplodus vulgaris below). If I were to go for a large, non-planted rock tank, I would try my hand at an African Great Lake aquarium instead, with the fish being more diverse, more interesting and more beautifully colored.
One of the largest fish on display was the Leerfish Lichia Amia. It was a shame to see such a large pelagic fish in a tank with its head completely deformed due to it bumping against the glass:
I was most interested in the smaller aquariums. These housed some species that can also be found in Cornwall, such as the Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine and the fantastic John Dory Zeus faber (which occurs around the globe):
Some of the small aquariums were quite sweet. No seaweeds to speak of (although I saw some Ball algae Codium bursa) but lots of nice invertebrates such as sea cucumbers, clams, whelks, sponges, anemones as well as a variety of fish:
Especially amazing was the stony coral Astroides calycularis:
A Small rockfish Scorpaena notata:
All in all an interesting little visit (I had to rush a bit taking pics as the rest of the family is not as keen on ‘the mysteries of the deep’ as I am…). Lots of types of invertebrates that I would like to try to keep such as sea cucumbers, but for the moment I will focus on seaweeds. I had no time to have a proper look at the rocks outside (the Mediterranean has very small tide differences anyway) and I had not even brought my snorkel. From the glances I got, the Adriatic coast did not have much on the Cornish coast though!