The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.
The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.
The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.
I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!
Some more jellies, this time the Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. These are currently the most common jellyfish here in Falmouth, with blue jellies and moon jellies also spotted (the Crystal Jellies, see below, seem to have disappeared). These photos were made without a strobe (my struggle with them continues…) which would have made them much better. As it stands, I have relied heavily on the standard Windows Photo editor to reduce the green hue and get rid of some of the highlights. I might give the old strobes a go next time I go in!
The jellyfish are upon us again. Slow and photogenic, I had to go out yesterday in Falmouth Bay to try out two strobes with my fisheye lens for the first time. Unfortunately, the sea is like pea soup at the moment. The wide angle allows for a close focus (getting right up to the subject) so that minimises the problem of low viz, but there still is a problem with backscatter (especially when the strobes are not positioned the right way). Anyway, I had a lot of fun practicing. Although they did not come out as crisp as I hoped, cropping, decreasing highlights and increasing contrast and clarity, made them look acceptable. I encountered a few Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella, one with a small Gadoid fish in tow (above). A bit more common were the Crystal Jellies (in the Class Hydrozoa and so not ‘proper’ jellyfish as in the Class Scyphozoa) pictured below. They are in the Aequorea genus but I am not sure of the exact species. The Barrel- and Blue Jellyfish will soon follow, giving more opportunity to practice wide angle strobe photography.
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.
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.
Facebook/instagram and even news websites have been awash with Barrel jellyfish photos and videos the last week and so I had to get a piece of the action! I had seen these gentle giants in previous years but had not tried to take any photos in earnest. I snorkelled out from the beach in Falmouth and after 200 meters or so I sure enough found three or four (they occasionally came close to each other but there of course was zero interaction). Barrel jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo can in rare cases have a bell 90 cm wide but these were smaller, maybe 90 cm in length. I dove to take shots from below again and again: good exercise! I learner to hold my breath so the shot would not be ruined by air bubbles. I tried some over-unders but the shore was far away and so ended up only being a sliver, tricky!I tried some downward shots as well, which were much more gloomy. I saw a lone Blue jellyfish and a couple of Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. They are much smaller and have longer tentacles that unlike the Barrel jellyfish can sting (but not badly). Jellyfish are a great subject, beautiful and not rapidly swimming off! I hope to go back soon and try some more shots. (I will have to make sure to wipe the dome port occasionally as I had to spot-fix quite a bit).
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!
It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp, Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…
Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).
A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius.Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.