Recent rockpooling, and an assortment of other things

I’ve not been able to do as much fieldwork as I’d like as of late, due to a veritable barrage of assignments! But I have managed a couple of trips down to Gyllyngvase (Gylly) Beach in Falmouth, where I’ve been making a real effort to improve my marine life ID skills, in particular seaweeds. I’ve managed to bump my algae list up from 40 to 70 species, 66 or 67 of which you might call seaweeds (Mesophyllum lichenoides is a bit of an oddity, somewhere between an encrusting algae and a seaweed. But then, some seaweeds have an encrusting algae growth form anyway, so the difference is arbitrary!).

Anyway, here are a few of the bits and pieces I’ve found. 

A female Cymodoce truncata, a marine isopod new for me recently.

Left to right: Sphaerococcus coronopifolius (Berry Wart Cress), a localised species typically found subtidally, but also on low spring tides, Bonnemaisonia hamifera (Bonnemaison’s Hook Weed), a non-native species introduced from Japan in the 1890’s, with amazing smooth ‘hooks’, Champia parvula (Little Fat Sausage Weed), an uncommon and localised species occurring exclusively as an epiphyte.

Aren’t seaweed common names good fun?

My first ever sea-spider: Achelia echinata, a species usually found subtidally. I collected this completely by accident in a seaweed sample bought home to ID. I noticed the tiny (2mm body) creature crawling over the seaweed in my tray. Unfortunately it didn’t survive, as I had no saltwater (note to self, bring some seawater home next time!).
Not new for me, and not found by me! This huge (c.25cm) Spiny Starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) was one of the highlights of a recent field practical. Note the dominant Mesophyllum lichenoides (Pink Plates), an epiphyte on Corallina officinalis (Common Coral Weed).

On a completely different note, I’ve recently been on my first bat hibernation survey. It was an excellent day, with tens of Greater Horseshoe Bats (a lifer for me) and several Lesser Horseshoe Bats seen. We were searching for the bats in some old mines in a woodland, and around 10m in to one of the more open mines, I found a few rotting logs. I thought to myself that not many people get the opportunity to check if anything lives in deadwood in mines, so I should have a rummage! At first it was rather fruitless, until I saw what appeared to be a slightly stripey and very small (3mm) woodlouse. I picked it up and it rolled into a ball in my palm. As it was in such an unusual habitat, and it looked a little odd, I collected it to check under the microscope another day. When I did finally get round to looking at it, I knew it was something unusual! It turned out to be the millipede Trachysphaera lobata (almost certainly, though I need to go back and find some more for DNA testing to check it isn’t a closely related species), previously known in the U.K. only from the Isle of Wight and one or two sites in South Wales! 

Heading down into one of the mines.
Trachysphaera lobata (probably). New to Cornwall!

Now for an update on recent birding. A Couple of weeks ago, myself, Toby Phelps, Ben Porter, Jack Barton and Gethin Jenkins-Jones tried to see how many birds we could see in Cornwall in 24 hours! It was an epic day, covering 160 miles and 15 sites, with 107 species in total (plus Woodcock and Tawny Owl, only seen/heard by 1-2 group members, so not tickable on the group list). Highlights included Surf Scoter (x3), Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Black-necked Grebe (x5ish), Hawfinch, Fieldfare (localy rare in February!), Spoonbill, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Pacific Diver, Merlin and a stunning Barn Owl drifting right overhead as the sun set behind us. Both photos courtesy of Geth.

The beginning of the day at Porthpean. I’m looking rather concerned for someone who’s just seen Surf Scoter, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. I was probably worrying whether we’d all heard the flyover Greenfinch to add to the list.
Cape Cornwall, a stunning place! But it didn’t do us much good on the bird race: no Choughs, and couldn’t jam on to anything flying past over the sea.

More recently (yesterday in fact), myself and Toby, on our second attempt, successfully twitched (birding term for travelling to see something) the White-billed Diver which had been seen off Mousehole. This is a rare visitor from Arctic Russia, which was a new bird for both of us. It was surprisingly different to the Great Northern Divers is was associating with. It was colder in tone, with a smudgy look to the face and neck, and a larger neck collar. It also hopped a little before each dive. I’m rather proud of my phonescoped record shot, showing it doing what White-billed Divers do: holding its huge ivory-coloured wedge of a bill to the skies!

White-billed Diver phonescoped record shot.

And now for something completely different… Lichens! I’m still not very good with these, having only seen 52 species. I noticed a large lichen growing on the pavement outside my house, and thought I should have a go at identifying it. After a great deal of help from some incredibly knowledgeable people on twitter, I got to the species Xanthoparmelia conspersa. Colour, growth form, habitat and other features got it to genus, but to separate it from other very similar species, I had to get out the chemicals. After scraping away the outer layer of the lichen (layer containing algae) to reveal the medulla (inner layer containing looser strands of fungus called hyphae), I applied a drop of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) to see the colour change that occurred. It went from white to yellow-orange, implying it was X.conspersa. The similar X.tinctina would turn from white to yellow to red.

Above: Xanthoparmelia conspersa, showing entire lichen on the left, and the medulla colour after the addition of KOH on the right.

Finally, something else I’ve been spending some time doing in the last few months is drawing. After doing GCSE Art 4 years ago, I drew next to nothing for a few years, but decided recently that I wanted to try it out again. I haven’t really found a style yet, but I’m quite enjoying drawing angular birds. I intend to draw some beetles at some point too.

Left to right: Hawfinch, Firecrest, Dunlin and Short-eared Owl. All done last year in biro. A4. The Hawfinch was my first drawing for a very long time, and it actually annoys me a bit to look at. I quite want to redo these pieces in colour at some point.

Barn Owl. Christmas card in biro. A5.
Hawfinch. Quick pencil sketches. A5.
Mediterranean Gull. Pencil drawing. A5.
Some micro moths. Pencil Drawings. A5.
Purple Sandpiper in biro. Not really sure what I was going for here! A5.
Shore Lark. My first go at this style in pencil. A5.
Penduline Tit. My first go at this style in colour. A4.

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