29 Jun 2015

Runswick's stolen cycads and a history of the North Sea in July's Dalesman,

all in the Yorkshire Coast column in your mind-feeding July edition of The Dalesman. The magazine opens with a glorious picture of a ketch at anchor in Runswick by photographer Stephen Garnett. The perfect calm, Runswick Bay is so good it makes me want to take my Nikon D80 outside and smash it with a shovel. Andrew Gallon takes us foraging for Elderflower and Ian McMillan wants us to look for our family biscuit tin full of old black and white photos. He is poetically convinced we all have one.

£2.90 from all good newsagents, or if you live in Barbaria (any county or country where The Dalesman is not to be had as a matter of course), you can subscribe.

24 Jun 2015

Alum works and a hemi-parasitic plant.

A clifftop walk past Kettleness, with views over the remains of the alum works towards Runswick:
The conical heap in the foreground is probably the remains of a pyre that was not burned before the works closed; the first part of alum manufacture involved quarrying the alum-rich shale (which also contained an amount of oil) in alternating layers of brushwood, setting it afire and letting it smoulder for months. Many of the steeping pits and buildings have gone over the edge of the eroding cliff:

You can see the remains of walls, and the semicircle to the right of the gulls is the remains of a cistern. The fields along the clifftop walk were bordered by yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor):
Yellow rattle lives as a hemi-parasite) on grass and crops, its root tap into the grass and wheat roots and suck the water and nutrients out that the other plants have collected. It's a hemi-parasite because it retains it's own ability to photosythesize. Hemi-parasites (a group which include mistletoe) have evolved a specialized root (the haustorium) that taps into the victim's circulatory system.

17 Jun 2015

Compulsory reading.

Friend of this blog and Friend of Charles Darwin (he founded the whole thing, go and join if you haven't) Richard Carter celebrated his recent 50th birthday by getting a behind the scenes tour of the Natural History Museum in London, especially the fossils collected by Charles Darwin. Fortune favours the prepared mind, and there are few better prepared minds than Richard's on the subject of Darwin, his deeds and his words.

He - Richard, not Darwin - clearly had a wonderful day, and the result is a wonderful read. Off you go and read The great Darwin fossil hunting expedition. What? Are you still here? Off you go. And tell a friend.

Peter McGrath, FCD.

7 Jun 2015

Wildflowers, pyritic nodules and splash zone algae.

Mud and soil washed down the cliff has made enough of a bed of soil for these flowers to grow on, about 15 feet above the beach. The run off from the thin layer of soil has enough in it to sustain the green algae that usually grow in the splash zone - the bit of the beach above the high water mark that gets spray from breaking waves.

More splash zone algae, which is looks like it's getting fertilized by water that has percolated through the cliff and leaks out where the algae stops. The oval shapes in the rocks below the algae are pyritic nodules, of which more later.

2 Jun 2015

1 Jun 2015

It is blowing an absolute hooley here...

...thanks to this low pressure system which is giving us 45 mph winds and horizontal rain. Cliffs will get wet and collapse, beaches will be churned up. Jolly good. 

Coprolites and an Eleganticeras.

Jurassic fossil excrement and an Eleganticeras ammonite from last week's walk between Port Mulgrave and Runswick. And some lucky soul found a large Sauropod vertebra on Whitby beach; cue comparisons to Jurassic Park.

24 May 2015

20 May 2015

Went for a long beach walk...

between Port Mulgrave and Runswick Bay today. Lots of things seen and fossils found (70 or so), more of which in a post tomorrow. Pic by my lovely wife (who is an ace photographer). I mislaid my rock hammer somewhere on the walk. It's a Forge Steel, red and black handle with a chip out of the sharp bit) if you find it, you are welcome as long as you use it well.

Here are a couple of anemones and in the middle a Pomatoceras triquiter hunkered down in the May sun waiting for the tide to return.

5 May 2015

Jurassic marine fossils in Whitby Museum.

It's very gray and mizzly outside, not really beach-fossiling-weather so if you're in the area and at a loose end, why not visit Whitby Museum? Actually, you should visit it in any weather. It has a superb collection of Jurassic marine fossils all collected from the immediate area (here being examined by the youngest field assistant) among many other great exhibits.
It's in Whitby's lovely Pannett Park, is open daily from 10 am to 4.30 pm and is very well worth the modest entry charge.

27 Apr 2015

The May Dalesman is out!

How to score 93 at Scrabble, why the world didn't end when the planets all lined up, a fish with a face only a mother could love and an ode to herring.,

What? Are you still here? Hie thee to the newsagents. It's the best £2.90 you'll spend until June's Dalesman comes out.

24 Apr 2015

Circular holes in Runswick Bay beach.

Back in the 80s there was some drilling here and in Rosedale to see if there was any oil to be had. I'm told by one who around at the time that these are capped boreholes:
Oil was discovered (it occasionally seeps out of the cliffs and rocks) but not enough to make commercial extraction feasible. The capped boreholes have become these perfectly round rockpools.

Something geologically interesting did happen hereabouts in the early Jurassic; petrochemical giants don't run geological field trips to places like this for nothing. Speaking to geologists who are familiar with the shales hereabouts, it turns out that during their formation 190 million years ago the rocks between Runswick and Staithes sequestered much more carbon than expected in comparable rocks elsewhere.

Why, I asked, are geologists interested? The world population is heading towards 9 billion and the energy companies can't see a way to keeping the lights on or feeding the population without fracking shales with a high hydrocarbon (oil and gas) content. And they want to know how the seabed could be encouraged, like Runswick's jurassic seabed, to absorb more atmospheric carbon to offset the effects of global warming.

17 Apr 2015

A seal!

The Bay yesterday. The view was lovely. I was rather envious of the crew on the yacht spending the night at anchor in our lovely bay.

Then I spotted something out of place; a strange new shape on Dabdike Rocks, which the men of Runswick Rescue Boat call Star Island.

It was a seal (Phocas sp), hauled out on the highest of the Dabdike Rocks.

Seals are intermittent visitors here. They occasionally pop up around our boat during Runswick Bay Rescue Boat training, and the occasional exhausted pup will haul out on the beach to recover after a winter storm with an anxious mother seal keeping an eye from the sea. I was in my Rescue Boat drysuit and could have waded out to get closer for better pics, but didn't want to spook it into flopping off the rock and swimming away. To see a larger colony of seals, head for Ravenscar on the far side of Robin Hoods Bay where a goodly colony of seals haul out at low tide.

13 Apr 2015

The Bay today was grey...

Except that the gorse (Ilex sp.) is in flower with many more buds ready to burst.

 The hawthorn (Craetaegus laevigata) blossom is out too; rather later than in previous years.

I have days off and good weather is forecast. Off to the beach it will be.

2 Apr 2015

The Edge of the World...

...how the North Sea made us who we are by Michael Pye.
I'm reviewing the book for the July Dalesman Yorkshire coast column.

31 Mar 2015

The Bay today.

It was beautiful:
We weren't there doing natural history, the Youngest Field Assistant and I were building sandcastles...

Just downwind of a dead, much chewed, rather odiferous seal pup (the remains about 90 cm long)

Taphonomy. It's a dead branch of natural history.

27 Mar 2015

The April Dalesman is out now.

My take on the world wide interest in Runswick's seaweed reproduction, why St Hilda beats St Patrick in the snake-slaying stakes and Runswick's stalled Marine Conservation Zone status. There is much else to enjoy too; Unearthing Yorkshire's Roman past, poet Ian McMillan, Walking with Dalesman at Malton, Diary of a Yorkshire Farmer's Wife and lots more besides.

What, are you still here? Get off down the newsagents at once. It's the best £2.90 you'll spend. Unless you're buying ham.

22 Mar 2015

High spring tide (6.1m), syzygy and a north wind. And black headed gulls.

People sitting in city newsrooms have variously called this a 'supertide' and suggested it may be the end of the world due to the sun and planets' alignment. The anglers on the sea wall beyond Coastguard Cottage are probably locals and while wet and cold are not stupid; they will have fished this coast in worse conditions.

The Bay yesterday. It was grandiose. This wide-angle pic doesn't remotely capture the heaving, wind-torn waves that roared into the Bay at high tide. I would have liked a better photographer than I around to capture this stuff.

The black headed gulls played chicken with the enormous waves, sitting quite calm while a cataract of roaring grey and white water bore down on them:

They took off for a second of two to let the wave break below them, then dropped tidily into the boiling maelstrom for another few seconds of absurd calm before the next wave dared to disturb.

I'll pop down to the beach in the morning to check the world didn't end and it's all still there. I'll let you know.

20 Mar 2015

The Bay today; solar eclipse, spring equinox, spring tide. And lugworms.

A treble of good things; spring equinox, a low spring tide and a partial solar eclipse.

9.25, what was left of the sun glittering on the receding tide.

 Despite not having the right photographic kit, I managed to get a passable shot of Sol and Selene.

For some it was a low tide and a chance to dig out lugworms (Arenicola marina) for bait. Possibly lugworms dug at the dark of the eclipse on spring equinox have special fish-bewitching powers.

19 Mar 2015

A quick beach trip on a sunny day and meeting a ribbon worm.

Finally, blue skies. I should have been doing other things, but it seemed wrong not to steal a few minutes on the beach.

A quick scurry along the rocks past Coastguard Cottage and saw a belemnite guard flanked by two pyritized, exploded...things. Early jurassic, may just be geological artefacts like my cone-in-cone mistake. If anyone has any ideas, let me know:

I turned over a rock in a rockpool. Introducing several Lineus ruber, ribbon worms here lurking in sandy seaweed. Part of the phylum Nemertea they (mostly) catch small prey by everting a poison spined proboscis, seizing, subduing and sucking in prey items. Some smaller ones filterfeed and others live symbiotically in the mantles of shellfish. These were just a few centimetres long, but one specimen belonging to the Nemertea has been estimated at 54 metres (150+ feet) long (Ruppert, E.E., Fox, R.S., and Barnes, R.D. (2004). "Nemertea". Invertebrate Zoology (7 ed.). Brooks / Cole. pp. 271–274. ISBN 0-03-025982-7. in case you're having trouble believing that. And yes, that would make it the longest creature known to have lived. With a poisonous, spiny, shooting out nose.)

The knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum) swirled on the rising tide. The Bay was misty; some industrial murk as been kindly shared by our European neighbours and the easterly wind is blowing it across the North Sea.
I picked up a dozen or so ammonites and a few belemnites. There was an outdoor education class on the beach that had suffered a fossil-light day so I gave all my specimens but one away.

18 Mar 2015

Washed up Ray's bream (repost from 2010).

Thanks to Mike Sewell for the word that this is a Ray's Bream (Brama brama). Reports of other Ray's Bream strandings at here at glaucus.org.uk.

Don't forget our other exotic piscene find: the Runswick Bay Ratfish (Chimaera monstrosa).

14 Mar 2015

Jet: a lump and a seam in jetrock.

Lots of people come to Runswick looking for jet; fossilized monkey puzzle trees that have become a hard, black, easily carved and polished semi-precious stone. Here it is in two natural guises, both found by the ten year old Number One Field Assistant:
To the left, a simple lump of jet. It's probably been rolling around the beach for a while. To the right, a rarity; a piece of hard jetrock with a thin seam of jet in it.

There are lots of pieces of promising black jetlike rocks on the beach, here's how to test if it's jet or not; jet feels warmer and less clammy to the touch than shales. Next pick up a piece of sandstone and scratch your suspected piece of jet along it.

Black mark; it's coal, chuck it.

White mark; some imposter rock or other, not jet, chuck it.

Dark brown mark; low-grade jet. Keep for interest or to give away as a present.

Light brown mark: high quality jet. Keep it.

More in depth stuff about Whitby (and district) jet at the splendid Yorkshire Coast Fossils.

13 Mar 2015

Spring and neap high tides...

The recent spring high tide. Spring tides don't just happen in spring, they confusingly occur twice a month throughout summer, autumn and winter too.

And here's a neap high tide from a sunny January:

So a spring tide means high high tides and low low tides. Neap tides give you low high tides and high low tides. Got that? The comparison of Spring and Neap low tides is here.

Other factors can affect the final height of a high or low tide; if the wind is blowing onshore it can drive more water ashore and raise the tide level. Atmospheric pressure can affect the tides too; high pressure crushes the tide bump down, low atmospheric pressure allows the sea surface to rise, so pressure can increase or decrease the tidal height by as much as 30 cm.

12 Mar 2015

Kettleness in the snow (repost from 2010).

It was charming for a day and a pain in the teeth for the rest of the time. (Update 2015: no we haven't had a cold snap, this was originally from January 2010. I'm recycling old posts as I recover their images from backup CDs and scraps of vellum. It was 2010. The dark ages of digital imaging.)

7 Mar 2015

The spring Bay today.

It was the first day that felt like spring. The sky was blue, the wind (despite being a near gale) was warm. Runswick Bay looked like this:

It's spring tide-time. I'd intended to do a serious post comparing neap and spring high tides but a pretty (and actually quite sci-fi) cloud over Kettleness caught my attention:

Then a bunch of black-headed gulls started mobbing something; probably a shoal of small fish that had come inshore on the spring tide:

That attracted the big boys, the herring gulls but they stayed high, silhouetted against that amazing cloud, making the odd diving feint seawards but choosing not to mix it with the flock of noisy, smaller, black headed gulls:

The cloudyeti didn't bother the high flying Larus:

Jonathan Livingstone and friend came from on high for a look:

So the youngest field assistant (4) and I had a race along the sea wall. He won.

Spring and neap high tide comparisons in the next post.