7 Oct 2015

In October's Dalesman...

My magnificent mix of monthly maritime maunderings. This month a parasitic barnacle that chemically castrates crabs, a summer of dolphins and that Whitby sauropod.

A Great Crested Grebe (in winter plumage).

Podiceps cristatus swimming and fishing just beyond the breakers. Thank you RSPB on twitter for putting me right, for more grebe-ery visit the RSPB's page on them here. Here it is again with a rather photogenic on-the-cusp-of-breaking wave.
 I need a longer lens and to learn more about our birds.

6 Oct 2015

OCD barnacles and gregarious settlement.

I can imagine three or four barnacles lining up by chance, but ten? (I think these are acorn barnacles, Semibalanus balanoides)
I've just done a very quick look over the available online literature to see if juvenile free-swimming barnacles, looking for a suitable spot to settle, have any cues from already settled adult barnacles. Barnacles must have other barnacles settled nearby to reproduce with. I had guessed it would be a chemical signal released into the water. I was wrong.

The free-swimming larval stage (cyprids) have rudimentary eyes which can pick up red flourescent light which, it turns out, is reflected by the shells of settled adults. So possibly the big chap on the right was the pioneer and the rest, looking for a site and potential mate, saw his flourescent beacon, swam on down, cemented their heads to the rock and set up home. I still think it's charming that they've done it in a straight line.

Matsumura, Kiyotaka, and Pei-Yuan Qian. "Larval vision contributes to gregarious settlement in barnacles: adult red fluorescence as a possible visual signal." The Journal of experimental biology 217.5 (2014): 743-750.

The link to the academic paper is here and thanks to the Journal of Experimental Biology for making it available free.

21 Sep 2015

Barnacles avoiding predation...

by living on their main predator's back.Buccinium undatum.
Four barnacles have taken up residence on the shell of the common whelk. Not that the whelk is short of other prey, this rock was completely covered. 

14 Sep 2015

Ammonite fossil in jet...

Had a couple of nice jet finds recently. The glossy black ones are high-grade jet, 4 cm wide. The larger piece is lower-grade stuff:
 Until you turn it over and see a very pleasant surprise. Two ammonites.
 Closer look..
Being a black fossil on a black background made it hard to get the ammonites to stand out so I did a bit of tinkering with the image; it's made the jet look greyer than in real life, but it's definitely jet. Jet is the compressed, fossilized wood of trees related to modern monkey-puzzle trees (Araucaria sp.). the thick seams hereabouts suggest that large forests were inundated by the sea, the trees then entombed and fossilized in the seabed, with the odd ammonite dying and coming to rest on a trunk before it was covered.

Or a couple of ammonites were swimming in the shallows when a money puzzle tree fell on them and killed them. Which would be jolly Jurassically unlucky.

1 Sep 2015

Autumn, the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and magnificent mackerel in

September's Dalesman Magazine. The best £2.90 you'll spend until October's Dalesman magazine. There's also an anecdote about Coelacanths and fishing with Sean Baxter (we didn't catch any Coelacanths, they'd have to be very lost to get here from the Indian Ocean) from our next-Bay neighbour Staithes.

16 Aug 2015

Lions mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) on Runswick beach.

Three of these were washed up on Runswick beach yesterday. Here's the largest with the five year old's field assistant's feet for scale.
We kept his feet well clear of the tentacles:
 The tentacles contain stinging nematocyts, and on large specimens of the Lions Mane they've been measured at 120 feet long. The stings have been described as 'like a bee sting', although people prone to allergic reactions could suffer more serious reactions, so don't touch if you find them on the beach. If you are stung, vinegar will neutralise the sting. The large one was beached upside down and looked like a failed Dr. Who special effect...

Close up of jellyfish insides:

 The smaller one was a lot better preserved and looked like this on the incoming tide:

Jellyfish are predators; their tentacles paralyse prey items, the oral arms capture the prey, shred it and move it into the jellyfish's stomach which is in the gelatinous bell. Cyanea live in cooler oceans, usually swimming and drifting in the top 20m of the sea and are common along the Yorkshire coast. This jellyfish appeared at the killer in the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Adventure of the Lion's Mane.

12 Aug 2015

If you like people writing about natural history

(and you should, if you have a soul) you must go and visit Nature Writing by Richard Carter. He is doing the legwork for you, collecting and presenting some finest kind writing about the natural world around the web.

What, are you still here?

28 Jul 2015

Dolphins in Runswick Bay.

If you get into trouble around Runswick Bay there's a good chance that Runswick Bay Rescue Boat will be around to help you out. While out training on Wednesday evening they met some dolphins. The video is here. And while you're there, donate some money to keep this independent rescue service going.

Runswick seagulls not behaving badly.

Seagulls were very much in the news in the news last week. One delinquent attacked and killed a tortoise, another savaged a small dog and a third pecked someone on the head in an attack, the victim said, reminiscent of Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. The Prime Minister was even moved to comment on the seagull menace. Then, no doubt motivated by the purest intentions, a photographer bought a cone of chips, set up his tripod on Whitby's West Pier and stood still, camera clicking away as seagulls tried to nick his chips. Lo and behold they did!

He was hit in the face by a wing. The results made the national press and fed the current seagull hysteria - I am sure that nations where people are habitually killed by hippopotomus (more deadly than you might think), poisonous snakes, venomous spiders, malaria, hookworm, bears and tigers are looking on with concern. My wife (who blogs rather beautifully here) went to try out The Magpie Cafe's takeaway a couple of years ago...

...and found herself similarly at the centre of seagull attention, with one in particular trying to hypnotize her into handing over the fish:
It seems Whitby's gulls are a contumelious bunch:

So here are some seagulls that are not letting the species side down. While Whitby gulls monster a photographer their rural cousins on Runswick beach were doing what gulls do best. Gliding over the waves.
 And messing around on the beach.

22 Jul 2015

Catacoeloceras ammonite...

Oh good grief Andy's Fossils has done it again. He's found, prepared and beautifully described an ammonite from our Yorkshire Jurassic cliffs that I had no had idea existed. Some of the ammonites in my collection that I had lazily labelled Dactyloceras may well be Cataceoloceras.


21 Jul 2015

Laminaria: never seen this before.

I've probably seen more Laminaria digitata than most people who don't look at kelp for a living. But I've never seen this:
L. digitata with its fronds covered in blisters. The kelp had been ripped up, cast ashore and had come to rest in one of the freshwater streams (Calais Beck) that run across Runswick beach. I thought that the blisters were something reproductive, but I popped one and there was nothing inside but air. It's probably the result of decomposition in freshwater on a sunny day, but if any phycologists out there can put me right, I'd be delighted.

It was a venerable kelp, mature and home to parasitic red algae and barnacles on its stipe (the stalk):

The holdfast (the roots, bit that anchored the kelp to the rock substrate) had its usual alien appearance; the white cones are barnacles over which the holdfast has grown over the <6 years of its life.

18 Jul 2015

An anemone in action.

Actinea equina with its tentacles out in a shallow rockpool. Anything edible brushing against the tentacles will be harpooned by nematocysts; bottle-shaped cells that contain a barbed spear which shoots into the prey, the nematocyst then contracts and forces venom into the prey, which the inner ring of tentacles then pulls into the mouth.

15 Jul 2015

I think we found a Jurassic jakes (that's a toilet).

This rockfall near Kettleness gave me the chance to rummage through some freshly-fallen shale.

There were some distinctive shapes in the rock. Coprolites, or fossilised pooh. Both the fossilised stuff itself an some counterparts where a some had fallen out of the shale.

 There's quite a lot of this stuff in this one block of shale. Close-up coprolite:

Jurassic marine creatures had to excrete; maybe they were creatures of habit returning to a favourite spot (no reason why 190 million year old creatures shouldn't be territorial or develop habits like creatures living today; prehistoric doesn't mean stupid). Or maybe we're just dealing with an ammonite with an upset stomach. There were ammonites around this Jurassic jakes, here's the remains of one found in the same block 60 cm away from the prehistoric poop:

13 Jul 2015

Runswick kayak and paddleboard hire: now you can see Runswick from the sea.

Having been walking, fossiling, collecting, observing and generally loving Runswick Bay for about 25 years, I've always thought it a practically perfect place (the Sunday Times agrees, listing Runswick as one of the top 20 wild places to live in Britain). The one thing missing? Some way for people to take to the water on a whim, without all the hassle of boat ownership, trailers etc. etc.

Well, Runswick just got better as now you can hire kayaks and paddleboards right off the beach from Andy at Barefoot Kayak. Yesterday morning under bright sun and with the Bay mirror-calm we took a double kayak out for a trial paddle, the youngest field assistant sitting between us. You can rock up, get fitted out with a buoyancy aid and off you go; under the keen and experienced eye of Andy Monaghan, a former head of outdoor education for a neighbouring county. He really knows his paddling stuff. Below, two of Andy's kayaks heading out to sea on Sunday.

The youngest field assistant was very impressed with our two-and-half-seater.

If you've come here in search of natural history, have some washed-up Laminaria hypoborea:

We had a couple of days of northerly winds last week and a lot of seaweed was torn up and washed ashore:

L. hypoborea lives at the very low tide mark and below, it's fronds are exposed towards Kettleness at low tide, and it is the bane of Runswick Bay Rescue Boat, fouling its propellor during inshore work. The things breaking the surface at low tide last Monday are exposed L. hypoborea:

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.