21 Feb 2016

Half-term guided walks at Runswick Bay.

I'll be leading a guided walk each day of the half-term holiday. The walk will last around 70 minutes, it will take in the village, the sea wall and the beach and I'll talk about the Jurassic geology and fossils of Runswick Bay, the history of the village of Runswick and the Bay (including American pirates, The Beatles, Laurel and Hardy and why Jurassic Park was just wrong) and a bit about the wildlife you'll see on the beach.

Meet at the roundabout at the bottom of the Runswick Bay bank by my chalkboard. Check in here later today to get times. Adults £4, children £2, families of 4+ in number £10. Fossil souvenirs for children complimentary.

4 Feb 2016

Pleuroceras are Yorkshire's under-appreciated ammonites.

Fortunately Andy has done a lot of hard work about this wide-ribbed ammonite. His blog is a must read.

Now I have an an excuse to re-repost my favourite bit of Runswick beach: a Pleuroceras counterpart colonized by barnacles. This specimen was preserved in the siderite section of Runswick beach; the hard, red expanse of stone exposed at low tide about halfway between Runswick and Kettleness.

26 Jan 2016

One of the most scientifically accurate restorations of an ammonite ever undertaken.

This ammonite fragment is one of the biggest in my collection; it's heavily worn after being tumbled around in shingle so it's hard to decide whether it's a Hilderocas bifrons or Arnioceras semicostatum.

Since it was blowing a 60mph gale, I decided that today would be a good day to take it to the beach with a pencil. And an 8 inch adjustable spanner for scale. The tape measure would have blown away, you see.

My very rough primary-school standard drawing around things suggests that the ammonite was 7-8 inches (14-16 cm) across. If there are fragments on the beach, there should be whole specimens in the cliffs waiting to be found.

If it's Arnioceras it's Lower Liassic, Sinemurian, Semicostatum zone.
If it's Hildoceras it's Upper Liassic, Toarcian, Bifrons zone.

13 Jan 2016

Port Mulgrave cliff fall: rotational slide (updated)..

Port Mulgrave is two miles north of Runswick Bay. A week ago the large portion of undercliff in the middle of the picture was at the top of the cliff. A few days ago, the rain-sodden clifftop (it has rained here for the last month) parted company from its parent Yorkshire and slumped down to the beach. Such a collapse is called rotational slip or rotational slide. The cliffs there are 320 (ish) feet and it looks like the clifftop has dropped around half of that. This pic was taken with a telephoto lens which compresses the perspective, so I suspect the slip is 2-300 feet across and the same from from sea to shore. I'll toddle over there on Monday with wellies, a spade, a rock hammer and my GPS and let you all know how big an event this was. And what fossils are to be found. I'll post a 'before' pic tomorrow.

Thursday; heavy rain and northerly gales forecast all day. Just the conditions that caused this slip in the first place. 

11 Jan 2016

So what did belemnites look like, and how did they live? (Updated)

If you visit the rocky ledges below Runswick village the shale flats towards Kettleness you will see the remains of belemnites, bullet-shaped fossils that look like this:

(Not sure what the little pyritic explosions at either end are, any suggestions welcome.)

But if you're rummaging among the shingle for fossils you are likely to see this kind of thing:

They're cylindrical bits of smashed up belemnite rostrum, the pointed specimen is a whole (but heavily abraded by being tumbled in shingle) rostrum. The rostrum was basically the belemnites's tailbone to which its fins attached. What belemnites looked like and how they lived was a matter of debate between pelaeobiologists because most of their living bodies were soft tissue that is preserved in fossil form rarely and then usually poorly.

However, if you're curious to see what enclosed these fossil cylinders and bullets in the Jurassic seas of Yorkshire (and elsewhere) go and read Adaptations to squid-style high-speed swimming in Jurassic belemnitids from the January issue of the Royal Society's Biology Letters. The paper analyses specimens where belemnite soft tissue had been fossilised and concludes that they were fast-swimming creatures that lived in the water column, rather than grovelling around on the Jurassic seabed.

Update: And thanks to Brooke Johnson for this: Last Suppers: Calamari del Mesozoico. More excellent stuff about belemnite soft tissue preservation and lots of good stuff about food chains and predation in Jurassic seas, which is just what Runswick Bay was 190 million years ago.

31 Dec 2015

Th January Dalesman is out!

My Yorkshire coast column goes historical. Robert Moorsom of Whitby commanded HMS Revenge, a 74 gun line of battle ship at Trafalgar. £2.99 at all self-respecting newsagents.

22 Dec 2015

A piddock shell (and King George V).

There have been a couple of days of gales, and the strandline was littered with shells including this half of a piddock:
The right hand side looks like a vanilla bivalve shell, the left is heavily distorted from the effort of grinding its way into shale to make a burrow. In many years of watching this beach I have never seen a live piddock; they obviously can't survive in an intertidal zone so well patrolled by gulls and oystercatchers. Their burrows show up in witchstones; pieces of shale with holes which were once piddock burrows which have been washed ashore. Local legend has it that if you nail one of these above your stable door it will ward off any witches that may try to steal your horse.
A piddock-bored witchstone, with Enteromorpha seaweed, a scattering of small barnacles, some encrusting red algae and a whelk.

I wondered if piddocks had any chemical help to bore into the rock but @RudkinDave said not, although other families of boring molluscs do secrete acids to help their digging. Having dug its burrow the piddock hunkers down, expends its syphon into the water and lives for around eight years. 

7 Dec 2015

Runswick Bay c. 1900

Many thanks to former Runswick resident Alex McCallum for this find of Runswick at the start of the last century. There is a post on belemnites and their living squid relatives coming up, but for now, enjoy Runswick of old.

1 Dec 2015

26 Nov 2015

'There's no fossils here,' said a visitor

stepping right over a Gryphaea...

And here, a bit over-exposed (sorry) is the rest of the day's Jurassica; two bivalves, three Gryphaea enclosed by ammonite fragment brackets with Laminaria saccharina garnish.

25 Nov 2015

Three limpets (Patella)

with saw wrack (Fucus serratus) and rhodophycaea, three hours before high water. They were submerged by the rising tide 20 minutes later. A small black female cat is affectionatly chewing my fingers as I type this. I'm sure David Attenborough doesn't have to put up with this stuff.

And finally the Bay today...

19 Oct 2015

Mactromya cardidoides (I think) and dead mermaids.

A quick morning toddle along the beach. The tide had stripped the sand back and here's the pick of the day's fossil finds:
 Left, Gryphaea and right Mactromya cardidoides. That's my best guess, as the fossil has obviously been rumbled around in the shingle for many years and it's heavily worn. The photo-bombing ammonite is obviously not a bivavle, it's an improvised paperweight.

Side view of Mactromya with 10p for scale...

The Bay was looking rather splendid today....

And the ebbing tide left the smooth sand covered in foam that glittered with many colours in the warm autumn sun:
There was a lot of foam. There must be some bad sea-sonal flu going on down there, killing mermaids left and right. You don't get this stuff in Nature. And the foam is deliberately out of focus. It's art.

14 Oct 2015

Runswick Bay one of Britain's 'best winter beaches'

according to the Daily Telegraph. Our very own Kettleness headlines the piece. You can tell the writer has never actually visited or she would have issued dire warning about how relatively inaccessible it is. You either have to climb down the crumbling cliffs on one of two ropes that have been secured by someone who is not you and doesn't care if you fall, or walk from Runswick. It's quite a hike, the last bit of the walk involves some pretty hard rock-scrambling and you have to beware the tides. This is a very easy place to get cut off by a fast-rising tide and Kettleness headland is very exposed. Get stuck there and it's a job for either Runswick Bay Rescue Boat (a splendid local charity, go and donate), Staithes and Runswick RNLI or the Coastguard rescue helicopter.

Ms. Krestovnikov (mentioned in the Telegraph's piece) paddled from Runswick to Kettleness as part of her Coast programme, because despite what various writers in the national media have said, most of the easily accessible bits of Runswick Bay beach actually aren't very good for beach combing.  Look at the sandy beach below, as published in today's Telegraph: smooth and clean as a whistle. You might find the occasional very worn fossil oyster (Gryphaea), a crescent of a smashed-up ammonite, worn sea glass or blue furnace slag. Kettleness is a good site for ammonites and larger fossils; the Natural History Museum's plesiosaur (Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni) was found at Kettleness in the 19th century.

I've been walking this beach for 25 years now, writing about it for eight and I know where things are and aren't found; the crumbly cliffs between Runswick and Kettleness are mostly barren of fossils and those you do find are heavily flattened, highly mineralised and so fragile as not to be worth collecting.

The rocky flats before Kettleness are so hard that it is almost impossible to get any of the numerous belemnites out without shattering them although there are some very beautiful things to be seen (and, in my opinion left intact) like this:

The flotsam you will find on the strand line is mostly rubbish. The best place for rockpooling is in the seaweedy rocks below the thatched white house at the far end of the village here:

Your best hope of a fossil for the inexperienced collector is at the foot of the cliffs beyond there but beware; seaweed covered rocks are very slippery and the cliff is constantly crumbling and dropping stones quite capable of making you as extinct as the fossils you want to find. Here's a quick summery of the main fossil finds:

Runswick is a wonderful place, I have spent half my life on its beach and hope to spend the rest of my life studying it. But it's not as great for casual beachcombing as journalists who obviously have never visited the place would have you believe.

13 Oct 2015

Full frontal bristleworm

A terebellida polychaete, probably Lanice sp. They usually poke vertically out of the sand at low water springs but something had hoiked this one out. It was 7cm long. Natural history does not get more exciting than this. Polychaetes are segmented worms that include earthworms in your garden (there is an Earthworm Society of Britain), Ascaris lumbricoides (a parasitic worm that can be more than a food long, lives in the human small intenstine and is estimated to infect more than a billion people worldwide) and an un-named inch-long polychaete that has been seen at the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest sea in the world.

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.