Sunday, 20 July 2014

Diving in Falmouth - Giant Jellyfish

3 great days of diving out of Falmouth with very few other dive boats about, such a change to 10 years ago when a sunny slack tide on the Lizard pinnacles could attract 10 ribs, vying to share shot lines. Dived on the Manacles, East Narrows and Whelps reefs. The water was a bit murky as we were there following the stormy Easterlies and the swell had lifted the silt but we had good viz' on most of the dives, apart from the Helford Estuary where we abandoned the dive as we couldn't see our own feet let alone each other. There was lots of life on the wrecks of the Peterson and the Hera with pollack, many Cuckoo wrasse (Labrus mixtus), Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta), conger and shoals of fry. Evidence of spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) feasting on mussels and many of the cuckoo wrasse appeared to be on the turn, between male and female and sporting a cross of gender markings. The dive we did in the East narrows on the first afternoon was interesting as we drifted along the huge and ecologically important Maerl beds, a sort of ground living small fragmented tumbling coral which covers the seabed for a number of miles, each piece grows at 1mm a year and they collectively create important biodiversity-rich habitats. Amongst the Maerl (Coralline algae) I saw some hermit crabs staggering along overloaded with enormous attached plumose anemones and also a micro spider crab riding on a large John Dory fish. I had to come up early and leave the others as they were drifting along the seabed at 20m and I was low on air after the earlier 2 dives, this was unfortunate as they then saw two thornback rays.

 One of the highlights of the trip was seeing two of the huge 'Dustbin Lid' jellyfish (Rhizostoma octopus) that have been in the press recently. They drifted under the boat while we waited for two divers to surface and I was able to get a few shots over the side but wasn't fast enough to get my fins on and get in. These jellyfish, up to a meter in width, have largely disappeared in recent days and we discussed why, perhaps they die off after mating or have all been eaten by the attendant leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). We sadly didn't see any turtles, but perhaps as evidence of predation we found a single limb of one of these giant jellyfish lying discarded on the wreck of the Peterson and it was surprisingly firm, like a silicon cast, and heavy to hold, stunning creatures.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Nettle Bed Caterpillars

My progress with the strimmer was halted as I realised that the nettle beds (Urtica dioica) were full of caterpillars. The masses of cobweb strewn over the heads of the plants weren't as I first thought the work of spiders but were in fact nests of young caterpillars at different stages of growth. The caterpillars in the most recently hatched batches, each of perhaps 50 caterpillars, were tiny with their heads disproportionate in scale but the older ones were clumped in groups at the top of plants consuming their way down the stems. As I approached they reared up as one, perhaps trying to put off a potential predator with their confidence perhaps and, alerted to the caterpillars in my own garden I saw another on School Hill which might suggest that across the village there are other groups all collectively protected from predation by their sheer numbers. I ended up strimming my way around the caterpillars leaving 6 distinct clumps of nettle plants for the caterpillars to feed on, reminded of the importance of wild patches of growth in a garden.

I think these are the caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae)

Monday, 14 July 2014

It's not grim up north

Just got back from a lovely week in Yorkshire and Cumbria (occasioned by the Tour de France). Lovely to get to another part of the country and enjoy a different array of terrain and wildlife. We swam in the River Wharfe, watched sunset over Morecambe bay, counted bats (219!) as they left eaves at dusk, and saw beautiful orchid-rich meadows swarming with butterflies (maintained by traditional grazing) and slept in a 'bee-loud glade'.  As ever I returned with more pictures of bees than anything else, which I shall spare you.

For me it was great to have the time to just be outside, soaking up the wonders of summer in England, allowing nature to come to me rather than having to fit it round other life commitments, a snatched hour here and there. It's all there waiting...

I came across this poem by John Clare that seemed apt:

In Hilly Wood
How sweet to be thus nestling deep in boughs,
Upon an ashen stoven pillowing me;
Faintly are heard the ploughmen at their ploughs,
But not an eye can find its way to see.
The sunbeams scarce molest me with a smile,
So thick the leafy armies gather round;
And where they do, the breeze blows cool the while,
Their leafy shadows dancing on the ground.
Full many a flower, too, wishing to be seen,
Perks up its head the hiding grass between.-
In mid-wood silence, thus, how sweet to be;
Where all the noises, that on peace intrude,
Come from the chittering cricket, bird, and bee,
Whose songs have charms to sweeten solitude.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Emotional Transects

I was reflecting on the monthly beewalk that I mentioned in a recent post. It's a transect, which is a scientific methodology for gathering data about the outside world by walking the same route on a regular basis and taking observations. I enjoy the process, as it gives me a structure to observe incremental changes across the seasons.

I then started thinking about whether one could apply this methodology in a more phenomenological way, by undertaking the same activity but making close observations not about the external, but about the internal. How often on this route and in which quadrant do I experience specific emotions, such as amusement, joy, anger, sadness, happiness and boredom? As with the bee data this could then be mapped over time and by habitat telling us how often we feel anger in wheatfields in June, or joy in hedgerowed lanes in October. Over time, and with enough data, this could form the basis of a landscape-based wellbeing intervention.

However, I suspect that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle would almost certainly apply, with the act of observation changing that which is observed. So maybe we should come up with proxy indicators for common emotions, such as heart-rate, blood pressure and pace of walking, all controlled for other variables. Or maybe we should stick to counting bees and being happy?