At Dogs Bay

Dogs Bay in Connemara has a wonderful white sandy beach composed of the tiny shells of microscopic one-celled creatures that live mostly on the mud of the ocean bed. These animals are called Foraminifera. When they die, millions upon millions of their calcium skeletons, bearing many chambers and holes, and not visible to the naked eye, wash ashore to form this unusual sand. This is such a rare occurrence that Dogs Bay beach is the only one composed of foraminifera in the northern hemisphere.

The bedrock of the land around this wonderful white sandy shore is made up of volcanic rocks including granite that has many different colour forms and patterns due to the different mineral crystals that it contains – if you get up really close to see it. The granite outcrops on the shores often have a rounded surface where ice sheets or glaciers passing over them have ground them smooth. The waterside rocks form attachments for a variety of seaweeds, along with many seashore creatures, particularly gastropod molluscs like periwinkles and limpets, whose brightly-coloured empty shells accumulate at the base of boulders low down in the intertidal zone.

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On The Burren

Natural features and man-made structures amongst the karstic erosional surface of the Carboniferous Limestone landscape in The Burren in County Clare, Ireland. These photographs show the famous Neolithic portal tomb known as the Poulnabrone Dolmen and the humble, often lichen and moss-covered, stone walls. Typical limestone erosion features include the limestone pavements with their deeply weathered clints and grikes; and solution hollows or pans also called kamenitzas. Isolated large boulders, standing out incongruously on the flat bare rock platforms, are glacial erratics dumped by receding ice sheets.

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Some lovely news!

Aside

ShellColoursAssortment1Blog1

I’m absolutely delighted that Jessica’s Nature Blog has been included on the website of the BBC’s Countryfile programme as “one of the best UK nature photography blogs”  

http://www.countryfile.com/countryside/photography-blogs-introduction

So what exactly is Jessica’s Nature Blog?

Jessica’s Nature Blog is the place to look for illustrations, explanations, and inspiration. Photographs of natural objects and phenomena from seashores, forests and the back garden. Lots of information about the natural history of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset and the Gower Peninsula in South Wales – but also further afield in the Tropical Rain Forest and Great Barrier Reef of Queensland, on the beaches of the Oregon Coast, and around Canada’s Bay of Fundy.

Subjects range from seashells, seaweeds, strand-lines, sea anemones, sea urchins, sand ripples, and seascapes to jellyfish, barnacles, crabs, insects, worms and fish. Flotsam on the beach – man-made objects like lost shoes or sad dead sea birds and sea mammals. Rocks, pebbles, and fossils.  Images frequently feature natural patterns and textures – Nature’s own abstract art.

Jurassic Coral Fossils at Ringstead

These photographs all show fossil corals found in boulders on the beach at Ringstead Bay in Dorset, England. They date from the Jurassic Period and are embedded, along with numerous other fossils, in the Ringstead Coral Bed which is the topmost layer of the Ringstead Formation (that in turn is at the top of the larger Corallian Formation).

Whilst I cannot say for certain exactly which fossils each image portrays, I can say that there are four corals known from this rock bed. These are Thecosmila annularis, Thamnasteria concinna, Thamnasteria arachnoides, and Protoseris waltoni. It is highly likely that the pictures show details of the colonial Thamnasteria genus and I think both species are represented here. I will being going to my local museum to check the identifications with their reference collections. Thecosmila is a larger solitary coral so can be excluded as a possibility for these particular fossils..

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Moon Jellyfish Art

Swimming Moon Jellyfish

Slowly pulsating bells of Moon Jellyfish swimming near the surface of shallow water over seabeds of swaying seaweed.

Swimming Moon Jellyfish

Swimming Moon Jellyfish

Swimming Moon Jellyfish

Swimming Moon Jellyfish

These images were previously displayed on my other site Photographic Salmagundi; and on Jessica’s Nature Blog there is also a  short video of one of the slowly swimming Moon Jellyfish that were the subject of this artwork.

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Tube-worm Holes in Ringstead Chalk Boulders

Close-up of tube-worm holes in a chalk boulder

Pebbles and beach stones riddled with small holes are a common beachcomber’s find. These small burrows and borings in the stone are frequently made by marine worms. The worms themselves, and the mud and sand tubes in which they live within the burrows, are usually absent. However, on the water’s edge in many coastal locations, if you know where to look, it is possible to spot the burrows still occupied by the worms; this is usually in large and mainly immovable boulders, or in the bedrock of the beach platform, or the base of a cliff face. The worm itself is almost impossible to see because at low tide, when the rock is exposed to the air, it retreats into the tube and burrow. Though sometimes, apparently, its two palps or feelers can be seen protruding from the hole and waving around vigorously. I haven’t observed that myself so far.

Without microscopically examining the actual worms, it isn’t possible to say with a 100 per cent certainty what these worms are. Nevertheless, there are enough characters available to say that these are most likely to be marine polychaetes of the Spionidae, and probably one of the Polydora group, maybe Polydora ciliata (Johnston).

All the Polydora species make a U-shaped tube from small particles of mud, or whitish calcareous matter if they have been burrowing into calcareous algae, shell, or limey stone; all this is stuck together with secreted mucus. The tube is normally embedded in the burrow that it has excavated. There are two holes in the mud tube, one at the front and one at the back end – but they lie side by side because the tube and burrow are U-shaped. In the examples photographed here, many worm tubes are packed together, and there are instances where the chalk burrows have joined together and broadened out into deeper, less well-defined, depressions.

The method by which the worms create the burrows is thought to be an almost incidental process. The worms initially settle and manufacture their mud tubes in the shelter of slight cracks and crevices in rock or shell surfaces, or between sessile barnacles, or amongst soft algae in rock depressions, and other such places on the seashore where it always remains damp at low tide. The metabolism of the living worm leads to the production of slightly acidic waste. Over time, the seepage of these waste products gradually eats into and dissolves the rock or shell on which the worm tube lies, enabling the worm to retreat further and further into the safety of the substrate. The burrow formed like this reflects the shape of the U-shaped mud tube.

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Irish Moss at Ringstead

Irish Moss is the common name for the red seaweed Chondrus crispus Stackhouse. It is an extremely variable, commercially exploited, seaweed and it can differ in shape, size, and colour depending on the physical environment in which it is living. Recent findings seem to indicate that another type of variation is occurring at the moment due global changing conditions. The species itself is currently the subject of extensive projects worldwide – from personal records of observations to full-scale academically rigourous research.

The shape of Irish Moss that I most frequently see on Dorset beaches is the dichotomously branched, flat bladed form with a short stipe or stalk. This is basically a red form but can be every shade of pink in the palette with varying degrees of green or greeny-yellow colour – especially at the tips of the fronds. This form doesn’t actually look anything like moss despite the name. This is the form that washed up on the beach at Ringstead by the boulders at the foot of the White Nothe cliff, and is shown in photographs 1 – 3.

However, on the same trip, I saw a seaweed that really did look like moss. It was a bright golden green which caught my eye. Made up of many fine, branched, rounded cross-sectional elements reaching no more than a centimetre or so high, it was growing epiphytically on brown fucoid seaweeds (such as Bladder Wrack, and Toothed Wrack) attached to inter-tidal boulders. I am curious to know what it really is. I have searched in texts and on-line for possibilities without finding illustrations of something identical. However, from what I have learned so far, I conclude for the moment that it is indeed another known form of Irish Moss. This is shown in photographs 6 – 8.

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A Masked Crab at Studland

A Masked Crab waiting for the tide to come in

I saw a little Masked Crab (Corystes cassivelaunus Pennant) on Knoll Beach at Studland the other day. It was an unusual sighting for that location. The crab was alive – but lucky to be so. It had buried itself in the wet sand to survive the rigours of exposure at low tide. There are not many other places for an animal to hide on this part of the beach.

The small crab, only a couple of inches long, would probably have stayed out of view until the tide came in again – except that this was the afternoon that several schools decided that it was just the right moment for the students to run on the beach while the sun was shining. The youngsters pounded their way along the shore and one of them stepped on the very spot where the crab was sheltering. Being disturbed by this close encounter, it surfaced, all covered in wet sand, as I walked past it and eastwards in the direction of Shell Bay.

I was surprised to see this same little seashore creature again as I made my way back along the water’s edge going westwards. I know it was the same crab because it was almost the only live thing I found, and certainly the most interesting. It was one of those days when there was not much at all newly washed ashore: a few fresh clumps of spindly red seaweed, some brown Sea Oak and strands of kelp, a few pieces of translucent green Sea Lettuce, and some clusters of Slipper Limpets. Lots of empty bivalve shells.

On this second meeting with the Masked Crab, the creature was more active and had got rid of the sand which had been covering it before. It was waiting for the waves. I have seen this activity previously in Masked Crabs on Rhossili Beach on the Gower Peninsula. The animal sits facing the sea, using its legs to brace itself against the oncoming water. Its two fringed antennae can be joined together to form a single tube and this was projecting forwards and upwards – looking very much like an angler holding a fishing rod. It was fascinating to watch the way to crab parted and then joined the antennae, moving them side to side as if using them to gauge the speed and timing of the next wave. The antennae form a breathing tube when the crab is buried.

I took a few photographs of the Masked Crab and some short video clips which you can see below. I hope that you will appreciate that it was a bit difficult to film the crab in action because of its small size and the necessity for recording it in such a low position – plus the imminent drenching of both the crab, the camera, and the photographer.

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Goose Barnacles at Ringstead Bay

I always like to find Goose Barnacles (Lepas anatifera) on flotsam at the beach. These strange creatures live attached to items that free-float around the oceans of the world; and we only see them when they wash ashore, as they did yesterday at Ringstead Bay in Dorset, England. Thousands of these strange marine creatures were clustered onto a tree trunk and its branches that lay freshly beached on the shingle. All the pebbles here seem to have returned now – it was only a week or so ago that they had all more or less disappeared following stormy weather.

Click here for more information about Stranded Goose Barnacles and Goose Barnacles on Rhossili Beach in Jessica’s Nature Blog.

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Ringstead Bay Fossil Bivalve – Ctenostreon proboscideum

Most of the examples of this fossil bivalve, Ctenostreon proboscideum, were partial specimens embedded in the rocks at Ringstead Bay in Dorset, England. However, the large strongly-ribbed shell is unmistakable and easily recognised in the many boulders on the beach at the west end of the bay – at least they were easily seen when the pebbles had all been washed away after the storms. The photographs in the gallery above show Ctenostreon shells as they were found on the beach last week. The boulders had fallen from the Ringstead Coral Bed which is a narrow layer,  packed with fossils, of no more than 30 centimetres depth, and which can be seen in short lengths in the vertical section through the strata at the top of the beach.

The almost complete fossil specimen shown with the blue background (photographed at home) was found many years ago after similar severe weather. You can see that the two valves are still together and the space between them filled with marly limestone material, indicating that the original animal was already dead, with the two shells gaping open, when it was buried under new sediments.

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