Friday, 17 March 2017

Duckin' and a Divin'

The weather has been pretty awful here lately, ridiculously sudden and devastating hailstorms, briefly blue skies and then more sudden, violent hail. Changeable, I think you could call it. The wind hasn't eased up for days, been a sustained 35-40mph WSW gusting to well over 50mph. But today that changed. I woke up and the wind had gone (took me a moment or two to figure out what was different) and a light drizzle had replaced the sideways hail. I have outdoor painting to do, but not in drizzle, so I quickly switched my days off, donned the wet weather gear and headed down to the beach to see what had been blown in. 

A whole shedload of seaweed is what has been blown in, great piles of the stuff forming distinct strandlines along the beach. I picked through it (one new sheep carcass...) and found lots of a large brown seaweed that I have seen before but couldn't name. It must be a relatively deep water species for I only ever see it after storms. Here it is 

Pretty distinctive huh? Big too.
The frond was very slimy and slippery, even the midrib felt kind of buttery to the touch though it was pretty tough. It was also very flattened, wide but low like an elongated rectangle in cross-section. The stipe itself had small nubs along each edge. Back indoors I quickly figured it as being Dabberlocks Alaria esculenta and amazed myself by discovering that it was a lifer. Really? I'm pretty certain I've seen this before, guess it's slipped through the gaps until now. On a nearby washed up Cuvie stipe was another marine alga that I've been looking out for, please excuse the truly terrible pic! I should do better with this species as the season progresses and it becomes much more noticeable

Truly atrocious microscope pic of Melobesia membranacea, an epibiont red alga
So this is the mighty Melobesia membranacea (and my 60th species of alga!) From what I hear it is likely to prove very noticeable as the summer progresses. It generally smothers various stipes, fronds and blades of larger seaweeds, I've undoubtedly seen it before but not realised what it was. But what was that word used in the caption: 'epibiont'. What's one of those then? An epibiont, I recently learnt, is the term used to describe a living something growing on top of a living something else (in this context, named the basibiont). Epibionts cause no harm to the basibiont, hence are not parasitic. In this instance it is a red alga that is growing on the surface of a Cuvie stipe. But doesn't that make it an epiphyte, I hear you ask? Well yes, sorta. As far as I can ascertain epiphytes are plants growing on other plants, clearly seaweeds are not plants as such. At least not the reds. Or is it the browns? So are the greens classed as plants, can they be epiphytic? No, coz they're all alga not plants. Though I guess alga are in fact primitive plants...hmmm. You know what, I think I'm gonna just leave this topic and start a new paragraph, pretend it never happened. Who'd like to hear about some birds that I saw? Good. Birds are easy. Bloody seaweeds ffs...

In the three and a half months I've been here I've seen just one diver in the bay, a solitary Great Northern. Today I improved upon that with not one, not even two or three, but four Great Northern Divers in the bay! Only one of these was actually in NG3963 (ie inside 'my' square) but after days of strong winds and choppy waters these birds had come inshore to feed. Divers hunt by sight, if the water is murky and turbid (and believe me after 3 days of strong WSW winds it really is...) they simply can't see the fish to catch them. So they come into shallow waters to catch crabs, which they can locate by touch. Currently it's a very bad time to be a crab. But along with the Great Northern Divers I also found a pair of Black-throated Divers and a single Red-throated Diver. Superb! With a gang of Eider, a Black Guillemot, several Red-breasted Mergansers plus a pair of Goosander that I carelessly flushed from the mouth of the River Conon, it was pretty busy out in the bay today. Everyone busily feeding on fish and crabs. Much further out I spied a bunch of Gannets plunge-diving through a raft of gulls. Cormorants and Shags were seen flying low over the water towards the feeding mêlée. It was all easily a mile and a half away but I watched through my binoculars for a long while, just praying for that breach of a Humpback, even a Minke would suffice. But alas it was not to be. Not today anyway. Here's a completely pants shot of the Black-throated Divers. They pair up again in the wintering grounds (maybe France, maybe Cornwall) and migrate north towards the breeding grounds together. Who knows how they locate each other on the wintering grounds. Not me.

I know, awesome shot isn't it. Clearly we can rule out Pacific Diver - just look at that clean throat and crown shape!
Back to kicking through the wrackline, I found a few bryozoans on stipes and kelp blades. Mostly they were the usual Electra pilosa and Membranipora membranacea but I found a few others too. Back indoors I checked them out through the microscope. Some I could do but others were beyond me. Ideally I need the FSC Keys to help me with the bryozoans I encounter,  but there are several books in the set and with prices like this I think I may just skip it and continue to be baffled. Despite this, I managed to identify two new ones for me - Callopora lineata (photos are too shockingly poor to share here) and Disporella hispida as seen here

Disporella hispida alongside the three-ridged tube of Janua pagenstecheri
Very noticeable were the receptacles of Egg Wrack. This is one of the more dominant seaweeds her at Uig, barely a patch of midshore beach is without a whacking great patch. But it was the receptacles that caught my eye - just look at these! (In fact if you look really closely you may even see a few tiny black dots that are the marine fungus Stigmidium ascophylli)

It's almost that time of year again!
Egg Wrack is a long-lived species, many clumps are believed to be several decades old. Sexual maturity is at 4 or 5 years of age. I could blether on at length about what is happening here, but why not have a quick read of Jessica's blog page instead. She goes into all the nitty-gritty in a way that surpasses my blundering abilities. Of interest (to me at least) was a ball of Common Whelk Buccinum undatum eggs, all empty and hence uncountable for my 1000 species Challenge, but nice to find regardless.

Whelk egg case. The few that hatched will have eaten the remainder as their first meal. Lovely...
I headed inland next, through the woods to see what I could find. First up were these small fungi, only a millimetre or so across and scattered across a tree trunk. I have no idea what these are despite a bit of detective work. I initially thought they may be related to the Cannonball Fungus Sphaerobolus but I don't think so now. Do you recognise what they are? You wanna let me know?

There were hundreds of these across a couple of tree trunks. Ideas?
Finally, I've been a bit slack with my microfungus IDs. There are several species that cause reddish leaf spots on Rumex (docks) and until recently I had presumed they were all Ramularia rubella. Lazy. Today I collected an infected leaf and grilled it properly. This is what I found

Macro shot of the infected area. Note the concentric rings of black fruit bodies - I can ID them via those!
I did a microscope squash of the fruit bodies, here you can see the spore-filled asci (200x mag)
The individual spores - still can't believe I now have the kit to see these!!! Amazing :)
Looking through my copy of Ellis and Ellis it was an easy process to narrow my leafspots down to the very common Venturia rumicis. Very common but still a lifer for me, my fifth of the day!

It'll be a few days now until I can grab another free day. Still living in the hope that it'll start to warm up and the inverts will show their faces. And I can impress the locals with my butterfly net skillz....


  1. Could they be resin tubes from beetle damage?

  2. Possibly Karen, I did come across such a thing whilst Googling. I brought some back with me, I'll whack them under the microscope and have a closer look. Although I think the trees involved are Alder so possibly not of the resinous variety.

  3. Needing binoculars to id something I can cope with.
    Needing a scope to id something is just about acceptable.
    Needing a microscope ........... NO WAY!!!

    It's enough to make my head spin just thinking about it. I don't know how you manage to id all this tiny stuff. Amazing and wonderful work.

  4. Work? nah mate, tis all just play :)