29 January 2015,
For the last 2 days, we have been out on Sea Lion Island, the southern-most outpost of all of the islands. Once again, we ended up on a flight that landed over an hour after low tide, even though the tide was at 4pm! This was very frustrating but we were straight out as soon as we could, and down on the nearest patch of shoreline to see what we could do. My trusty trowel had been replaced with a coal shovel, the best I could manage at short notice but it would have to do. Although the shore was the kind I knew would be poor for worms (favoured by penguins) we had a go. No luck. At the end of the bay were some rock ledges with a few rock pools with some sand and algae not yet being affected by the rising tide. We suddenly started finding a (very) few worms under the sand in the pools and then I also noticed some small casts as well (see photo 1). This spurred us on to keep looking and at least come away with something (photo 2). We eventually ended up with a small pot that turned out to be slightly more diverse than expected with at least four different species represented (not bad for a fairly bare rock pool and only just over a dozen animals). The most common animal in the pot was an animal known as Boccardia, which is very hardy and often found in the higher shore environments here (photo 3).
The following day dawned windy and wet and the tide was not until nearly 5pm. This gave us plenty of time to peruse the island, see the sights and check out the coastline as the island is only around 5 miles long. I had been here before a few years ago and had already sampled some of the rocky shores on the south side so was more interested in trying to get something from the northern coasts. Shortly after we set off the rain started, although not too heavily. On one of the first shores we visited we found a male sea lion (photo 4), fast asleep. A fantastic sight and one I had not seen before so that improved our mildly damp spirits. By lunchtime, the rain had become persistent and not so light anymore. Our waterproofs were holding out but both pairs of feet were increasingly squelchy. As we turned to follow the north coast back up the island, we found ourselves heading into the wind. Suddenly life felt a little unfair. Most of the shores we had seen were either inaccessible below vertical cliffs, clean boulders in equally clean mobile sand with no life beneath or solid rock ledges, scoured clean by sea and weather. We eventually fought our way back to the bay we had started at the night before, but this time a couple of hours before low tide to find it being pounded by waves. We dug a few holes but there was nothing apparent. After a brief sit down to stare vacantly at the shore while being eyed up by an obviously nesting pair of caracaras who just as obviously didn’t want us there, we decided to head directly across the island to the opposite, sheltered shore and try there instead. We then walked the length of the shore, digging small holes every so often like itinerant squirrels, as the tide slowly ebbed out. Still nothing. We crossed back to the other shore and walked the length of that too, just to say we tried. Salvation came in the form of washed up kelp bladders that were encrusted with the small coiled tubes of spirorbid worms that were still alive (photo 5). We finally allowed ourselves to retire to the lodge, peel off our boots and wring out our socks.
Today was even windier and I have to admit the will and strength to fight my way through it had gone. Our flight back after lunch was short with an even shorter take-off and landing thanks to the wind. Tomorrow I have to pack all of my samples up and make sure they are ready for sending home before doing the same for myself.
Brendan is tasked with the job of finishing off the blog for you, giving a non-biologist’s view of fieldwork and worms and the delights of getting involved with both for the first time. Then it’s an early start on Friday before the long haul home.
28 January 2015,
Liam Olds has joined the Department of Natural Sciences for a year as part of the Natural Talent apprenticeship scheme. This scheme is now funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and has operated in Scotland for some years and been successful in training people in identification skills associated with wildlife and conservation. The scheme has now widened to the rest of the UK and six apprenticeships have started this year. Liam will be working with us on Colliery Spoil Invertebrates and learning how to survey and identify a wide range of species that might be found on these iconic Welsh habitats, as well as working with others who are interested in preserving some of these sites.
28 January 2015,
Saad Metwali is visiting the museum for a few months. He is an Egyptian studying in Saudi Arabia at King Saud University, Riyadh towards a Masters thesis on leafhopper taxonomy. He is spending time in Natural Sciences working with Dr Mike Wilson on leafhopper identification and taxonomy. This is his first time outside of the Middle East - it might have been better to come in the summer! He has carried out fieldwork in the mountains of SW Arabia and found many species not previously known in Arabia. Our insect collections at National Museum Cardiff are important for the study of this region.
26 January 2015,
Today was packed full. Brendan managed to get a dive in before we had to head down to Walker Creek for an afternoon tide. The shore dive went from near Gypsy Cove, not far out of Stanley and involved a short off-road drive to the shore before the divers had to pick their way down across the rocks to get into the water (photo 1). Apparently visibility was reasonable at around 6m and Brendan’s present to me this time consisted of a bag of sand and a couple of bags of ‘stuff’ scraped off the rocks. Unfortunately, Brendan found his way into my bad books by admitting to have lost my ‘dive trowel’. This tool has been great for sediment sampling while diving, as well as shore sampling when not possible to take a spade. Admittedly, the trowel was a cheap plastic one, however the not so cheap brass clip attached to it was another matter!
After the dive, we headed straight off to Walker Creek, which was a 2.5 hour drive south, almost to the opposite end of the island. The shore turned out to be another hard-ish one (photo 2), which was a little disappointing at first, but the collecting turned out to be quite productive. We found some very large orbiniid worms (20-30 cm in length) and an area where there were abundant scaleworms, under more than two thirds of the stones turned over. With the drive back a long and bumpy one, we stopped after an hour so that I could sort through and ‘fix’ (with formaldehyde) the worms and label pots. I have learnt in the past that worms do not enjoy long, bumpy car journeys and break up (particularly more fragile specimens) by the journey end if this is not done.
No shore sampling was planned for today, however, Brendan has managed to get out on 2 different shore dives while I sorted through previous samples, changed formaldehyde to alcohol (a better, less toxic, long term preservative but not as good for the initial fixation) and generally caught up on fieldwork and specimen notes. At lunchtime, the divers returned bearing gifts (even without a trowel). The dive had been on a local Phragmatopoma reef. This is a type of marine bristle worm called a sabellariid (photo 3) that builds hard tubes of sand and can create a reef-like environment around itself. In the UK, other worms of the same family create reefs both on and offshore and are known as ‘honeycomb worms’ due to the appearance of the reef they create. Many other species often inhabit these reefs as well. I was presented with some examples of the reef, some scrapings from rocks and a very large, green paddleworm (photo 4: Eulalia magalhaensis) over 20 cm in length. Another two species of paddleworm, not yet identified, were also found within the samples. These often-colourful worms are very photogenic and I managed to get some good photos of these as well (photos 5 & 6). All in all, a successful day, even without any shore sampling. Loss of the trowel was forgiven!
23 January 2015,
Bleaker Island has proven to be very interesting and we’ve certainly had the weather to appreciate it, summer has suddenly landed. It’s sunny enough for sun cream but not quite warm enough to tempt us into short sleeves, still that’s a definite improvement!
Bleaker Island is 10-12 miles in length. We’ve been able to use a car whilst here, so have been able to cover most of the island to check out the coastline. We didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon but were just in time yesterday to catch enough of the tide to still be able to do sampling in the mid-shore of the bay just below the settlement (photo 1). This was a soft muddy coarse sand, fairly black in appearance but with several tubes apparent that could contain worms as well as a few other free-living specimens to collect. There were also a few rocks to turn over and inspect. However, the tide was chasing us back up the beach so we did not stay long. Further round from here, the shore was covered in both large and small flat rocks under which we found a few more species to add to the collection.
Once the tide had risen too far to make further collecting worthwhile, we went on our first reccy along the shoreline to see what it looked like. There seemed to be very little in the way of sand except for a very large white sandy bay covered in penguins (photo 2). Sadly, I know from previous experience that worms and penguins don’t mix, with the type of sand favoured by penguins being practically empty of worms. This used up the rest of the usable day but the next day we headed south along the rest of the island. The southern coastline is all exposed cliffs, with large areas of flat rock ledges made up of solid, scoured-clean rock that did not look promising. The northern coastline, more sheltered, had large swathes of different rock ledges that were covered in a filamentous algae that in turn covered large deposits of a pink calcareous, loose alga (photo 3). This was a type of habitat I had not seen around the islands before and was quite excited to find (okay, that may sound strange but we all find different things exciting!). There did not actually seem to be much diversity within the loose crisp algae but at the same time it was a new habitat in a new location and that kind of data is always important to have whether it is rich or poor in animals. After sampling here we still had time to get back to the settlement just at the low tide point. We went back down to the small bay sampled yesterday and added a sample point from low tide to the mid-tide point already surveyed. There was a small distraction in the shape of a mother sea lion and her pup (photo 4), very small being only a couple of weeks old. Distraction over, the sampling was done. Just to finish off the afternoon we drove slightly further up the coast to add another site to the list that also had some of the calcareous algae over rock ledges (photo 5). These were high enough on shore allowing us to sample until 2-3 hours after the tide had turned.
Tomorrow is back to Stanley and we hope summer will come back with us.
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