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Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales

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Sea Lions, Penguins and Algae

Teresa Darbyshire, 23 January 2015

22.01.15

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.

Photo 1: Settlement Bay

Photo 2: Penguin beach

Photo 3: Calcareous alga

Photo 4: Sea lion mother and pup

Photo 5: Algal ledges

The Big Garden Birdwatch

Penny Tomkins, 23 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

There is an exciting scientific survey being conducted this weekend, and your help is needed! It’s called the Big Garden Birdwatch and is organised by the RSPB, a conservation charity that help to look after our wildlife. You can help by registering online here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ and downloading an information pack. You then spend one hour this weekend documenting the birds that visit your garden or a green space near your home. The information pack on the RSPB website has a guide to help you identify the birds! Then, upload your findings to the RSPB website so that they can feed into the nationwide survey of bird populations, aimed at providing an insight into how our feathery friends are doing in the wild!

The Big Garden Birdwatch has been running since 1979! You can find out about previous results here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/previous-results/ . An annual, nationwide survey is a fantastic way to spot changes in bird populations. This is important, because if we know that numbers of a certain bird are dwindling, we can start to look at why this is happening and make changes that will help those birds to survive. An example of this is the Starling. The Big Garden Birdwatch has shown an 80% decrease in the Starling population since 1979. The RSPB has been raising awareness of what we can do to help these birds, such as keeping the grass in parts of our gardens short so that Starlings can more easily reach the grubs and insects they feed on near the roots of the grass.

Starling in the winter (picture courtesy of the RSPB website).

Here are some ideas on how to attract birds to your garden: http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/387868-top-10-bird-feeding-tips-this-winter . And some fun, bird-related activities: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/family-fun/ .

St Fagans National History Museum and National Museum Cardiff will be hosting Big Garden Birdwatch activities this weekend! If you want to be involved here are links to the What’s On guides for more details:

Cardiff         St Fagans

 

I’d like to send a big thank you to those of you who sent your weather data in last week. I’m looking forward to this weeks data and finding out whether it has been warmer or colder and how many of you have had snow or hail!! Remember, if you send all your data in and let me know online when your plants have flowered, then you will receive Super Scientist awards and be in for a chance to win a Nature Trip!

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies!

Professor Plant

Starlings (picture from RSPB website)

Foul Bay

Teresa Darbyshire, 21 January 2015

20.01.15

Well, Foul Bay did live up to its name on what actually turned out to be the best weather we’ve had so far. All of my sampling sites are generally chosen for having easy access off the road, but I had taken a risk this time and picked a site where the road ended before the coast, leaving what I thought would be a reasonably distanced walk. However, as the road finished close to a settlement we stopped in for a quick chat and some advice about access to the shore. The advice was that our chosen route would be unsuitable but there was another track that would get us close a little way back down the road, it was a ‘little soft’ but our 4x4 ‘should’ be fine!

We found the track and made it to the first wire gate (a particular type of access gate here that involves removing part of the fence and then driving through and replacing it). Underneath the wire gate was a very soft, deep-looking area of water (see photo), which with the peaty ground here normally signifies something to be avoided! Looking onwards, the supposedly clear track almost instantly disappeared (to our inexperienced eyes) and therefore we debated the wisdom of continuing. The alternative was to walk to the shore, which appeared to be around 2-3 miles away! As we were on our own and the people from the settlement had driven away, we knew there was no help should problems arise (i.e. getting irretrievably ‘bogged’). We eventually made the difficult decision that this one would have to be cancelled. This left us with a rather disconsolate two hour drive back empty-handed, one to put down to experience unfortunately. A foul day indeed!

Tomorrow we are flying to Bleaker Island, to the southeast of the islands, which fills in a large gap in my coverage around the islands. Fingers crossed that we can find a variety of shores here to cover and improve our record!

Wire gate

Digging for worms in the Falkland Islands

Teresa Darbyshire, 20 January 2015

18.01.2015

First of all, here is the photo of the reproductive stage of a worm (photo 1), which I found during night sampling two days ago, but forgot to send! Very nice to collect, just unfortunately not what I was after.

Mare Harbour was an interesting visit, having never been down to a shore almost completely surrounded by barbed wire before (photo 2)! This shore is within the military area here so I was lucky to get access at all, although the officer on duty seemed totally bemused as to why I would even want to. It turned out to be a very hard and rocky area with some areas of flat rocks over gravelly sand and other areas of vertically ridged rock. The flat rock areas had a reasonable diversity of species although collecting was hard work as there were only small numbers of animals to find. Still I did come away with some animals I definitely haven’t seen before including the ‘pretty’ catch of the day, which was a syllid (see photo 3) with its wonderfully intricate hair-do. There were also many flabelligerids (as difficult to say as spell: photo 4). This particular strange species covers itself with mucus, which silt adheres to. This gives it the appearance of jelly when you find it.

Brendan also managed to get out on a dive today which he was very pleased about although his description of it being ‘just like West Wales’ led me to believe it wasn’t the best that the Falkland Islands can offer. However, he brought me back a present of 4 bags of mud. Not the most romantic present I’ve ever been offered certainly, but still there were some nice worms in there including a bamboo worm (maldanid: photo 5). These worms are often very hard to collect whole making identification almost impossible, however, this one was completely intact.

19.01.15

Today saw us driving up to the north east of the island to the region of Rincon Grande. As usual I had no idea what to expect, but with the wind howling again I merely hoped the rain would hold off, so that the couple of hours on an exposed beach would not be too gruelling. I got my wish for most of the duration, to ask for more would just be greedy I suppose!

The shore was mostly rocky again but with one small inlet of softer muddy sand. I set Brendan to work with the fork (photo  6) and studiously watched what came up – lots of tubes and other worms dangling down! We spent some happy time here slowly teasing the long worms out of their sand beds and shoving other tubes into pots before moving on.

Further round the bay in the rockier sections we moved on to rock turning, gaining a small diversity of worms which again were small in number and difficult to find. Working independently with forceps and pot in hand (photo 7), Brendan managed a larger haul than me, which he was very proud of although apparently we were not competing!

On our last stop we returned to our starting point in the softer sediment but at the low tide mark this time to see if the type of worms had changed. There were certainly a couple of different types and we also found an unusual type of crustacean, a serolid isopod, which is flattened and ‘trilobite-like’ and often found in pairs (photo 8). These certainly were an intriguing distraction. Shortly afterwards the tide turned and we were out of time, which meant we had to head back.

Off to the northwest tomorrow to Foul Bay – hopefully not as bad as the name sounds!

Photo 1: a reproductive stage of a marine bristleworm, called an epitoke

Photo 2: Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands

Photo 3: a type of marine bristleworm called a syllid

Photo 4: type of marine bristleworm (polychaete) called a flabelligerid 

Photo 5: a type of marine bristleworm called a bamboo worm (maldanid)

Photo 6: Brendan digging

Photo 7: turning rocks in search of marine bristleworms

Photo 8: a pair of serolid isopods

Falkland Islands Marine Bristleworms

Teresa Darbyshire, 19 January 2015

The Polychaetes of the Falkland Islands project has been running since 2011 with two highly successful field trips run so far. The project has been well supported with two Shackleton Scholarship Fund grants and support form the local environmental groups and institutes. So far, over 30 families of polychaetes have been identified from the samples and 2 new species have been described, with more on the way. The third field trip hopes to build on the success of the previous two, expanding the range of sampling sites and seeking new opportunities for collaborative project funding in the islands.


16.01.2015

After the usual gruelling 18 hour flight, I’m back out in the Falkland Islands again to continue expanding my range of sampling sites, maintain my contact with those out here and also investigate further project funding opportunities. This time my husband has travelled out with me to see what all the fuss is about and also to try and understand what it is I actually do (you can see his eyes glaze over when I try and explain things so maybe seeing first-hand will actually help!). He’s going to come out with me in the field, help me collect and generally be an extra person in those remote areas I end up in. I’m not sure he knows what he’s let himself in for but at least he may stop referring to my fieldwork as ‘rock pooling for adults’!

The weather hasn’t been kind to us initially, being very wet and windy, even beyond normal Falkland Islands standards! It is supposed to be summer here but it was only 5°C when we landed, cooler than the UK when we left, and the horizontal hail driven into us at hyper speed by the winds was no fun at all!

This was my first full day here and after finalizing all of the arrangements for the next two weeks, our first sampling was a short but harsh introduction to the kind of work I sometimes find myself doing. This was night sampling, attempting to collect the reproductive forms of certain polychaetes that come out at night, swimming free in the water to spawn and are attracted to bright lights. For this reason we found ourselves in a Stanley marina, on a pontoon at 11pm, in the rain, dangling an underwater torch into the water and sweeping a fine mesh net around it, collecting the many different small creatures that were attracted to it (see photo). It was too late to have a detailed look at our catch, so they went into the fridge to keep cool overnight until I could get to the lab for a look and I went to bed.


17.01.2015

The order of the day today was to have a look at what I had managed to catch in the marina last night. Most of what I had were small Crustacea and the smallest jellyfish I’ve ever seen (about 2mm wide) but there were 4 worms of the right kind of appearance, albeit a bit smaller than I would have expected (about 10 mm long). I’ve been allowed access to the Fisheries lab while I’m here and their camera microscope so I was able to take some photos of the little critters. Interesting as they were, unfortunately they were not what I was after, which was a bit disappointing. They were certainly reproductive stages of polychaetes but of a different group to the one I am after, although I haven’t determined which group yet. Still, better than nothing!

The weather has been better, being mostly dry, a bit warmer and marginally less windy. Fingers crossed for tomorrow’s weather, which is the first shore visit. It is an early start though, with a 6.30 am wake-up call, to get to Mare Harbour, about an hour and a half drive away. Hopefully something interesting will turn up!

Night sampling  in a Stanley marina for marine bristleworms, Falkland Islands