Tuesday, 28 April 2015

My Best Friend's Wedding

This weekend I got the chance to do something a little different (for me anyway), and swap my wildlife subjects for wedding guests! Michelle (who's been my best friend for a very long time!) got married to her husband Steven in Mauritius last year, which is a rather lovely venue for a wedding, but one that not many of us were able to get to. Since I was deeply mired in the horrors of thesis writing at that point, I was one of the people who couldn't make it along.

Not everyone was quite so engrossed in the ceremony! (Photo by Kevin Boyle).

Waiting to cut the (rather delicious) cake

The bride's speech

Fortunately part two of the wedding celebrations was planned for last weekend at Dalduff Farm in Ayrshire which was much closer to home! Since I knew that they weren't planning to have a photographer at this celebration, I offered to bring my kit with me on the understanding that this was my first shot at photographing an actual wedding and there were no guarantees of success!

Michelle and Steven, the lovely bride and groom!

And the lovely bridesmaids!

Happily, we got a stunningly beautiful day for it all, and the photos turned out pretty well I think. It was also a lot easier and a lot more fun than I was expecting it to be, but I guess it helps when you know half the room!

Every wedding should end with a ceilidh. Always.

So there we go - my first wedding as a photographer (sort-of)! Congratulations again to Michelle and Steven, and I promise I'll be back to the wildlife updates and wellies with the next blog! 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Multicoloured Harbour Crabs

When I was teaching at Millport a couple of weeks ago, one of the exercises we did involved conducting a short trawl in the Clyde so the students could see the technique and then get some experience in identifying and analysing the species present. What was interesting about these catches though is that one of them contained a rather unusual harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator).

Trawling for animals in the Clyde Sea Area, from the Millport Marine Biological Station, Cumbrae.
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Harbour crabs are very common around the coasts of the UK, and are usually a fairly light orange-brown colour with purple patches on their swimmerets, a bit like this one:

A harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) showing the "normal" colour pattern.
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Unusually, the one we trawled up two weeks ago had a much darker body and completely white legs: 

An unusually-coloured harbour crab, caught by trawl in the Clyde Sea Area, just opposite the Millport Marine Biological Station, Cumbrae. I unfortunately lost my photos of the specimen, but Martina has kindly allowed me to use hers instead!

We keyed this guy out, and it appears to be Liocarcinus depurator, but a different colour morph. The REALLY cool thing though, is that this isn't the first time I've seen a crab like this. In 2010, a similarly-coloured crab was trawled up from the Clyde and brought to Glasgow University. I happened to have my camera with me, so was asked to photograph the specimen because it was cool and unusual, but I don't think we ever really followed it up. Anyway, the images were still sitting in my archives, and it turns out that they are rather similar (AND showed off its pink belly!): 

A similarly-strange harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) caught in the Clyde Sea Area in 2010.
Click for a larger image. 

I've had a bit of a look online for any reports of different colour-morphs in the Harbour Crab, but I haven't been able to find any previous reports of albinism or partial albinism in this species. A quick search pulls up plenty of examples of temperate crustaceans that have well-known colour variants, such as the red and green colour morphs of the common Shore Crab (Carcinus maenas), the Pacific shore crab (Hemigrapsus oregonensis), juveniles of the red rock crab (Cancer productus) and American (Homarus americanus) and Atlantic lobsters (Homarus gammarus) to name just a few.

Colouration patterns in crustaceans are driven largely by genetics (though environmental drivers can also be important in changing the brightness or colouration over shorter time-scales). It may be then, that the unusual harbour crabs we have caught from the Clyde have some mutation that gives rise to the different patterns. It would be interesting to know whether there are more crabs like this elsewhere in the UK, and what causes the change (unfortunately there's only so much you can tell from a photograph!). So, if you ever spot a harbour crab looking a bit like these ones, please let me know!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Foggy day in Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

I'm not going to lie, yesterday's trip to the Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve (NNR) wasn't exactly the most successful photographic outing I've ever been on! On what was otherwise a beautifully hot and sunny Easter Monday for the vast majority of the UK, it would appear that the North Sea had other ideas...

The forest edge shrouded in fog was cool and slightly eerie!
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By the time I got to the Firth of Tay, it was clear that the North Sea was producing one of its characteristic haars. But, it was fairly light cloud and so I figured it would burn off soon enough as the sun got stronger through the afternoon. The NNR isn't very well signposted from the road so it did take a while to find the place, but I eventually arrived at Tentsmuir Forest (there's a £2 car park fee if you're planning on visiting).

British beach holidays are traditionally a slightly grim affair.
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The fog was far thicker by the coast, and gave the forest edge a cool, "Game of Thrones" type atmosphere. I still thought it would probably dissipate pretty quickly though, so I set off, following another intrepid British family who were obviously not going to let some inconvenient weather ruin their bank holiday at the beach.

A pool near the edge of Tayport Heath NNR. I'm sure the North Sea was behind it somewhere...
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I headed north into the haar and walked up the sandy coast for about 3 miles.

Still foggy! It was pretty cool though.
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The fog didn't burn off.

Ringed plovers scooted by a couple of times while they were foraging at the top of the shore.
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I THINK that this might be a skylark. Can anyone confirm the ID for me?

As you might expect, I didn't see too much in the way of wildlife! A couple of ringed plovers dashed by as they foraged along the strandline, and there were small birds darting around the dunes that I think might have been skylarks. If anyone can confirm the ID from the photo above, it would be much appreciated!

The weather was lovely 200 m from the shore!

After I gave up on the coast, I walked the 2 miles back to my car through the forest. It turned out that the fog only extended about 200 m inshore though before giving way to beautiful sunshine... I tried not to take it personally! Still, although there were tons of songbirds in the trees the forest itself was a little too full of holidaymakers to really offer many photographic opportunities.

Despite the unlucky weather, the reserve was a lovely place to spend a day and isn't that far from Glasgow for a trip out. The information spots promised that the beaches are good seal haul-outs (for grey and harbour seals) and are good places to see flocks of wading birds and eider ducks. Maybe next time!