24 May 2015

20 May 2015

Went for a long beach walk...

between Port Mulgrave and Runswick Bay today. Lots of things seen and fossils found (70 or so), more of which in a post tomorrow. Pic by my lovely wife (who is an ace photographer). I mislaid my rock hammer somewhere on the walk. It's a Forge Steel, red and black handle with a chip out of the sharp bit) if you find it, you are welcome as long as you use it well.

Here are a couple of anemones and in the middle a Pomatoceras triquiter hunkered down in the May sun waiting for the tide to return.

5 May 2015

Jurassic marine fossils in Whitby Museum.

It's very gray and mizzly outside, not really beach-fossiling-weather so if you're in the area and at a loose end, why not visit Whitby Museum? Actually, you should visit it in any weather. It has a superb collection of Jurassic marine fossils all collected from the immediate area (here being examined by the youngest field assistant) among many other great exhibits.
It's in Whitby's lovely Pannett Park, is open daily from 10 am to 4.30 pm and is very well worth the modest entry charge.

27 Apr 2015

The May Dalesman is out!

How to score 93 at Scrabble, why the world didn't end when the planets all lined up, a fish with a face only a mother could love and an ode to herring.,

What? Are you still here? Hie thee to the newsagents. It's the best £2.90 you'll spend until June's Dalesman comes out.

24 Apr 2015

Circular holes in Runswick Bay beach.

Back in the 80s there was some drilling here and in Rosedale to see if there was any oil to be had. I'm told by one who around at the time that these are capped boreholes:
Oil was discovered (it occasionally seeps out of the cliffs and rocks) but not enough to make commercial extraction feasible. The capped boreholes have become these perfectly round rockpools.

Something geologically interesting did happen hereabouts in the early Jurassic; petrochemical giants don't run geological field trips to places like this for nothing. Speaking to geologists who are familiar with the shales hereabouts, it turns out that during their formation 190 million years ago the rocks between Runswick and Staithes sequestered much more carbon than expected in comparable rocks elsewhere.

Why, I asked, are geologists interested? The world population is heading towards 9 billion and the energy companies can't see a way to keeping the lights on or feeding the population without fracking shales with a high hydrocarbon (oil and gas) content. And they want to know how the seabed could be encouraged, like Runswick's jurassic seabed, to absorb more atmospheric carbon to offset the effects of global warming.

17 Apr 2015

A seal!

The Bay yesterday. The view was lovely. I was rather envious of the crew on the yacht spending the night at anchor in our lovely bay.

Then I spotted something out of place; a strange new shape on Dabdike Rocks, which the men of Runswick Rescue Boat call Star Island.

It was a seal (Phocas sp), hauled out on the highest of the Dabdike Rocks.

Seals are intermittent visitors here. They occasionally pop up around our boat during Runswick Bay Rescue Boat training, and the occasional exhausted pup will haul out on the beach to recover after a winter storm with an anxious mother seal keeping an eye from the sea. I was in my Rescue Boat drysuit and could have waded out to get closer for better pics, but didn't want to spook it into flopping off the rock and swimming away. To see a larger colony of seals, head for Ravenscar on the far side of Robin Hoods Bay where a goodly colony of seals haul out at low tide.

13 Apr 2015

The Bay today was grey...

Except that the gorse (Ilex sp.) is in flower with many more buds ready to burst.

 The hawthorn (Craetaegus laevigata) blossom is out too; rather later than in previous years.

I have days off and good weather is forecast. Off to the beach it will be.

2 Apr 2015

The Edge of the World...

...how the North Sea made us who we are by Michael Pye.
I'm reviewing the book for the July Dalesman Yorkshire coast column.

31 Mar 2015

The Bay today.

It was beautiful:
We weren't there doing natural history, the Youngest Field Assistant and I were building sandcastles...

Just downwind of a dead, much chewed, rather odiferous seal pup (the remains about 90 cm long)

Taphonomy. It's a dead branch of natural history.

27 Mar 2015

The April Dalesman is out now.

My take on the world wide interest in Runswick's seaweed reproduction, why St Hilda beats St Patrick in the snake-slaying stakes and Runswick's stalled Marine Conservation Zone status. There is much else to enjoy too; Unearthing Yorkshire's Roman past, poet Ian McMillan, Walking with Dalesman at Malton, Diary of a Yorkshire Farmer's Wife and lots more besides.

What, are you still here? Get off down the newsagents at once. It's the best £2.90 you'll spend. Unless you're buying ham.

22 Mar 2015

High spring tide (6.1m), syzygy and a north wind. And black headed gulls.

People sitting in city newsrooms have variously called this a 'supertide' and suggested it may be the end of the world due to the sun and planets' alignment. The anglers on the sea wall beyond Coastguard Cottage are probably locals and while wet and cold are not stupid; they will have fished this coast in worse conditions.

The Bay yesterday. It was grandiose. This wide-angle pic doesn't remotely capture the heaving, wind-torn waves that roared into the Bay at high tide. I would have liked a better photographer than I around to capture this stuff.

The black headed gulls played chicken with the enormous waves, sitting quite calm while a cataract of roaring grey and white water bore down on them:

They took off for a second of two to let the wave break below them, then dropped tidily into the boiling maelstrom for another few seconds of absurd calm before the next wave dared to disturb.

I'll pop down to the beach in the morning to check the world didn't end and it's all still there. I'll let you know.

20 Mar 2015

The Bay today; solar eclipse, spring equinox, spring tide. And lugworms.

A treble of good things; spring equinox, a low spring tide and a partial solar eclipse.

9.25, what was left of the sun glittering on the receding tide.

 Despite not having the right photographic kit, I managed to get a passable shot of Sol and Selene.

For some it was a low tide and a chance to dig out lugworms (Arenicola marina) for bait. Possibly lugworms dug at the dark of the eclipse on spring equinox have special fish-bewitching powers.

19 Mar 2015

A quick beach trip on a sunny day and meeting a ribbon worm.

Finally, blue skies. I should have been doing other things, but it seemed wrong not to steal a few minutes on the beach.

A quick scurry along the rocks past Coastguard Cottage and saw a belemnite guard flanked by two pyritized, exploded...things. Early jurassic, may just be geological artefacts like my cone-in-cone mistake. If anyone has any ideas, let me know:

I turned over a rock in a rockpool. Introducing several Lineus ruber, ribbon worms here lurking in sandy seaweed. Part of the phylum Nemertea they (mostly) catch small prey by everting a poison spined proboscis, seizing, subduing and sucking in prey items. Some smaller ones filterfeed and others live symbiotically in the mantles of shellfish. These were just a few centimetres long, but one specimen belonging to the Nemertea has been estimated at 54 metres (150+ feet) long (Ruppert, E.E., Fox, R.S., and Barnes, R.D. (2004). "Nemertea". Invertebrate Zoology (7 ed.). Brooks / Cole. pp. 271–274. ISBN 0-03-025982-7. in case you're having trouble believing that. And yes, that would make it the longest creature known to have lived. With a poisonous, spiny, shooting out nose.)

The knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum) swirled on the rising tide. The Bay was misty; some industrial murk as been kindly shared by our European neighbours and the easterly wind is blowing it across the North Sea.
I picked up a dozen or so ammonites and a few belemnites. There was an outdoor education class on the beach that had suffered a fossil-light day so I gave all my specimens but one away.

18 Mar 2015

Washed up Ray's bream (repost from 2010).

Thanks to Mike Sewell for the word that this is a Ray's Bream (Brama brama). Reports of other Ray's Bream strandings at here at glaucus.org.uk.

Don't forget our other exotic piscene find: the Runswick Bay Ratfish (Chimaera monstrosa).

14 Mar 2015

Jet: a lump and a seam in jetrock.

Lots of people come to Runswick looking for jet; fossilized monkey puzzle trees that have become a hard, black, easily carved and polished semi-precious stone. Here it is in two natural guises, both found by the ten year old Number One Field Assistant:
To the left, a simple lump of jet. It's probably been rolling around the beach for a while. To the right, a rarity; a piece of hard jetrock with a thin seam of jet in it.

There are lots of pieces of promising black jetlike rocks on the beach, here's how to test if it's jet or not; jet feels warmer and less clammy to the touch than shales. Next pick up a piece of sandstone and scratch your suspected piece of jet along it.

Black mark; it's coal, chuck it.

White mark; some imposter rock or other, not jet, chuck it.

Dark brown mark; low-grade jet. Keep for interest or to give away as a present.

Light brown mark: high quality jet. Keep it.

More in depth stuff about Whitby (and district) jet at the splendid Yorkshire Coast Fossils.

13 Mar 2015

Spring and neap high tides...

The recent spring high tide. Spring tides don't just happen in spring, they confusingly occur twice a month throughout summer, autumn and winter too.

And here's a neap high tide from a sunny January:

So a spring tide means high high tides and low low tides. Neap tides give you low high tides and high low tides. Got that? The comparison of Spring and Neap low tides is here.

Other factors can affect the final height of a high or low tide; if the wind is blowing onshore it can drive more water ashore and raise the tide level. Atmospheric pressure can affect the tides too; high pressure crushes the tide bump down, low atmospheric pressure allows the sea surface to rise, so pressure can increase or decrease the tidal height by as much as 30 cm.

12 Mar 2015

Kettleness in the snow (repost from 2010).

It was charming for a day and a pain in the teeth for the rest of the time. (Update 2015: no we haven't had a cold snap, this was originally from January 2010. I'm recycling old posts as I recover their images from backup CDs and scraps of vellum. It was 2010. The dark ages of digital imaging.)

7 Mar 2015

The spring Bay today.

It was the first day that felt like spring. The sky was blue, the wind (despite being a near gale) was warm. Runswick Bay looked like this:

It's spring tide-time. I'd intended to do a serious post comparing neap and spring high tides but a pretty (and actually quite sci-fi) cloud over Kettleness caught my attention:

Then a bunch of black-headed gulls started mobbing something; probably a shoal of small fish that had come inshore on the spring tide:

That attracted the big boys, the herring gulls but they stayed high, silhouetted against that amazing cloud, making the odd diving feint seawards but choosing not to mix it with the flock of noisy, smaller, black headed gulls:

The cloudyeti didn't bother the high flying Larus:

Jonathan Livingstone and friend came from on high for a look:

So the youngest field assistant (4) and I had a race along the sea wall. He won.

Spring and neap high tide comparisons in the next post.

2 Mar 2015


Next time you eat a scallop (which you really shouldn't, unless you eat hand-collected ones; scallop dredging is one of the most destructive fisheries going) remember they've been around for a long time. About 190 million years in the case of this one.

26 Feb 2015

My column in the March Dalesman is out.

This month's coast column was inspired by this photo of an ammonite cast on the beach. In almost a decade of taking natural history photos on Runswick Bay beach this is one of my favourites:
The March Dalesman is out now £2.90. My coast column is admirably sandwiched between great things like Yorkshire poet laureate Ian MacMillan (follow his minute by minute twitter poetry @IMcMillan), photographer John Potter's captivation by trees, Chronicles of Kelderdale and Wild Yorkshire where someone has been gazumped by sparrows. I know how he feels; a fulmar threw up all over me once. When that happens you don't wash your clothes, you burn them.

24 Feb 2015

Neap and spring low tides compared.

A neap low tide in January (more pics showing the neap tidal range in this post):

And a spring low tide in February:
January's neap tide exposed 58 metres of beach from high tide mark to the low tide mark. This spring tide exposed 180 metres of beach from the strand line to low water. We are currently being threatened with big, powerful tides because this year the moon is orbiting close to the earth so the lunar gravitational influence on the tides is at its greatest; cue warnings of The End Of The World from some newspapers.

8 Feb 2015

Back end of a belemnite: the experts are baffled.

This is a belemnite guard counterpart (the imprint of a fossil) with something imprinted into the surrounding shale - preserved soft tissue, I wondered? It was picked up from a cliff-fall on the beach north of Runswick Bay.

I sent a pic to the Natural History Museum in London, and their expert referred it on to the uber-expert in this fossiliferous field. His reply was a 'not sure', but it didn't look like the preserved belemnite soft tissue of his acquaintance. I was advised that someone will need to look at the thing in person. It's not the intact pliosaur skeleton (new species, naturally) I've been hoping for, but temporarily baffling expert Ph.D.s and eminent Profs will do for now.

Update: Uber expert says it's not like any fossilised mantle he's seen, and may be nothing to do with a belemnite.

Update 2: This is a repost from 2008, when Google ate a lot of my pics.

3 Feb 2015

Sea view from Staithes.

Occasionally the next door beaches issue invitations to Runswick Bay so today I popped over to Staithes at low tide. The beach between Staithes and Port Mulgrave is a real, wave-lashed high energy beach made up of hard Jurassic jet rock and Staithes sandstone. The only things that can live under these conditions are small; barnacles, limpets, flustra and encrusting red algae. Even the shellfish adapted to defying breakers seemed to favour huddling in sheltered spots. More of my blue-fingered walk between Old Nab and Penny Nab, Staithes in a post later but for now, here's the sea today looking towards Runswick. Once upon a legend, a young man called James Cook - then a shopboy in Staithes - probably looked out at this very scene, with winds every bit as face numbing and waves every bit as violent and thought, 'By Jove, that looks fun! I'd love to spend the rest of my life sailing on that.'

It was a dark and stormy night...at 3.30 in the afternoon.

A few days of northerly winds around force 5 forecast, after which there should be lots to find on the beach.

What to do if you think you've found a good ammonite.

Read this post at Andy's fossils first.

30 Jan 2015

The first Dalesman coastal column is out now.

The best-selling Yorkshire magazine, £2.90 from all newsagents worthy of the name. As well as my 850 words on the wonders of our coast, there are splendid pieces on astronomy, Whitby jet, Yorkshire's borderlands, wildlife and The Leeds Dripping Riots.

14 Jan 2015

Neap tides.

Not all tides are equal; the high and low tide heights vary throughout the lunar month depending on whether the sun and moon's gravitational pull are acting together or against one another. The moon has the greatest influence on the tides, the distant sun's is a kind of gravitational top-up.

When the moon and sun are acting in opposition, the tides are known as neap tides; the tidal range is lower. So today's high tide (1001 at Whitby) is 4.4 metres above chart datum (chart datum is a virtual line around the coast representing the lowest ever tide) and the low tide will be 2.5 metres above chart datum.

Here's what todays neap high tide looks like at Runswick looking towards Kettleness:
And neap low tide...
That was a vertical tidal range of 1.9 metres, which exposed 58 metres of beach from the high tide strand to getting my boots wet at the low water mark.

High tide, looking towards Port Mulgrave:
This isn't solely an excuse to publish another pretty picture of the thatched former coastguard cottage; it also illustrates the stress that beach-living seaweeds have evolved to cope with. The seaweed on the exposed rocks below the sea wall (mostly Ascophyllum nodosum, or knotted wrack) aren't covered even at the top of the tide. Some of these may not get a good dunking at high tide for another two or three days. It's very calm today and they weren't getting splashed by breaking waves. In the meantime they are dealing with temperatures of 2 celsius, and in summer during the three or four days of neap tides they will probably be exposed and dehydrated under a hot sun, and will survive. Living in marginal conditions is an evolutionary strategy that is fine if the marginal conditions don't change much. And neap low tide....