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Posts Tagged ‘starfish’

‘We’ve been expecting you,’ the salt marsh sentinel announces from his roost at the top of the spruce.  It’s the first time I’ve seen great blue herons perched high on the treetops.   Though it all looks like business-as-usual in the marsh, there are always wonders waiting to be discovered.   It’s good to be back. 

‘We heard you’d been combing the beaches looking for us,’ the sea stars say collectively.  ‘We thought if we gathered together in one spot, you’d know how much we missed you and you missed us.  Why did it take so long for you to seek us here?’  

‘It’s a long story,’ I tell them, ‘one with lots of drama that didn’t involve me but nevertheless took a toll on my days.  Children suddenly needed me and caring for them took all of my energy.’

 ‘Tell me about it,’ another heron adds.  ‘We know what it takes to rear the next generation in an environment that seems more and more out of our control.’

‘I knew you’d understand,’ I tell them.  

A kingfisher ‘s compact body finds a stable position at the end of a dried twig.  I marvel at how expertly birds keep their bodies and lives in balance.  

In spring and summer their focus is on ensuring that the young ones survive to maturity.  No hardship or sacrifice seems too great as they provide sustenance and safety to the next generation.  But then, after giving their all for a season, they quietly revert back to concerns for their own well-being.    Could it be because they carry no burdens in their hearts that they are light enough to fly such long distances to warmer climes?

Thank you to all who sent emails or left kind comments asking where I was over the past few months.  It is good to be back :)

 

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As much as we enjoy wildlife, it’s seldom that we have an opportunity to hold live specimens in our hands.  Most wild creatures want to put as much distance between us and them as possible, and that’s how it should be.   However, opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife are possible along Nova Scotia’s seashore in the intertidal zone.  Marine animals such as crabs and starfish are easily caught and respond well to gentle handling.

The starfish at left was found in the salt marsh.  Its underside reveals gel-like feelers that glisten in the sunlight as they move.  Live, juicy starfish are enjoyed by seagulls who can spot them underwater clinging to rocks.

Though a bit more difficult to catch, live crabs are very animated and deeper in color than the dried ones found higher up the beach.  Up close they look like little aliens.  They too are eaten by seagulls.

To those who are willing to get really up close, offshore waters offer even more wonders.

Live sand dollars are nothing like the bone dry tests we may sometimes find on the beach.  Their five point star design is just barely discernible beneath their deep purple fur-like covering of cilia.  Beds of these can be found by scuba divers in the subtidal zone, a wonder hidden from the view of beachcombers.  Sand dollars are preyed upon by starfish, snails and skates.

After handling these delicate marine creatures, it’s best to quickly place them back where they were found as they are unable to survive out of the water for long.  Such close encounters should be kept as brief as possible, unless of course you’re a seagull looking for a meal.

I’m hungry Dolores. Should we get fast food or see what’s slow in the marsh?

Photo credits:  Julie Perry

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Starfish are common finds at Rainbow Haven beach this summer.  They can also be found clinging to rocks under the bridges along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Starfish rely on a constant intake of moisture for all their life systems, including mobility, and can’t survive out of water for more than a couple of hours.  

Many collectors dry starfish, pinning them while still wet in order to preserve their symmetry.  I shudder to think that the dried starfish I purchased years ago in Florida met with such a grisly end.  These days, I choose to fling the starfish I find on the beach back into the water.  Recently, I found a dried starfish flattened on a cement barricade near the parking lot.  It looked like it had been pounded flat while wet.  I know it’s just a starfish, but it seemed like such a waste of life. 

Over the years, I’ve seen children take buckets full of starfish and living molluscs away from the beach.  Unless they had a salt water tank at home ready to receive these wild creatures, why would parents allow this?   When and where do we acquire or lose our reverence for living things? 

 Awe is a big part of reverence.  Though often present in childhood, sometimes, as we grow older, it becomes difficult to keep that sense of awe alive.  Familiarity with a natural environment can also make us take it for granted.   In its practice,  reverence reveals to the world that we humbly acknowledge the presence and needs of other human beings and living creatures besides ourselves.

Litter at the beach is another sign that reverence is lacking.  People come to the beach to be refreshed by nature but don’t realize their role in maintaining this setting for others to enjoy.  Even worse, they don’t care about the living creatures that make their permanent home at the beach.  Homeowners living nearby also get extremely frustrated by the excess of litter.

Despite the presence of park signs advising owners to keep a rein on pets, dogs are frequently seen off leash.  It’s not just people who are intimidated by dogs running wild.  Piping plovers, ground nesting birds, no longer make their home on this beach due to loss of undisturbed habitat. 

As our beaches become more crowded during the summer season, it’s even more important for everyone to practice reverence towards one another and the natural environment.  We’re not alone.  Let’s not act as if we were. 

If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.
~ Albert Schweitzer

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Canada Day began this morning with a clear moon in a sky filled with blue.  By the time I reached Cow Bay Road, the sun was already rising over Lawrencetown. 

Once I arrived at Rainbow Haven, grey clouds were beginning to crowd out some of the blue sky.  Along with the water, they reflected the dawn beautifully.

The tide was very low, so the blue mussel bed on the beach was exposed.  From a distance, the bed looks like just a large patch of gravel on the sand, but is actually teaming with life.

Crabs, barnacles, periwinkles, dogwhelks, sea stars, blue mussels and moon snails all reside there.  They hide between and beneath the smoothly worn stones, while lying in wait for their prey or to avoid becoming prey themselves.  Rock crabs are especially talented at wedging themselves in the crevices with only their claws exposed.

Several small sea stars were present in the tidepools this morning.  They seem to be more common this year, both here and farther back in the marsh.   These purple starfish prey on the blue mussels by prying them open and inserting their stomachs inside the shells in order to feast on the contents directly.  Who would suspect these elegant creatures to have such gruesome feeding habits?

Beautiful weather on Canada Day always attracts crowds of sun seekers to Rainbow Haven beach.  Although the afternoon sun does put a sparkle on the sand and water, seeing the early morning sun at the shore puts a sparkle on my whole day. 

Happy Canada Day!

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It’s always a good time to go down to the ocean and see what you can find.  Ice and wind only make the rocks look more interesting.

Even if it’s raining, the walk down to the sea is always worthwhile because you never know what treasures are waiting to be discovered on the shore.  You don’t have to pick them up to enjoy them.  Just leave them where you find them for others to discover too.

Unless you find a stranded starfish of course.  It’s always good to pick them up and throw them back in the water.

There are so many stones, worn down and rounded by years of pounding surf.  Do we humans inevitably become like this too?  Worn down and rounded by years of worldly concerns pounding on our fragile bodies?  Look at that white stone among all the grey ones.  I wonder how it got in with the others…

The best trips to the shore are often ones when I can come ‘home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone.’  What do you find when you visit the shore?

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
~ ee cummings

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queen annes lace

Not all stars twinkle in the sky.  Some glisten on the shore or wink up at us from the grass beneath our feet.  Their shape is often best appreciated from above.  However, I drew the Queen Anne’s Lace flower, shown at top, from the perspective of an ant that might be looking up towards the sky from a position on the stem.

ALBell echinodermsStar shapes consist of five or more points radiating from a centre.

These star polygons are given different names depending on how many points they have.  For example, a pentagram has five points while an octagram has eight. 

Many of these star shapes hold spiritual significance.  Pentagrams are considered magical and often used in occult practices.  The Star of David and the Seal of Solomon are both hexagrams, star polygons with six points. 

On land, the variety of star shaped flowers is endless.  In the water, echinoderms are marine animals that reveal radial symmetry in some part of their design at the adult stage.  Sea urchins, sand dollars and starfish are echinoderms that often wash up on Nova Scotia’s shores. 

Sometimes, the star structure of the polygon is not as obvious, as is the case with the hexagonal chambers of bees.  Like other shapes in nature, such as the circle, the branch, the spiral and the meander, these tiny hexagons form exquisite patterns and are the building blocks for larger things, in this case, the honeycomb. 

Over the past five Saturdays, I’ve examined five different shapes found frequently in nature as a lead-in to a Summer Scavenger Hunt.  Next Saturday on June 20th, Midsummer’s Eve, I’ll provide final details of the hunt.  Wherever you make your home on the planet, whether you live in the city or in the country, I hope you’ll consider taking part.

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sprucecones

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
~ Jimi Hendrix

purple starfishWith less than three weeks left to go before Midsummer’s Eve, spring is in full swing.  The days aren’t as warm as we’d like yet, but summer is on the doorstep.  The color purple caught my eye today on spruce cones along the Salt Marsh Trail.  It won’t be long before their light purple color will darken and eventually change to brown.  Right now, their hue contrasts nicely with the fresh light green of the new growth.  

Starfish can often be spotted from the first couple of bridges along the trail.  Today I was able to catch a glimpse of one with its arms stretched out evenly  in the water.  Live, local starfish have a purple cast that’s barely discernible on sun-dried specimens found along the seashore. 

violets

Following the lead of wild ones in the grass, the deeper purple tame violets have emerged in the flower bed.  Their brilliant color will fade with the summer’s heat. 

lupinsPurple lupins are a common sight along the side of the road and in gardens in Nova Scotia.   Though they’re also found in shades of pink and white, the purple ones seem to dominate.

Purple is a color associated with spirituality, mystery and royalty.  During different periods in history, its use in clothing has been restricted to either nobility or an elite class of individuals.  It can be created by a variety of methods using lichens, the roots of madder plants or murex shells, with the latter producing the most brilliant hue.  In painting, it was a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh who often juxtaposed it with yellow for maximum effect.

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Echinoderms
Echinoderms

The following article was written for the December 2008 issue of The Beacon:

 

At this time of year, it seems that stars are beginning to show up everywhere. They’re seen in ice crystals, holiday decorations, wrapping paper, nativity scenes, Christmas treetops and the sparkling eyes of children.  In local wildlife, the star shape can also be found on our beaches in the forms of Echinoderms, sea creatures that are distinguished by a 5-part radial symmetry:

 

A live Sea Urchin is covered with spines which hide the star shape that is only revealed upon its death, at which time the spines become dry and fall off.  These urchins are greatly enjoyed by seagulls at low tide.  Although they’re commonly found on the shore, I’ve also found urchin shells in the woods where they’ve been dropped from the sky by gulls hoping to crack them open on rocks.

 

Starfish are known for their amazing ability to grow back an appendage should it be lost.  There is an eye spot at the tip of each arm so that the Starfish can see ahead regardless of which arm is leading its direction.  The mouth is located beneath its central disc.  A carnivore, the Starfish will use its strong arms to open mussel or clam shells.  Once the shell is opened, the starfish pushes its stomach through its mouth right into the bivalve it is eating.

 

The Sand Dollars found on our local beaches are of the Sea Biscuit variety.  While living, they are covered with thousands of soft brown hairs.  These hairs fall off and the shell is bleached white by the sun once the Sand Dollar dies and is washed ashore.  Although the top of the Sand Dollar has a flower shape on it that looks like a Christmas Poinsettia, a look at its underside will reveal a delicate yet distinct 5-point star shape.

 

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Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Just a few minutes’ drive from Flandrum Hill, the Salt Marsh Trail off Bissett Road offers a splendid opportunity to walk through a salt marsh and observe its inhabitants up close.  In the past month, I’ve seen three porcupines sleeping in an apple tree right next to the trail, hundreds of migrating Canada Geese,  a dozen Great Blue Herons standing together in the water at low tide, the largest starfish I’ve seen yet in the wild, and four (yes four) Bald Eagles at once, hunting in close proximity of each other.

The trail begins in a woodland setting and after a ten minute walk, opens up to the marsh.  The panoramic views alone, especially at sunrise, are well worth the trip. 

At this time of year, the marsh grass turns a brilliant gold which contrasts sharply with the steel grey water on overcast days.   The ebb and flow of the tides can be observed with both your eyes and ears as you walk over the wooden bridges.  The sound of your feet on the wood planks adds much to the experience.

The trail is built along an abandoned railway track and crosses the marsh with a series of bridges that allow hikers and bikers to stand right in the middle of this delicate ecosystem without disturbing it.  

The Salt Marsh Trail connects to Lawrencetown Beach via the Atlantic View Trail, and to Shearwater via the Shearwater Flyer Trail.

For all posts about the Salt Marsh Trail see:

http://flandrumhill.wordpress.com/category/the-salt-marsh-trail/

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell

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