Although winter isn’t over yet, today’s calm and sunny weather looks ideal for beachcombing. Winter storms often wash natural treasure in the form of seashells onto the beaches. Some common finds at local beaches are shown at left: a Green Sea Urchin, Blue Mussels, Sea Biscuits (a type of Sand Dollar), a small Surf Clam, Irish Moss seaweed and a small starfish.
There’s a large bed of Blue Mussels at nearby Rainbow Haven Beach that’s revealed only at low tide. The tidepools are ideal places for finding some of the creatures that prey on the mussels, such as Dogwhelks and Northern Moon Shells. Sometimes, a Rock Crab that’s managed to hide from the hungry seagulls can also be found.
Many of the rocks in the mussel bed are covered with algae, making them very slippery to walk on. Periwinkles feed on the algae and are also numerous in some spots.
The carnivorous Northern Moon Shell is shown at left along with a Mermaid’s Purse, which is an egg case for a skate, a type of ray. The hooked ends of these egg cases cling to seaweed but are sometimes loosened by the currents and washed ashore. The moon shells are very beautiful but have become less common finds in recent years.
Whenever I find shells with live animals still inside them, I’ll throw them back into the water. It’s such a shame to find a pile of live molluscs dying in the parking lot, picked off the beach by children but discarded by parents prior to getting into their vehicles at the end of the day. It might seem like a small thing, but in the summer, when so many people frequent the beaches, this thoughtless act is repeated enough times to have an effect on the fragile ecosystem. Though live molluscs are a wonder to find, in this instance I think it would be less cruel to just love them and leave them.