Sunday, December 01, 2013

November Beach Trip

There’s nothing more relaxing than a stroll down the beach on a beautiful day and it’s especially nice during the fall when tourism is low. Much quieter.  Sometimes I will be the only person there on the surf giving me the sensation that I’m the last soul on this earth.  As if the beach is all mine, to do with whatever I please.  I stroll for miles it seems without a care in the world.  Just me, the salty air, the crashing waves, and the wildlife it possesses.  In Richard Bode’s book “Beachcombing at Miramar” he says “Why do people all over the world flock to the sandy shore? I think it’s because the instant they touch the sand, the moment they hear the surf, the evil spirits flee and they feel at home in the world.” Each and every time I come here I can hardly contain the excitement of not knowing what I will come across on these sandy shores.  What gifts will the sea present to me?
The first thing I notice as I cross over the dunes is the magnitude of railroad vines that have taken up residence there.  These vines (aka- bayhops, beach morning glory, goat’s foot creeper, goat’s foot morning glory)- are a trailing species of plant that have a deep root system.  They have been planted here in order to help reestablish and “anchor” the dunes (which help prevent beach erosion) in place making it less likely for them to wash away during a storm surge as happened following the landfall of Hurricane Ike in September 2008.  Its leaves and branches contain alkaloid compounds which protect it from being eaten by insects and grazing mammals.
The dunes not only help prevent erosion, but are also important to wildlife- the Wilson’s plover and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (endangered) both use these areas for nesting. Incidentally, there are signs posted near the dunes alerting everyone about what to do if you see a turtle on the beach.  From the Sea Turtle website:  As of July 8, of this year there were 3 KR turtle nests found on Bolivar Peninsula as reported by the Galveston Sea Turtle Patrol. They nest from mid-April into July. As far as Texas goes they nest mostly at Padre Island , but there have been increasing numbers of nests found in Galveston and on Bolivar Peninsula. Other areas include Mustang Island, South Padre Island, Surfside, Boca Chica Beach and on Aransas/Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge. Back in 2008 a friend of mine came across a dead one that had washed up on the beach. Read about about this in a previous post here.
I found this balloon that had washed up, which I collected and disposed of.  These along with plastic bags when floating on the surface of the ocean can be mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles consuming them by mistake.  Dead sea turtles have been discovered with these in their stomachs. 
Collected sea glass.    Each time I come across a shard of sea glass I marvel at the effort that the waves and the sand have put forth in order to create, what was once trash, into a work of art.  To not take it as a gift from the sea would be sacrilege…..
 Collected plastic that will go in the recycling bin.  (More on plastics and the environment in a future post.)
 Redfish (aka red drum) carcass. Looks like a fisherman caught this, filleted it, then left the rest for the shorebirds.
Nearby I discover a trail of sanderling tracks.  This tiny sandpiper is known by many other names- surf snipe, beach-bird, white snipe, beach plover, whitey, bull peep.  They are long-distance migrants and nest only in the High Artic tundra.  
During the winter though they go to places like our beaches and stay until it’s time to head back up north to nest. It is an opportunistic feeder meaning that it will pretty much eat anything that comes along.  They are often seen probing the sand with their stout little bill for small crustaceans, marine worms, amphipods, bivalves, and insects.  Most times though you will see them in the surf.   
They will run quickly to evade the oncoming waves, but then turn and pursue the wave as it recedes, hoping the wave’s motions will stir up small mollusks or crustaceans.   
They will even take advantage of carrion, as I witnessed one nibbling on the remains of a redfish.  Another interesting fact- it has an anatomical feature that it not found in any other sandpiper- it has no hind toe.   Ever so often I hear their sharp “chit” call as they scurry along the shoreline.    
Fossilized Turtle Shell.  I have found quite a bit of these also in my years of beachcombing.

A collection of whelk shell fragments-  In all my years of beachcombing here on Bolivar Peninsula I have never found an intact, undamaged whelk shell.  Indians consumed the marine snail that inhabits this beautiful work of natural art and used the shell afterwards as a weapon, a tool (to scrape and gouge), and as cups and bowls.  In 1986 the lightning whelk was designated as the official state shell of Texas.

Gull tracks.  Not far from these tracks were a herring gull and a smaller ring-billed gull.  Herring gulls will take mussels which are hard to open and drop them on the wing onto rocks to try and break them.  

References and Suggested Reading:

1) Beachcombing at Miramar.  Richard Bode. © 1996 (If you ever want to read an enlightening book about a guy who beachcombs along the beach of Miramar in California, who gives life lessons in the process, do yourself a big favor and buy this book.)

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