Friday, 7 November 2008

Life’s a beach and then something dies!

An impromptu safari today along the strandline. There were two Grey Seals, one of which was the first I’ve ever seen actually hauled out on the beach here. It had the ‘doggy baskets’ i.e. was fidgeting trying to find the comfiest position. In comparison to a nearby Great Black Backed Gull it appeared to be fairly small but was unlikely to have been a Common Seal as these are extremely scarce along our coast. A pack of approaching dogs had it quickly waddling back in to the sea, if a seal can move quickly. Just offshore were 12 Great Crested Grebes fishing behind the surf. That’s a decent count for our stretch of coast.

A Peregrine Falcon cruised past over the beach about 100 feet up then suddenly dropped and sped down the gullies between the sand banks hoping to surprise a wader. The waders it could have had a choice of were several Redshanks, more Oystercatchers and four Sanderlings.
Away from the sea wall there is an area of natural(ish) dunes. Some like the one below are in good condition showing good active growth of the Marram ( or Starr - as in Starr Gate) Grass.

This dune is damaged by the wind the Marram Grass roots have been exposed and will die off if the sand doesn't slump down and rebury them.

Marram grass can withstand being buried by upto a metre of sand a year. as long as the tip of the grass is poking out of the sand it will grow. The trouble happens when it gets trodden on and is broken. Then as itt lies flat it gets buried and can no longer grow and so dies off. If you're ever in the dunes take great care where you are putting your feet. In the words of generations of 'Park Keeepers - "Keep Off The Grass!".

If the damaged dune doesn't recover storms and further pedestrian traffic can allow a 'blow-out' to form. This one looks like a glacial U-shaped valley.

In areas which doen't get trampled at the 'toe' of the dune embryo dunes form.

It is not usually Marram Grass that is the pioneer species, this embryo is Sea Lyme Grass.

This one is Sea Couch with a bit of Marram at the back.

As soon as a small amount of sand buuilds up, in this case caught by a piece of dead Gorse one of the pioneer grass species can start to get established and a new dune is formed.

Moving along the strandline in front of the dunes there were a couple of Pied Wagtails pecking about after any insects they could find. The strandline mostly consists of small bits of driftwood, grass blown off the dunes during storms and loads of plastic bottles etc.

In amongst all the little bits are the odd large pieces of driftwood washed down the local rivers. This piece is riddled with Shipworm.

In the background is one of the marine nightmares, of which sadly there is a lot along the beach - nylon rope and fishing nets.

I came across these tracks in the sand. I've no idea what might of made them. The tracks of what was probably a Pied Wagtail is over the top of them so they may have been made during the night. The tracks either started from or finished at this little hole. Any one got any suggestions as to the maker.

Whelk's egg cases are a fairly common find.

This piece of unattached Marram Grass could be blown against an obstruction in the strandline and start building a new dune.

Back at the base of the sea wall there were few Meadow Pipits beadling about on the Bladderwrack (seaweed) I was unable to turn any of them into a scarcer Rock Pipit.

It was very peaceful with only the calls of a couple of Skylarks over the beach and a distant curlew out over the sea breaking the silence. In the runnels left by the tide there were hundreds of tiny Sand Gobies (see earlier blog ‘Salt & fresh today’ from 19th August). On the sea itself we managed to pick up a solitary Guillemot and somewhere in the region of 500 Common Scoters. These looked surreal as if they were floating in the ether of the ‘white-out’.

And well what died?

Sadly this is all that's left of a Harbour Porpoise.

If anyone finds a dead or stranded live cetacean along the Lancashire coast please let me know either through this blog or at the Solaris Centre.

Not bad for an unexpected safari.

Where to next? You’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime let us know what you have found in your ‘outback’.


Monika said...

Wow, that's an interesting picture of the harbor porpoise skeleton! Did you just come across it all uncovered like that? I'm surprised it wouldn't have been more scattered about, as it looks so intact. How were you able to ID it?

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika

It was just like that on the beach. Must have been floating around in the surf for quite some time. Easy to ID as porps are the only cetaceans we get along this coast, in 5 years I've seen 2 minkes and a single bottlenose dolphin off our coast. We've lost a few porps in the last year to natural causes, infections so live ones are getting harder to find.

best wishes