Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Coulda Drowned!

The Safari went for a walk on the beach last night with Wifey and Frank. We saw a strip of washed up shells and went to investigate. Almost immediately we found a Native Oyster then another and then some more. Its hard to tell if they are recent or old, ie sub-fossil, even though they are only small. The one on the far right is probably recent as it still shows its ridges but the one right of centre could be quite old as these have been worn off. We are interested in them as many years ago there was a commercial fishery for them but that had been all but fished out by about the early to mid 1800s. The Oysters eaten after that were ‘imported’ from Anglesey off the Welsh coast, apparently so many were eaten that the discarded shells were ‘a public nuisance’ on the beach. Hence the need to know whether or not the washed up shells are from this time or indicate a small population still hanging on out at sea. If we do have a small population then that would be good news as it would help towards the declaration of a Marine Conservation Zone offshore. We have to say though that these look a bit small for eating unless the punters in those days were being ripped off... Then we realised that the tide was racing up a runnel behind us...ooohhhh errrrr and we had to wade/stumble gingerly bare foot through the slippiest slimiest fine silt imaginable. Not surprisingly the Redshanks liked it, their footprints were everywhere. One thing we now know is that if we’re going on the beach more often we’ll have to harden our feet up. They have become far too soft and sensitive for walking over the pebbles after being caged up in boots all through the long winter. OK we could wear wellies but that’s not the same as feeling the warm sand between your toes is it? The fine silt is due to the offshore winds, when the tide comes in it is calm and the suspended solids get a chance to settle out, normally the waves keep them in least it is only silt now, not too long ago it would have been something far more unpleasant with the contents of thousands of toilets being flushed straight into the sea – and people swam in it in their millions in the resort’s heyday – yuk yuk and double yuk...thankfully our beach is now cleaner than its been for at least 100 years.

A call into the supermarket on the way back to Base Camp saw us and Frank stay in the car while Wifey nipped in for the provisions. We saw a small male Sparrowhawk fly over with a bulging crop, a opportunist migrant or a local that knows where the Starlings hang out? The shop is only 100 yards from the coast. The Starlings were unimpressed by its presence and for a minute or so their alarm calls drowned out the traffic noise on the nearby busy main road. Also of note was a 2CY Herring Gull flying as though it was having a fit or couldn’t get its left wing to work properly and its legs were dangling limply too; never seen anything flying like that that before. The house opposite the car park had a Starling’s nest under the eaves as we saw one dive under them and not come out.

This morning on Patch 1 we attempted to count the Robins but got side tracked by a Woodcock, would have been nice if it was roding but we only saw it flying around Woodpigeon Wood then again a minute or so later when it dropped into the bottom of the Butterfly Zone. Wonder if they have a ‘genetic memory’ that brings them to this site as it was quite a sizeable dense damp woodland/shrubbery when it was the Council’s tree nursery before it was built on. Our Robin count was further hampered due to the deafening assault on our ears by the local Blackbirds – there are plenty! All we could manage was a measly two Robins – must try harder! We hoped we’d see the Woodcock roding on our return through the Butterfly Zone but didn’t – no sign of it, however it looked like someone had put a large rock right in the middle of the track – it was still dark, just after 06.00, Frank sniffed, the rock snuffled back at him – our first Hedgehog of the year and good to see this one at least has survived the coldest winter for over 100 years.Patch 2 was grey and duff and only gave us two Red Throated Divers of any note. Later whilst out teaching a group of children about erosion, deposition and the risk of flooding in the rain we spotted a crackin’ male Wheatear on the sea wall.

After lunch we spent a bit of time looking at the shells on the beach and the eagle eyed children soon found, amongst a multitude of other species and nice pieces of Ice Age Limestone and Granite, these two whoppers, an Iceland Cyprine and a, much larger than last night's, Native Oyster.

The children are going to study the former under a magniying glass and let us know how old it is - we're guessing somewhere around 75 years.

A fisherman had thrown away some Lugworms - what a waste, but it was an opportunity to have a close look at these extremely important animals that much of the lower beach ecology depends on.

Despite the cool persistant drizzle a good day was had by all.

We were hoping to go botanising but that same cool persistant drizzle put us off - might try tomorrow.

Where to next? A day off but with a fair few chores to do so perhaps just the nature reserve which could be good.

In the meantime let us know what's woken from hibernation in your outback

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