Category Archives: Strandline

New strandline discoveries

Monday’s walk along the beach produced some more interesting strandline finds to add to those found on my previous strandline expeditions.  The sea was nearly at high tide, so the strandline was shifting all the time, wet weed and shells changing position as the waves pushed forward and retreated.  Sunday had been an endless day of really strong gales, complete with Met Office weather warnings, and although I expected this to have stirred things up a lot, I was not expecting to find much at high tide, so it was interesting to see what there was.

Barrel Jellyfish, Aberdovey shoreline

The most anomalous find was a dead barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), a common enough sight in warm summer months, but the first I have ever seen in winter.  The barrel jellyfish is distinguished by a thick rubbery bell and “arms” rather than tentacles, which have a distinctive frill along their edges. This is a  small one, but they can reach up to 1m in diameter and are the largest of jellyfish to be found in UK waters.  They have a mild sting.   The Marine Conservation Society collects sightings of jellyfish (and turtles, crawfish and basking sharks) throughout the year, so if you see one it is worth going to the MCS’s sightings page and filling in their online form.  There’s a good jellyfish identification guide on the IWS website, from which the following is taken:

Barrel jellyfish details

I also found two new eggcases.  If you are new to eggcases, have a look at my post on the subject, where I go into some detail.  These were very unlike the nursehound case that I found on the beach that day, but very distinctive.  Using the Shark Trust’s identification guide, it was possible to narrow them down to a Thornback Ray (Raja clavata) and a Spotted Ray (Raja montagui).  My photos of the two cases are below, together with the Thornback Ray  relevant page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide.

A page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide, accompanied by photos of the two eggcases found today.

Common piddock (Pholas dactylus)

The bivalve shell I picked up and kept is neither unusual nor relevant to any conservation programmes, but it is simply very attractive, with a wonderful textured surface, and I had never seen one before.  It’s a common piddock (Pholas dactylus), one of four species of piddock found mainly in the south and wet of Britain, all white. They are specialist borers, using the ridges for drilling into hard substrates to create burrows.  They have feeding siphons which reach out from the burrow into the sea to collect nutrients, and in the case of the common piddock the siphons are bioluminescent and glow green in the dark.  Shells can be up to 12cm long, and this one is exactly 12cm long.

I picked up a piece of seaweed that was a deep pink when I found it, and it turned black when I left it to dry out.  It’s a new one on me so I looked it up:  clawed fork weed (Furcellaria lumbricalis).  It only has the pods at the ends, which are its reproductive structures, in winter.  It tolerates low saline conditions, so will grow even in estuary waters.

 

The minor miracle of a mermaid’s purse – and The Shark Trust

When I first moved to Aberdovey I bought myself two books about what sort of things I could expect to find on the strandline of the beach.  My previous strandline discoveries have been posted here and here.  My books almost promised me that I would find mermaid’s purse of some description on the strandline, but until yesterday I hadn’t seen one.  Yesterday, attached to a bit of bladder wrack seaweed, not far from a nice example of an Echinocardium cordatum (see the end of the post) I found a battered but fairly in tact example of a mermaid’s purse or, more mundanely but more accurately, an eggcase, which turns out to be one of nature’s minor miracles:

An eggcase is the product of fish of the elasmobranch species – shark, ray and skate, which instead of having bony frames have skeletons made of flexible cartilage, and many lay eggs in pouches or eggcases.  The eggcases are made of collagen, a resilient protein found in vertebrate animal tissues. Some have curly tendrils at one end to attach them to the seabed and seaweeds.  Within the eggcase is a yolk that provides nutrition for the embryo.  As it grows, the embryo wriggles and this pushes stale water out of the hollow horns of the eggcase and pumps in fresh oxygenated water.  When the embryo has reached full size, it swims out of the eggcase, abandoning the empty pouch, a perfectly formed miniature version of its adult parent.

Skate Lifecycle.  Source:  The Great Eggcase Hunt, The Shark Trust (https://www.sharktrust.org/shared/downloads/projects/great_eggcase_hunt_report_2017.pdf)

In the example that I found, the seaweed to which it was attached had worked its way free and washed up on the strandline, with the eggcase firmly attached.  It took me a few moments to unravel it.   When they are washed up on the shore, they lose their flexibility, shrivel and become hard, but not brittle, and they can survive for many years.

I brought the eggcase home and dried it out on a piece of kitchen roll on the radiator before looking it up. This was the wrong thing to do.  According to one of my books (the absolutely excellent The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher), what I should have done is soak it in water to rehydrate it so that I could compare it with photographs on the eggcase identification page on fabulous The Shark Trust website, where you can also record your finding.  The Shark Trust has an ongoing Great Eggcase Hunt, which began in 2003, and has now logged over 100,000 eggcases on British shores.  It has identified ten species of skate and three species of shark, and is beginning to get an idea of where favoured egg laying places are located.

Eggshell morphology. Source:  The Great Eggcase Hunt, The Shark Trust (https://www.sharktrust.org/shared/downloads/projects/great_eggcase_hunt_report_2017.pdf)

So it was back to the drawing board, by which I mean a saucepan of water.   After the eggcase had soaked overnight I had another poke at, prior to any attempt at identification, and it was just as solid as it had been when it went into the saucepan.  I assume that baking it on the radiator had rendered it immutable.  Checking the solid item against various photographs in books and on The Shark Trust website it was immediately clear that eggcases are either black or a translucent pale gold, information that appeared to narrow things down significantly. Although mine is light in colour, big patches of black suggest that it was originally black all over.  The shape is clearly either Nursehound (or Bull Huss) or Smallspotted catshark, but the smallspotted catshark eggshells are translucent and golden and only reach a maximum of 7cm in length, and mine is 12cm, not counting the tendrils, and 4.5cm wide at its widest.  So even though the colour is debatable, I concluded that mine was probably a Nursehound/huss, which is a common specie in this area (and I bought quite a lot of huss from Dai’s Shed during the summer) but I’ve submitted my guess with photographs so that The Shark Trust people can make their own judgement.

Nursehound eggcase. Source: The Great Eggcase Hunt, The Shark Trust (https://www.sharktrust.org/shared/downloads/projects/great_eggcase_hunt_report_2017.pdf)

Another nice find was an Echinocardium cordatum.  They are not uncommon on the Aberdovey beach, which astounds me as they are so fragile that you are in danger of them shattering as soon as you pick one up.  Also known as sea potato and heart urchin, they are covered with spines that, unlike the more familiar sea urchins, lie flat against their shells (“tests”) and look a bit like an animal pelt.  Also unlike sea urchins, they live burrowed under the sand of the seabed.

A proper seaside walk – the beach, the sea, the waves, sun and even a sandcastle

Sunshine, sand, sea and almost no-one on the beach but me.  Idyllic.  When I woke up this morning it was cold and grey, but by noon the day had clearly decided to fall in line with the weather forecast and blossomed into a glorious autumn afternoon.  I had stuff I needed to do but I was done by 2pm and drove to the lay-by on the road to Tywyn, opposite the line of houses on the other side of the Trefeddian Hotel.   A path crosses the golf course, wends its way through the dunes and drops you by the Second World War pillbox.  From there Tywyn is clearly visible in the distance.  The tide was out, just on the turn, so it took a couple of minutes to reach the water’s edge, although the roar from the waves had been clearly audible from the road.

The beach was spectacular, the damp sand reflecting blue sky and white clouds, with deep dips holding pools of water like liquid silver and white-topped blue waves thundering as crests broke, chaotic shapes forming and reforming.   The main strandline was up by the dunes, clumps of dark weed, but there were long strands of weed shimmering in the sunshine, some floating in pools some strewn along the sand.  I took a few photos and a couple of videos as I walked towards Tywyn, got wet feet, and generally had a great time.  It really was a spectacular afternoon.  A lady on the checkout at the Co-op in Tywyn, who also moved here from London, told me that the novelty lasted six months with her, but I really don’t see it ever wearing off for me.  Mind, I haven’t survived an Aberdovey winter yet.

Crossing the sand dunes.  Close to the beach they are stablized by marram grass.

The first and last photos are burnet roses, small and delicate, that are usually found in sand dunes. The pink petals belong to a blackberry bramble and the blue berries are blackthorn, also common in sand dunes.

Lovely shapes and light on the wet sand

Ecofacts. The shells are a limpit with a beautiful yellow shell, an elegant variegated scallop, a saddle oyster and a purple-black common muscle. An articulated crab claw has become detached from its owner. This was the first cuttlefish bone that I have found on the Aberdovey beach, beautifully laminated. Within the calcium-rich shell there are chambers that that fill with gas or water allowing the cuttlefish to rise or sink.

Here are two of the videos.  I am still trying to get the hang of this whole video thing.  The autofocus on the little camera that I use for video was having trouble today, unsurprisingly, and it was having trouble with the shifting light too.  And of course, it was absolutely not all the camera’s fault that these are anything but perfect.  This was my first time trying to video the sea, and the learning curve shows rather acutely!  Huge fun though, and I’ll get there eventually.

The lay-by to park for this stroll on the beach is at The Crossing, just where the A493 goes around a slow but definitive bend. It is opposite a very fine terrace of tall houses. The footpath is a track on the left of the lay-by and takes you over two stiles across the railway. You then cross the golf course to walk along the path through the dunes and down on to the beach by the Second World War pillbox, marked on the above map with a red rectangle.

 

A walk along the “Roman Road” to Picnic Island and beyond

If you are looking for a short walk with some lovely views over the river estuary and the hills beyond, this is a nice one.  If you want to go all the way to Picnic Island, a walk of just 30 minutes or so, you will need to be prepared to pick your way along some jagged rocks, but if you only want to go as far as the beach beneath the footbridge over the railway line, it’s a simple walk along well worn paths.  You can also turn it into a much longer 6 mile walk by crossing the footbridge and going up the hill and circling back into Aberdovey. I’ve added a PDF at the end of this post.  Patches can be a bit muddy after rainfall and on the rock this can be slippery, so suitable footwear is recommended.  Before you set out, check the tides.  You will need to avoid high tide, because part of the walk is cut off by water.  If you do find yourself returning along the path to meet with an unpassable section you will need to cross the bridge over the railway and return along the road, but this is a busy road with no footpath so is much best avoided.

The walk is all about beautiful views over the estuaries and to the hills beyond.  It starts in the Memorial Park at Penhelig.  Either go under the railway bridge or cut off that rather dangerous corner on the road by taking the private road in front of the houses known as Penhelig Terrace.  The Memorial Park is on the other side.  It is a lovely little park with great views over Aberdovey’s sea front.  It contains a memorial and a plaque in English and Welsh to mark the achievements of the 3 Troop 10, a group of German nationals who worked on behalf of the Allies during the Second World War, and who were stationed in Aberdovey for their training (which I have described on an earlier post).  There is also a little shelter, slightly unkempt at the time of writing, to the memory of Mr Richard Roberts “in recognition of his munificent gift for improvements at Aberdovey 1930.”

At the far end of the park let yourself through the gate and onto the Roman road.  The so-called Roman road is neither Roman nor, in modern terms, a road.  It is a path carved out of the local mudstone, a remarkable feat that even the Romans, accomplished civil engineers, would have found a difficult task without the help of explosives.  And why would they have gone to the trouble?  The nearest Roman military structure was Cefn Caer at Pennal, 11km to the east along the Dyfi.  There is no obvious benefit for a permanent stone-built pathway to Aberdovey, even if there was any sign elsewhere between Aberdovey and Pennal of a long-term Roman presence, which there isn’t.  My guess was that it was built in the 1860s, part of the works for the building of the railway, but again that fails to address the question of the purpose of such a track, given that there was a perfectly good coast road at that time.  In his description of the 6-mile walk, below, the author David Roberts, an Aberdovey resident, states that the track was built in 1808 for horse and carriage, but he doesn’t say where these were headed and why such a road would be required.  Even Hugh M. Lewis, who was born in 1910, and grew up and lived in Aberdovey was unable to shed any more light on the subject.

Whenever it was built and whatever it was used for, it is invaluable today as a ready-made footpath for walkers.  The path has two small bridges that cross little natural outlets for fresh water that pours down the hill into the estuary.  In these places the fresh water-loving gut weed grows, a livid, bright green that contrasts dramatically with the black stone and the brown seaweeds.  The estuary is incredibly peaceful on a sunny day as the tide retreats, the waters flat and sparkling, making a pleasant sound lapping gently at the rocks as they travel at a considerable pace to the west. The hills beyond, in Cerdigion, fresh and green, are the perfect backdrop.

The ubiquitous mudstone, into which the path is carved, slopes gently down into the waters, and is covered with some of the seaweeds that I described on my strandline walk, fascinatingly three types forming three bands as they approach the water, with those most equipped to survive out of the water for longest at the top, and the least drought tolerant at the bottom.  Sea oak is at the top, bladder wrack in the middle and egg wrack at the base. some of it remaining submerged even at low tide.  Unlike my strandline walk, where all the seaweeds had been detached from their rock bases, it was possible to inspect the seaweeds in situ, so I could see the holdfast with which they attach themselves to rocks, a surprisingly tiny little mass of highly tenacious material.

On the rock face above the level of the path, two plants in particular make the best of the most implausible nooks and crannies to grow: red valerian and sea thrift.  Both are drought resistant, saline tolerant, prefer sandy and low-fertility soils and need full sun, so are frequently found in south-facing coastal areas.  When the sea thrift goes over, which most of them have by late September, the fallen petals leave attractive skeletal globes. Watch out for sea thrift and red valerian in cracks in vertical planes of the rock to the left as you walk towards Picnic Island.  Where the rock splits it reveals trapped minerals that are often beautifully coloured providing a perfect canvas for the flowers.

At all levels above the waterline are a variety of lichens dominated by yellow scales (shown to the right), which is prolific, followed by black shields and map lichen.  Lichens are not single organisms but are symbiotic, depending for their survival on “photobionts” (algae and/or cyanobacteria), which provide them with the carbon that they need.  The photobionts use the process of photosynthesis to manufacture their own food source, whereas the fungal component of the lichens need an external food source.  This ecological strategy has obvious benefits for the fungus, which is essentially parasitic on the photobionts, but it is thought that the photobionts might benefit too, due to the provision by the fungus of a stable environment in which they can develop.  There’s a lot more information on the British Lichen Society website.

The Roman road runs out and is replaced by a well maintained footpath that runs parallel to the railway line, taking a route several feet above the estuary, again with wonderful views across the estuary.  At low tide the sands in the middle of the estuary are revealed, a shifting chiaroscuro of colours and deep shadows framed by the speeding waters of the retreating tide.  There is rich vegetation along the footpath – blackberry and rose brambles, ferns, berberis, purple thistles, red valerian, buddleia, holly, wild oregano and much more.   In autumn there are few flowers, mainly the last of the red valerian, but there is a profusion of red and orange berries.

A fork in the path offers a choice.  The left fork leads up to Picnic Island and the footbridge over the railway into a lay-by and, 100m down the road, the continuation of the walk for those who want to pursue the 6 mile option.  Picnic Island is not an island, just a small promontory cut off from the hillside by the railway, but it has wooden seating and is a pleasant green area with excellent views south over the estuary.  It’s original name is Bryn Lestair (obstruction hill).

The right fork leads down steps to a small pebble beach, and the continuation of the Roman road for a short span, before it runs out again.  The beach was the site of a shipbuilding business, some of its walls still surviving, but the site was largely destroyed by the railway.  From the beach, facing the sea look left and you will see that the Roman road resumes.  Follow this for a short distance and then it’s a matter of picking your way down the rocks to the beach, and along the foot of the retaining wall behind which the railway runs.  This is invariably wet, with hillside water pouring from under the wall.  There were almost no shells on the beach sections, only very fragmented muscles and barnacles.  The barnacles were on loose bits of slate, so they were probably detached from rocks elsewhere and brought in on the tide.  This is probably because the waters are brackish, combining freshwater pouring out of the river Dovey and salt water coming in on the tide.

On the other side of this small beach is another promontory with views over the estuary and east towards the Georgian Trefri Hall with its own island complete with crenellated folly.  Before it was painted mustard yellow it was my favourite house in the area – that wonderful location, those stunning views, a private tidal beach and that super folly!  In 2016 it came on the market and was featured in an article on the Wales Online website – for sale for a cool 1.7 million pounds.  Rather more than I had in my piggy bank on the day.

The walk back into Aberdovey is simply a matter of retracing your footsteps.

If you are interested in the 6-mile walk that takes you up into the hill behind the estuary, here’s a PDF to download:  6 mile circular walk Picnic Island and hill.  It is the BBC Weatherman Walking map and guide by local resident David Roberts (eight pages with photographs).  I haven’t done it yet, but it looks splendid and it’s on my to-do list.

A splendid afternoon beachcombing at Aberdovey

The strandline

When is a potato not a potato?  When it’s a sea potato.  When I moved here eight weeks ago I bought a book (a lot of the best bits in my life start with the phrase “I bought a book”) about beachcombing and the strandline (also referred to as the wrackline or driftline).  The strandline is that trail of debris that marks where the tide last deposited its load.  In London I lived a three minute walk from the Thames in a section of the river that had been used from the 17th Century until the mid 19th Century for shipbuilding.  A favourite walk at low tide (there is a 7m difference between the Thames at low and high tide) it was a rich source of objects, telling a partial and fragmented story about how the foreshore had been used and what the river carried and dropped on its travels.  But at Aberdovey, apart from collecting the occasional shell or decorative pebble, I had never paid much notice of what was at my feet at on the beach.  I was too busy enjoying the dune vegetation, the rolling waves and the gorgeous views.   At Aberdovey my invariable habit has always been to walk one way along the top of the sand dunes and then back along the water’s edge, fastidiously avoiding those dark, unappealing fly-covered lumps of festering decay.  Today, however, they were my goal, and to my amazement they were a wonderful treasure trove.

Common otter shell (Lutraria lutraria), 12cm long, which burrows to depths of up to 30cm.

I had been feeling almost housebound due to the gales and the torrential rain brought by Storm Bronagh.  I am glad that the weather front was provided with a name, as it gave me something specific to have a real grumble about.  On Sunday, however, I woke up to glorious sunshine and immediately decided to abandon all the outdoor DIY and gardening that I ought to be getting on with and head for the beach.  There was a lot of wind and big patches of fluffy white cloud, but mainly big blue skies and a beautiful autumn sun the colour of electrum.   I threw my cameras, spare batteries and a lightweight waterproof into my ruck sack, mainly to block the wind, hauled on my fiendishly ugly hiking trainers and checked the tide tables – low tide at 3pm, hallelujah.  I took the car in case the weather turned and I needed a rapid escape from rain, parked opposite the fish and chip shop and set out optimistically for my first lump of black gunge.

The strandline is primarily made up of seaweed, which is at the heart of the local marine ecology.  What washes up with the tide is what grows in the vicinity and tells you something about what’s going on out there, and it is home to a wide range of creatures.  When it washes up on the seashore it also acts as a host to other forms of life, including insects and birds.  Seaweed is an algae and an autotroph, meaning that it makes its own food from sunlight, carbon and water.  Unlike plants, seaweed does not have roots, absorbing water through its leaves instead.  Photosynthesis, the which captures energy from the sun, is achieved via pigments, chemical compounds.  Green seaweeds contain mainly or entirely chlorophyll, whilst brown and red seaweeds contain other pigments as well.  Although all seaweeds require water, most spend a significant amount of time out of the water during low tides.  Seaweeds generally attach themselves to rocks or the seabed and stay attached via a “holdfast,” a clump at the base of the plant and can pulled free either due to storms or when they die.  I could only identify around half of the seaweeds from my books because in the general chaos of the standline masses, it was very difficult to pick them out.  There were miles of long, black spaghetti-like weeds that could have been either one of two species, but I couldn’t work out which from the photographs.

Crab

Embedded in the seaweed itself or simply sharing the strandline are all sorts of interesting ecofacts, as well as man-made objects.  Shells dominate at Aberdovey, with cockle shells littered everywhere, and some clam shells, including a dense patch of razor shell clams, quite a few oyster shells, some mussell shells and bits of crab claw and carapace.  Drift wood was conspicuous, as well as fresh wood and branches presumably thrown into the river and estuary by the storm.  One of the seaweeds turned out not to be seaweed at all, but is in fact an invertebrate called Hornwrack.  Another find that surprised me was the sea potato, of which I had never heard before.  There were remarkably few man-made intrusions.  There were some bits of nylon rope and a giant piece of “high pressure gas pipeline,” according to the label, but other than that there was none of the plastic that has plagued beaches around the country.

Sea potato (Echinocardium cordatum)

The sea potato (Echinocardium cordatum) was a curious thing.  It was clearly an exoskeleton and at first I thought it was a sea urchin, but on closer inspection, it clearly wasn’t quite the same thing.  I brought one home with me, and it was incredibly fragile, the shell immensely thin a piece breaking off almost immediately when I tried, very gently, to wash it.  One of the several that I photographed appeared to have spines attached, and when I delved into my books it turns out that Echinocardium cordatum does indeed have spines, but unlike those on sea urchins, these lie flat, facing backwards on the surface of the shell (called a test) and look like coarse fur.  Like other echinoderms (spiky skinned) the patterning on its surface is divisible by five (called pentameral symmetry).  Also known as a heart urchin, it lives buried in the seabed, into which it burrows and use tube feet to pass food to their mouths. Apparently they are quite common.

Hornwrack s not a seaweed, but an invertebrate (an animal without a backbone) colony

Hornwrack (Flustra foliacea) is not a seaweed, although the word “wrack” in its name might imply that it is.  It is actually an invertebrate (an animal without a backbone) colony belonging to the bryozoan group, commonly known as moss animals.  It looks just like a seaweed.  It is a common strandline find, each frond an exoskeleton containing  tiny boxes which contain an individual animal called a zooid, making up a colony of inter-dependent creatures.  Annual growth lines can sometimes be seen on the fronds, because it stops growing in winter.  It lives offshore attached to shells and stones, filters food particles, and has a slight lemony scent when fresh and wet.  Utterly fascinating.

Laver

Laver, as anyone who lives in Wales will know, is an edible seaweed that tastes delicious in all sorts of things.  There are five related species, the principal one of which is Porphyra umbilicalis, a purple-coloured weed.  A traditional Welsh recipe involves using oats to make laverbread (cooked laver) into cakes.  Before you head out to collect it, do be aware that it requires cooking for eight hours before it is usable!  Easier to buy it in tins from most of the food stores in Aberdovey, including the butcher (who, incidentally, makes the most terrific pork and laverbread sausages).

The second most common type of seaweed on the beach was the wrack (Fucus), of which there are multiple varieties.  Channelled wrack is shown near the top of the page, the picture here is bladder wrack.There was also serrated wrack and spiral wrack on the beach.   When I was a child, the air bladders used to fascinate me, and they are used by the seaweed for helping it to stand vertically in the water to improve its chances of reaching sunlight for photosynthesis.  Bladder wrack has small air bladders arranged in pairs.  Egg wrack has single large ones arranged in a row along each frond.  Channelled wrack has a curled frond  that forms a channel to retain moisture.  Serrated wrack has no air bladders at all.

Egg wrack and serrated wrack

Seaweeds are generally classed by colour, and there are several green ones listed in books, but I only found one on the strandline, which was gutweed (Ulva intestinalis).  It was spread across a piece of driftwood, absolutely lurid against the wood and against an otherwise muted backdrop of weed and sand.  It likes estuaries and brackish water, but was a bit off the beaten track where I found it, which was beyond the estuary and on a part of the beach that overlooks open sea.  It consists of thin hollow tubes which, when it is alive, are filled with oxygen.  It is edible and said to be delicious.  It is lying against a bed of either Mermaid Tresses or Thongweek, which was the most common of the seaweeds that had washed up on the strandline in clumps.

Sea oak (Halidrys siliquosa), also known as pod weed for obvious reasons, is another common seaside seaweed, which has mutiple branches and rather flattened swollen bladders at the tips of its fronds.  The bladders have internal divisions that are clearly visible.

Sea oak

Razor clams were dotted around the beach, but at one point on the beach it was a positive graveyard with dozens of them concentrated in a small area.  As far as I could tell they were all of the same type, the straight edged bivalve (double shell) pod razor clam, Enis siliqua, with an outer coating called a periostracum.  They live buried, aligned vertically, in the sand of the seabed and feed by extending a tube (siphon) above the sand into the sea to extract nutrients.  When the tide is out they burrow into the saturated sand, and retreat further in response to vibration.  As they borrow they eject water, which leaves a keyhole shape on the surface.  I ate rather a lot of them when on holiday in the Algarve, Portugal, and they are delicious.

The common or native oyster (Ostrea edulis) is scattered across the beach in the form of single shells.  The photo here shows the typical concentric scaly ridges on the outside of the shell, which is thick. Oysters were a mainstay of the diet in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, cheap nutrition, but were over-harvested during the late 19th Century, when prices went through the roof, and are still seriously depleted and now considered to be a delicacy.  The most common strandline finds have grey shells with blue bands, but grey and brown ones are also found, and at Aberdovey the majority I found on Sunday were brown.

There were a couple of seagulls, but the only other feathered friend I shared the beach with was a beautiful pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii), his tail flicking up and down in the characteristic way that gave it its name.  Like me, he was beachcombing, but for rather different ends, foraging for small molluscs, insects (particularly the flies that settle on the decaying seaweeds) and seeds.  They don’t look like natural seashore foragers, but are sometimes called the water wagtail because of their affinity to streams and open water, and they are always on the beach in Aberdovey in the autumn and winter, hopping from one promising site to the next.  He kept a wary eye on me and as I moved nearer he flew a little further on, always at the absolute limit of the range of my camera lens, meaning that the photo is very fuzzy.

References:

Plass, M. 2013. RSPB Handbook of the Seashore. Bloomsbury
Reader’s Digest 1981.  Field Guide to the Birds of Britain. Reader’s Digest Association.
Sherry, P. and Cleave, A. 2012.  Collins Complete guide to British Coastal Wildlife. Collins
Trewhella, S. and Hatcher, J. 2015.  The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline. Wild Nature Press