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Beach Walk, July 30, 2018, aka, The New Critter Walk

My last beach walk until this fall makes me sad, but it was a great one nonetheless, including some critters I had not seen before, and for me, that is always exciting ūüôā This walk was on the north end of the island, from around the heel to about a mile west.

Big and deep enough for small children to swim in.

But first, a pet peeve. This hole was only the first of four I found and filled on this day. We must do more to educate the public about the dangers posed to sea turtles by sand castles and holes left on the beach. Building and digging while you are at the beach is a lot of fun. However, when sea turtles hatch from their nests, they can become stuck in holes or blocked by tall walls of sand. This can create a number of problems for sea turtle hatchlings. If they are unable to get out of the holes, they could be eaten by another animal or die from exposure to the elements. One of the things you can do to help sea turtles is to fill in holes you make and knock down the sand castles you build.

On my beach walk on July 21¬†I was very happy to find a bunch of critters living on and in a Knobbed Whelk shell, but I think my find this day beats all other critter communities I have found before. I happened upon this big sea sponge, admirable in it’s own right, but on closer inspection I discovered it full of inhabitants, including three I had not found before!! The sponge is likely a species of Branching Tube sponge, but with over 5000 sponge species, specific identification is difficult.

I’m looking over my find when I noticed that part of it was moving. Now sea sponges don’t “move”, even in life, so I looked closer and found this little crab, the Spineback Hairy crab. Well disguised, wouldn’t you say? I first thought was a Hairy Stone crab, but South Carolina is a bit far for it to have traveled from it’s home turf of Australia.¬† Mark this as New Critter #1 for me.¬† Here are a few more views of this uncommon little crab that (click on any image to make it larger)…

Next I found a Sandy Skinned Tunicate attached to it’s relative, a Sea Pork, and shall we just say that the tunicate had been deceased for a while (yuck).¬†I also found a couple Pleated Sea Squirts, but I have found all these critters before.

I very gleefully discovered five Brittle Stars, a close relative to sea stars, and a few small Hitchhiker Sea Anemones. For some reason I did not take an individual  photo of the anemones (very unlike me!!)b but if you look at the large closeup photo of the crab on the sponge, you can see one in the lower right corner. Make those brittle stars New Critter #2, yay!!

And the finds kept coming…

If you look in the center of the sponge you can see a wee red claw. Red? What sort of critter has a red claw (unless it’s been cooked)?

¬†I looked inside and uncovered not one, but two shrimp, shrimp like none I’ve ever seen before. My first thought was that they must be a species of Ghost shrimp, but after much research and a helpful lead from a biologist, I was able to place these in the genus¬†Zuzalpheus, sponge dwelling snapping shrimp of the western Atlantic. Snapping shrimp, an uncommon find on our beaches, are known for the snapping sound they make with that large claw; Google a video sometime. Call these snappers New Critter #3.

As soon as I was done with the sponge I came across New Critter #4, the remains of a dead Purse crab. Not as uncommon as the snapping shrimp, this was still the first one that I have found.

And speaking of Sandbuilder worms, check out the hole colony of them on the Horseshoe Crab shell on the left, while the shell on the right has a colony of Turtle barnacles.

This lovely lady Horseshoe crab was stranded on her back, but still very much alive, so I carried her down to the water and released her.

And just a few final things until we walk again this fall…

 

Beach Update, Post Matthew

img_5015A little more than two weeks after Hurricane Matthew struck Hilton Head Island as a category 2 storm, and the cacophony of chainsaws is a near constant reminder of the extensive tree damage our beautiful island has sustained. Our home sustained only minor damage and no flooding; we were extremely fortunate, but many others were not.  It has been heartening to see how our community has come together in this time of distress, restoring my belief in the innate kindness of mankind.

But anyway, I’m not here to wax poetic about hurricanes and community, I want to talk about beaches. All the public beach parks, with the exception of Coligny, remain closed st this time. I did, however, manage to walk Mitchelville Beach today by coming through the back of Barker Field.

It was not yet high tide and I could not tell how deep this opening to the sound was, so I did not attempt to cross. I shall return later this week at low tide with the intention of making it to Dolphin Head (the sea wall) in Hilton Head Plantation.

New critter adventure…

I spent hours roaming the beach yesterday before a storm rolled in during the afternoon, and loved every minute of it. “But there is nothing unusual about that,”you say, “you always enjoy the beach.” What made yesterday extra special was that I met not one, but four different critters that I had not yet had the pleasure of making acquaintance. All of these will be added to the appropriate critter pages.

018Almost as soon as I started walking I ran into this fella, that looks to me like an exceptionally large Kirby cucumber. Yes, I’ve seen many boomerang shaped Lined (Green) Sea Cumbers, but this is a Hairy (Brown) Sea Cucumber, which can be elongated or almost spherical. I have never found an elongated one, and the round ones I have found have all been surf worn and smooth. This one still retains bumps from the tube feet that cover the entire body in life. Sea cucumbers live in shallow burrows an shallow water and are often washed up after rough weather, which makes sense with stormy weather we have had of late. Continue reading

Thinking about y’all…

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It’s actually kind of pretty if you don’t have to venture out in it.

We are having another snow day here in southwest Ohio. That makes the boy happy but leaves me truly missing the island and looking forward to spring break. But I’m not going to waste this day- I am hard at work on the site and this week (today hopefully) you will see the introduction of a weekly featured page. The pages can be found in the drop down menus at the top and detail all the things that make Hilton Head Island so perfect. Until then, happy snow day!!

Plans amended…

I had been scheduled for two salt marsh programs with summer camp groups today, but alas, these were cancelled due to the onslaught of stormy weather. Here’s hoping the weather clears by this eve for I am planning on an evening on the beach. One Leatherback Sea Turtle has nested on Hilton Head Island this season, and as a Sea Turtle Program volunteer I have been invited to participate in the nest inventory this evening, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

To make the best of the stormy weather I am working on the photo galleries for this site- Beach Formations, Critters, and Places. I’ve gone thru my photo files back to January of this year (I take a LOT of photos!!), uploading and organizing as I go. Before I go any further I will caption what I have so far. My hope is that you find the galleries not only cool to look at, but maybe give you a glimpse of something you’ve never seen before and a tidbit of info that you didn’t yet know. These will be a work in progress for a while, so check back often.

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Moon Snail collar found near the Folly, January 2015.