Yesterday’s tide line on Penrhos beach comprised almost nothing but spiny spider crabs, hundreds, probably thousands of them. It looked like crabageddon.
Spiny spider crab shells
In fact, I am assured that these aren’t actually dead crabs, they are just the shells from the annual moult. Which explains why there were no birds taking any interest and no smells either. Somewhere out to sea there will be thousands of naked spiny spider crabs waiting for their new shells to grow.
I was puzzled how the crabs could manage to shed their shells, whilst seeming to leave the shells intact. How was that possible? Then it was explained to me that the shell can hinge open (hinging at the front) and the crab wriggles out the rear. Once I knew that, I had to go and check it out for myself.
Here’s a freshly washed up crab shell. You can tell it’s empty by giving it a tap and it sounds hollow.
And, sure enough, if you lift the back edge of the shell, it easily opens up to show you the empty space inside:)
I also spotted this “jellied” crab…
I thought these clear little blobs washing up on the shoreline were some stage of a jellyfish life-cycle. However, I now think that they are sea gooseberries (Pleurobrachia pileus, in the phylum Ctenophora – so not even a jellyfish at all).
A sea gooseberry on an oystershell
I wasn’t sure if these things could sting, which is why I put this one on a shell to photograph it. However, unlike jellyfish, sea gooseberries don’t even have stingers.
A sadder sight lately along the tide line is the numerous dead dogfish. I guess they’re discarded by fishermen. There have been quite a lot of skate or ray carcasses too, just their spiky spines and heads with their wings removed. At least the birds love feeding on the skate remains and the flesh doesn’t last for long. By contrast, the dogfish just stick around (except for the ones that get eaten by the four-legged dogs walking on the beach – some of the local dogs seem to find part rotted dogfish particularly tasty).
One of the many dead dog fish on Llanddwyn and Penrhos beaches lately. I thought this one had particularly pretty markings.
Another dead dogfish…
A discarded midsection of a skate
Over the winter, new signs have sprung up along the Bike Quest trail at Newborough Forest.
The subheading of the sign is “our forests are under attack”…
This one is particularly ironic given that the main threat to Newborough Forest is probably Natural Resources Wales themselves.
The overblown tone of this sign is in keeping with the others. The previous one says “beware the bloodsuckers” and is about the medicinal leeches that are common in the forest’s ponds: it’s not really the kind of language that will help make people feel fondly towards the forest and its wildlife.
One of the channels of the Afon Cefni that runs out to the sea across the Malltraeth Sands has slowly been making its way eastwards. Now, even at low tide, if you go to the furthest west point of the forest, you are within a few metres of the channel. And at even a moderate tide, the east side of the bay is full in a beautiful sweeping curve.
In previous years, this area has been popular with terns and all kinds of other shore birds: I suppose they’ll move over to the Bodorgan Estate this year – which may even be better, at least more peaceful, for them.
Malltraeth sands at high tide from the point where Dwynwen’s path reaches the beach
The only slight spoiler when I took the photo was the amount of scum at the water’s edge – I guess it was something washing down with the river as it was only along the Cefni’s edges.
Scummy foam on the tide
Funnily enough, as the Cefni is shifting in to the east, the Braint (the river that flows through Dwyran and comes into the Menai Strait just after the Rhuddgaer stepping stones) has been shifting to the north west – so between them, they’ve got a bit of a pincer movement going on.
Yesterday was the first day of British Summer Time. And if summer is as summer does, it was definitely summer here this weekend: blue skies, and flat calm blue seas.
Penrhos Beach – first day of summer time
Penrhos Beach complete with one of the many fish boxes and oil containers washed in from the boats…
Velella velella – borne by the wind sailor. Sporadically, lots of these little creatures will be blown ashore on Newborough’s beaches. It must be about 10 years since I last saw a big batch of them, so I’d been keeping an eye open for them all through the winter, thinking a stranding must be due. Today,when I thought we were too far into spring for me to spot them, here they were. Not in huge numbers, but quite a few.
Velella velellas washed ashore by the tide
Velella velella – borne by the wind sailor
Clearly when I found them today, they’d already been ashore for a few days: if they were fresh, they would have had a deep blue-ish colour to their footplate, the colour of a blue mussel shell. But by today, they were more or less deliquesced leaving just the clear chitinous structure.
The structure that remains when the living parts of the sailor have washed away
The jellywatch.org site has lots of information and lovely pictures of these fascinating creatures that spend their lives sailing on the oceans at the whim of the wind.
(Incidentally, I’ve always known them as Velella-velella-borne-by-the-wind-sailors; the scientific and common name combined to make a little rhyme, but I notice that the ‘borne’ bit isn’t usually included.)
Yesterday storm Doris swept through Anglesey. For the first time I remember, the forest (and ostensibly the whole of the Nature Reserve) was announced to be “closed” due to dangerous conditions…
This morning, the sea was so calm it was hard to believe how powerful yesterday’s storm was.
There was little detritus washed up on the beaches: there were a few clumps of dead man’s fingers (Alcyonium digitatum)* – some of them were quite large. Usually when I see these it is just single lobes, not whole “hands”.
Deadman’s fingers (I think) – Alcyonium digitatum
There were lots of branches, twigs and cones blown down; quite a few trees leaning with their root plates lifted; and a few of the dead trees along the postman’s path had blown over. Other than that, in the parts of the forest and the beaches I’ve visited so far, the storm seemed to have left little by way of destruction.
One of the small dead trees blown across the Postman’s Path
One nice thing is that after each storm, the wind banks up the sand more and more, repairing the cuts that NRW cut through the dunes along Penrhos Beach.
One of the cuts made by NRW in the dunes along Penrhos Beach – nature is working hard to block these off again…
*I struggled to find where the name Alcyonium originated from until I found a lovely old book in Google called The Nature Displayed in the Heavens and on the Earth, written by Simeon Shaw in 1823. He says that the Alcyonium part of the name comes from a supposed resemblance of some species to the nest of the kingfisher (halcyon). And I think this is what these blobs are, but wouldn’t know for sure.
This little creature was washed up on the morning’s tide. It’s a sea mouse.
The underside of a sea mouse (Aphrodita aculeata)
I’ve never paid enough attention to these little creatures before, because usually it is their shaggy surface showing. But this one was upside down and its segments were clear to see, reminding me of a giant woodlouse. Then I picked it up and noticed its bristles and beautiful brassy fur down its sides.
This pictures doesn’t do it justice, but the “fur” down the sides of the “mouse” is beautiful and iridescent
The sea mouse isn’t a mouse, obviously: it’s actually a big fat worm! You can read more about them on the ecomare website. And see some fabulous microscope photos of sea mouse hairs on the Quekett website.
Today it was so cold on Penrhos beach that the soft sands above the tideline had frozen solid, creating a little frigid landscape of miniature mesas and buttes.
Frozen sands with their miniature desert-style landscape