Before Ophelia

It was so gloomy this morning, it was more like the depths of winter than the middle of October. And then, just before eleven o’clock, the sun came out. But it was a strangely red, wan thing for the first few minutes. Then, as if a switch was flicked, the gloom lifted and the sun returned to normal.


The sun just beginning to appear before 11am – red and wan

1610opheliaredsun 2

A couple of minutes later it was becoming brighter

At the same time, the smell and the warmth of the air were amazing.  It was as though the world was on fire somewhere beyond the horizon; with a faint smell of smoke and odd gusts of hot air. Very eerie.


Llanddwyn Beach – before the storm

Before the sun managed to come out properly and the air cleared, the whole sea and sky had a greenish tint, as though they were ill – but I couldn’t capture it in a picture.

Now it’s time to batten down the hatches until the storm has passed.



Crab tide

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…



Sea gooseberries

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


Sea gooseberry

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

A sign of irony?

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.

The curve of the Cefni

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…


Borne by the wind sailors

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 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.)

The calm after the storm

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.


Llanddwyn Bay

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.