A winter beach walk - it'll warm your cockles!

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 6 December 2010

A winter beach walk - it’ll warm your cockles! If you’re reading this snuggled up at home, then spare a thought for some of the wildlife living on, and arriving at, our beaches as the cold weather really takes hold! Winter is a great time for looking at wildlife on the beach - especially the wildlife that thrives in chillier weather.

A winter beach walk - it’ll warm your cockles! If you’re reading this snuggled up at home, then spare a thought for some of the wildlife living on, and arriving at, our beaches as the cold weather really takes hold! Winter is a great time for looking at wildlife on the beach - especially the wildlife that thrives in chillier weather. So wrap up warm and take a look at some of our amazing beaches minus the ice creams and sandcastles! Seals, covered in blubber and fur, don’t mind the raging waves and biting cold. Grey seals breed in late autumn, right up until Christmas in some places, and their pups are very tough. However, as well as seeing some thriving family scenes, your winter walk may reveal some upsetting beach finds. Dead seals can wash up quite commonly in late Autumn and Winter - sadly some pups just don’t make it through the early weeks of life. ” “Underfoot, particularly after a big storm, you’ll notice seaweeds covering the shore. The “roots” of kelps look a bit like skeleton parts, and in amongst them you might find the shells of blue rayed limpets, leggy sea spiders, and keel worms. Many seaweeds are lifted off the seabed so when you spot them they may be a bit decomposed. But this is great for the wildlife of any beach - sea slaters, a little like woodlouse, who eat dead plant and animal materials, and a surprising number of insects will make use of them in all but the coldest snaps. These attract birds in big numbers - especially waders which may come from all over Northern Europe. Sometimes unbelievable numbers of starfishes, and heart urchins (or sea potatoes) end up on the beach. No one knows quite why this happens - it’s possibly linked to breeding behaviour or the effects of storms - but mass strandings are reported to MCS quite regularly. On south and western beaches, you might come across a triggerfish carcass. We’re not sure if Atlantic triggerfish breed in our seas - but they can be found in the same locations each year. They are certainly susceptible to cold, and so die off in numbers in winter. The mysterious common eel Anguilla Anguilla breeds in late winter deep in the Sargasso Sea. The tiny eel offspring returns to UK waters the following winter, looking fragile and transparent. You might one or two tiny ones in pools, or stranded on the beach - the ones that haven’t quite made it to the rivers they were heading for. You may also find By-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella) A bit like a jellyfish with a deep-blue, rectangular float topped with an upright, triangular sail. Usually just the see-through sail is all you’ll find at this time of year - but blueish, living specimens may wash up. Old, wave-washed driftwood is dumped by storm waves, and hangers on may be attached. You’ll find goose barnacles clinging to beached tree trunks and timbers. Shells of all kinds can be dumped on the beach, picked up from deeper water and dumped on the beach seemingly overnight by stormy seas. Look out for beautiful cowries, common whelks and even exotic-looking pelican’s foot shells from deeper water. You never really know what you are going to find - which makes a wildlife walk in the freezing winter weather a real treat! ” “

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