As we head into Autumn and the time comes when creepy crawlies, ghouls and ghosts fill the supermarket shelves ready for Halloween why not don your woollies and head to the beach to look for some of the sea’s grisly treasures…
One of the strangest (and smelliest!) is that of the washed up remnants of a dead man’s finger, a rather fitting and a natural counterpart to the man-made novelty Halloween item. Dead men’s fingers are not as grisly as they may sound although if you find them on the beach it becomes very clear how they got their name. Once washed up dead on the beach their pale fleshy lobes can have the washed out appearance of the bloated hand of a human. If wet they are spongy to touch and they appear porous, just like the outer skin of an orange..
Other strange creatures littering the shoreline as Autumn storms start churning up the seabed include the alien looking sea mouse. Sea mice are not mice, nor are they related to mice, it is actually a worm that looks more like a mouse than a worm. A sea mouse is covered in felt-like fur and dark sturdy bristles lay within what can only be described as a beautiful golden blue green iridescent fringe. At first glance this fringe may appear reddish but with light shining on it at a certain angle this iridescence gleams. Scientists have long studied this animal in the hope of copying its high-tech photonic capabilities.
Our coast is also a hive of autumnal activity for millions upon millions of wildfowl and wader species which have left the tundra wastes of the Arctic to jostle for space on our coastal mudflats. The best time to go watching for waders is as high tide approaches when they are forced off the mudflats in their thousands to take refuge in nearby roosting sites.
Identifying wildfowl and waders may not be so easy but a good indicator of species is the size and shape of their beak which have evolved to suit the type of prey they eat. Because of this many species can co-exist together without competing for the same food. For example, Curlews with their long curved beaks probe deep into the mud to catch prey such as lugworms whereas Dunlin with its shorter beak may feed on small crustacean living towards the surface of the mud. Many also have long legs allowing them to forage in wet mud and shallow water, whilst many have long toes helping them with balance. Wildfowl, such as Shelduck, do not have long beaks and therefore tend to skim their food from the surface.
If you are heading out do makes sure that you keep safe, mudflats can be very dangerous, know what the tide is doing and make sure you don’t get cut off from the shore and be careful not to get stuck in sinking mud.
In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.