Day Three there was no time for a morning beach walk. I got the family up early and we drove two hours to Orlando and Universal Studios. But on Day Four, my feet still sore from a day at the park, I was back on the beach before dawn.
Today the incoming tide is filling tidal pools as I watch. I head north on the beach for the first time and spend most of the morning studying the sand.
The sand is endlessly fascinating to me. A group of sandpipers (willets, I think) probe the sand ahead of me, digging out mole crabs and coquina clams. They try to stay ahead of me and yet keep eating at the same time. I slow down so that they’re not so bothered by my presence. You can just barely make them out in this picture.
I examine the sand up close to see what is so holding the birds’ attention. In one tide pool I see a tiny crab, probably a juvenile speckled crab. He scoots across the sand, then digs himself in. I scoop up the sand and hold him in my palm for a moment, but he escapes me and digs in deeper before I can get a picture.
As I dig in pursuit I disturb numerous mole crabs. The sand is alive with these tiny creatures, more here now than I think I’ve ever seen before. They are decapods, related to all the crabs, shrimp, and lobsters we devour in the finest restaurants.
The mole crabs themselves must be tasty. I see several empty mole crab shells floating in the tide pools; a little bit of early-morning protein for someone.
Mole crabs run across the wet sand backwards, usually moving in a frantic arc until they decide it’s time to burrow. Then their back end disappears into the sand, leaving only their mouthparts at the surface to grab little bits of food from the water.
Also in the sand are multitudes of coquina clams. These live in multicolored shells the size of a fingernail and the shape of a lopsided burrito. If you scoop up a handful of sand and then lay it down at the top of the swash zone, you’ll see these little mollusks turn their shells to the sand and burrow in. They’re quite persistent, taking advantage of any lull in the wave action to bury themselves.
Like the mole crabs, the clams go in rear first, leaving their tops just at the sand line so as to filter water for tiny bits of food. Coquinas are another indicator species, so their abundance on the beach makes me feel good about its health. Besides that, they’re fascinating to watch.
In one tidepool I spot a perfect heart cockle shell. It’s the one bivalve shell I can now identify on sight. I take a picture, but leave the shell for another beachcomber to find. I already have one.
I see a pair of already-marked sea turtle nests up by the dunes and head up the beach to investigate. The first is nest #15, built on June 4. The second is a lovely nest, built on a little rise in the sand. It’s nest #49, built just a week ago on June 12. I sit by this nest for a while and think about the young turtles developing just below that blanket of sand. I think about the world they’ll enter. I wonder if maybe two decades from now I’ll encounter one of these turtles as she returns to this very beach to build her own first nest. Her destiny is to one day return here. I hope that it is mine, as well.