Winkles & razorbills at Ringstead in February

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Shingle beaches are fundamentally inhospitable habitats for plants and animals. The wide range of sediments from coarse sand to cobble size, together with the potentially constant shifting and movement of all the components, means that few organisms can maintain a permanent hold – at least on the lower part of the shore that is subject to tides and wave action. Both fauna and flora are likely to get crushed or uprooted although microscopic organisms may survive.

Some animals can wander onto the shingle beach from adjacent areas such as rocky outcrops. Plants can colonise the upper shore where the substratum is less disturbed; but the most frequently observed finds in this type of habitat have been washed up by the sea.

Larger animals like birds and fish can be stranded or deposited on the tideline. Unfortunately, the majority of these will be dead or dying. An injured creature would be helplessly battered by the surf and stones. Most frequently injury will be due to natural causes but sometimes it results from human activities.

Probably the only positive thing to say about these sad corpses is that they offer an opportunity to the ordinary beach-combing shore-walker to see close-up how beautiful these animals are; and to appreciate all the more how lucky we are to live in a world surrounded by such wonderful creatures – most of which we would not see or know about.

The razorbill seabird shown below was washed up at Ringstead Bay in Dorset. How fantastic is that beak? Not as colourful as the bill of the fulmar that appeared in a previous post and page but nevertheless quite remarkable. The broad white stripe that crosses both parts of the bill, and the narrower white streak that goes at right angles to this from the beak to the head, are characteristic of the species.

When evidence of other smaller living seashore creatures is absent or scarce, you can still usually find the common winkle. Winkles do not like the shingle but prefer to live where there is either seaweed (macroalgae) or a fine algal film over the surface. This is usually on larger rocks but can also be found on muddy shores.

The winkle shown at the top of this post was photographed on a rocky outcrop at the base of White Nothe at the eastern end of Ringstead Bay. If you only know of winkles from seaside shellfish stalls or the fishmongers slab, you might be surprised to see that the shells can be quite colourful and stripey. In fact, even the flesh of the common winkle is covered in black and white stripes.

You can also click on the following links to the Marine Life Information Network run by the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom:




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