Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

On the beach at Fermoyle on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, the sea sifts and sorts the sand grains into different weights and colours to arrange in sinuous ripple patterns across the shore. The red particles from nearby outcrops of Devonian rock make contrasting curved lines along the receding water’s edge. At low tide level, the wet sand has been punctured hundreds of thousands of times by the beaks of shore birds both large and small. I have never noticed that before. There must be something about the texture of the sediment there that preserves the shape of the bills when they are withdrawn from the spot during feeding activities. It is plain that this particular place must have a very rich in-fauna of small seashore creatures like crustaceans, worms, and maybe molluscs.

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Coloured ripple patterns in the sand at Fermoyle

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

Bird beak marks in the wet sand at Fermoyle beach

13 Replies to “Traces in the Sand at Fermoyle”

  1. You could test to see if these holes are left by mollusks burying themselves in the sand when the tide goes out: just dig down into one of the holes and see if you feel something that you can bring up. I would never have thought of this, but my husband did when we saw similar holes in Sarasota (Florida) Bay, and voilà.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Linda. I have often observed bivalve and gastropod molluscs in, or emerging from, burrows on sandy beaches – so I am familiar with that kind of hole. I remember well the occasion when I dug up a razor fish (clam) when on a field trip to Galway in Ireland as a student a lifetime ago. I proudly showed the specimen to the Professor and he promptly took out a pen knife, opened the shell, and ate the razor fish! Marine worms, small crabs and sea urchins also bury in beach sediments and have recognisable exit holes. However, the holes illustrated here from Fermoyle beach were definitely made by birds’ beaks even though I am not able to identify the species responsible.

  3. Only the larger worms leave casts. There are smaller species that just wriggle through the wet sediments. In fact, the wet sand could be home to many different kinds of invertebrates. There is a really useful little book called “Animals of sandy shores” by Peter J. Hayward (Naturalists’ Handbooks 21, Richmond Publishing, England, 1994, ISBN 0 85546 293 0) that gives an idea of the wealth of small organisms that inhabit the sand – usually requiring a hand lens or microscope to identify. Strangely enough, although I would normally think that shellfish were the most likely food item for the birds, there were no shells on the beach at all – not even regurgitated ones like you find all over Rhossili beach from gulls feeding. I call them ‘gulls gobbets’. The birds bring up the broken shells after they have been feeding and you often find bits of plastic in them as well. My bet would be that the birds at Fermoyle were eating soft bodied invertebrates and small crustaceans like sand hoppers.

  4. Oops. I stand corrected. That’s funny about your professor eating the razor fish. I always tell people not to give my botanist husband a flower to identify. He’ll tear it right open to find out what it is.

  5. I am sure that there are bird experts who could firmly identify the birds that left the holes in the sand. If I would hazard a guess, I would say that the larger ones could be made by a bird like an oystercatcher. In Jonathan Elphick’s wonderful little book Birds – a guide book to British Birds (BBC Books, 1997, ISBN 0 563 36954 x) – I learn that oystercatchers have a stout bill that is flattened from side to side. This tallies with the shape of the holes which are almost square in cross-section. I also learn that the shape of the tip of the bill varies according to the preferred food type – those that feed on shellfish have chisel-tipped bills to extract the meat of mussels and cockles by hammering and stabbing at the shells; while those that pull marine worms out of sand or mud by probing have pointed bills.
    The smaller beak marks in the sand could belong to one of the smaller birds about the size of dunlins which rush around, probing into the sediments with rapid “sewing-machine” action before running rapidly to the next feeding area. It is just a guess on my part because I know little about birds.

  6. Yes, it must have been something about the composition of the sand that preserved the beak holes. I feel sure that it is not such an unusual phenomenon. Maybe I have seen it before but just not noticed it, if you know what I mean.

  7. Thank you, RH. I am glad I was on the right track. Yes, the beak holes do look like craters with their raised edges – but I didn’t see any buttons – didn’t the Clangers live on Button Moon?

  8. No, Button Moon was a different moon completely. Dramatis personae included Mr & Mrs Spoon and daughter Tina Tea-spoon. And there was no Soup Dragon, that was the Clangers…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: