Hill End to Spaniard Rocks & Back: Step-by-Step Part 5

The next stage of the walk from Hill End to Spaniard rocks saw an even greater reduction in the numbers of washed up starfish, and correspondingly greater concentrations of seashells in the strandlines, mostly empty shells of the bivalve Pharus legumen. The fine black detritus arranged itself in elaborate patterns mostly to do with the drainage of water back down the beach.

The sample of the fine dark particles that I took at the time, turns out to have a very interesting composition now I have had a chance to examine it under magnification back home. There is a fair proportion of small dark decaying wood fragments but most of the black material is composed of minute shiny hard  particles of coal (what you might call coal dust). The coal is not difficult to account for since coal mining and its export from nearby docks was a major industry in the past. There are many ways the coal could have been accidentally deposited in the sea. Together with the coal dust there are various seeds that I am not able to identify and, most surprisingly of all, what seem to be myriads of delicate fish bones. In fact, so many small threadlike rib bones that the dried sample seemed to have a fibrous texture. Amazing.

Hill End to Spaniard Rocks & Back: Step-by-Step Part 4

As I walked further along the beach from Hill End to Spaniard Rocks, I realised that there were maybe four or five strandlines lying parallel to each other and to the water line. Each line of mainly organic debris was slightly different in its constituents. Similarly, there were changes in the make up and proportions of the animal and plant debris in the strandlines in a linear way as I walked from south to north along the shore. The starfish became less numerous and the numbers of bivalve molluscs and their shells increased,

Most noticeable was the way in which the darker particle component of the strandlines became separated out on the up-shore side of the lines, and formed patterns contrasting with the yellow sand on which it lay. Sometimes there were branching lines of clear spaces, like rivulets running through the black stuff. Sometimes, the black pieces followed and echoed the shallow ripple marks in the sand – either as parallel lines or cross-hatching designs full of beautiful natural abstract compositions. In other places, small obstacles such as seashells had formed little dams to impede the flow of lighter, darker, material as the water that carried it swashed and backwashed over the beach, and this had created distinctive patterns as the water flowed around the barriers.

I was curious about what made up the fine black material responsible for the patterns. I took some samples to look at under the microscope when I got home.

Hill End to Spaniard Rocks & Back: Step-by-Step Part 3

The sky became bluer and the vast expanse of low tide sand seemed superficially at least to be featureless – but peering into the distance, towards Burry Holms, there was an unexpected dark line. Viewed through the zoom, it turned out to be something interesting on which dozens of young gulls and a few crows were having a great feast.

During the early hours of the morning the sea had brought in a sad harvest of seashore creatures now lying dead or dying on a bed of broken plant stems and fragments of blackened driftwood. Most of the animals were common starfishes (Asterias rubens) but rayed trough shells (Mactra stultorum), the elongated Pharus legumen, common whelks (Buccinum undatum), and the occasional masked crab (Corystes cassivelaunus) were also present. What had caused this mass stranding event I do not know but it happens every now and again. I have photographed similar multiple deaths on this beach before.

You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format

Objects on Whiteford beach

Beach stones at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (1)

The wind-swept expanse of Whiteford Sands in Gower, South Wales, is the final resting place of many interesting objects that include beach stones, seashells, seashore creatures and driftwood. Here are some pictures of just a few of them that I recorded on recent trips.

Whelk seashell (Buccinum undatun Linnaeus) on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (2)

Flotsam trainer shoe with writing on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (3)

Jellyfish (Rhizostoma octopus Linnaeus) washed ashore at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (4)

Mussel shells (Mytilus edulis Linnaeus) on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (5)

Driftwood on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (6)

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Sand ripple patterns at Whiteford

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (1)

The natural patterns of ripples in the sand on the beach always fascinate me. Here is a selection that I photographed at Whiteford Sands in Gower recently. They had all formed on the expanding sand bank at the western end of the beach – which is also where I captured the strange serpentine ripples a few years ago.

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (2)

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (3)

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (4)

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (5)

Patterns in nature: Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (6)

Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (7)

Sand ripple pattern at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (8)

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Footprints in the sand

Footprint in the sand: Bare footprint in damp soft sand - one of many left at the end of a hot sunny day on Rhossili Beach, Gower, South Wales, UK (1)

At the end of a long hot sunny day almost the only thing left on Rhossili Beach are the footprints of all the visitors. Large ones and small ones. Bare feet and shod. Clear impressions in deep, soft, damp sand, with ripple patterns left by the sea. Fuzzy prints left in dry, powdery sand with ripple patterns left by the wind. The low-angled light of the setting sun throws the footprints into sharp relief by casting deep shadows and creating highlighting glints on these remains of the day.

Footprints on the beach with sand ripples: Bare footprints in soft damp sea-rippled sand - some of multitudes of prints highlighted by the setting sun at the end of a hot day on Rhossili Beach, Gower, South Wales, UK (2)

Footprint in dry beach sand with ripples and sand-hopper holes: Footprint in dry wind--rippled sand - one of many prints highlighted by the setting sun at the end of the day on Rhossili Beach, Gower, South Wales, UK (3)

Lonely trail: Bare footprints in damp sand on the beach at sunset. Rhossili, Gower, south Wales, UK (4)

Sunset shadows emphasiing a footprint in the sand: Deep perfectly formed bare footprint in damp sand on the beach at sunset. Rhossili, Gower, South Wales, UK (5)

The remains of the day on the beach: Footprints with wind-rippled dry sand and depressions left by sandhoppers emerging from burial to forage at the end of a hot day at Rhossili, Gower, South Wales, UK (6)

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Orange flotsam

Orange flotsam: A child's orange plastic seaside bucket with pictures of fish washed ashore on the beach as flotsam (1)

Orange flotsam: A child's orange plastic seaside bucket on the beach as flotsam (1a)

Gower flotsam: Detail of orange mono-filament nylon fishing net washed ashore as flotsam (2)

Orange flotsam; Orange mono-filament nylon fishing net washed ashore as flotsam on the sandy beach at Rhossili (2a)

Gower flotsam: Orange plastic wheel washed ashore onto the pebble strandline as flotsam (3)

Orange flotsam: Context shot of an orange plastic wheel washed ashore onto the pebble strandline as flotsam (3a)

Gower flotsam: Orange coloured wood in cut section of a piece of driftwood washed ashore onto a sandy beach as flotsam (4)

Orange flotsam: Close-up detail of the orange coloured woodgrain in the cut cross-section of a piece of driftwood washed ashore as flotsam (4a)

Gower flotsam: Orange-bristled deck brush washed ashore as flotsam onto the pebble beach strandline (5)

Orange flotsam: Close-up of a deck brush with green plastic base and orange-bristles washed ashore as flotsam onto the pebble beach strandline with seaweed (5a)

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2011

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