Puget Sound has abundant beaches, providing place to explore wilderness in the midst of the city. Back in my previous life (before Kids) I worked as a park ranger for the Edmonds Parks Department. One of my duties was to lead beach walks for groups of school kids and the general public, and provide education to visitors of the town’s three marine sanctuaries. That was my first look at the marine life of the metropolis where I’d already lived for several years. I had no idea we had such rich intertidal life right in our backyard!
Now we make it a point to head down to the beaches on our spring low tide days to see what kind of life the receding waters leave behind. We lucked out with the weather today – I think it got close to 70 degrees, though the breeze at the beach was still a bit chilly. Some friends joined us, too, and it made for a really fun outing. I got to teach again, explore with childlike wonder, and we saw some unique and elusive critters. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
We saw many crabs and crab molts – rock crabs, Dungeness, kelp, helmet, decorator. Annika was kind of freaked out by all the crabs. Poor kid. I’ve never seen so many sunflower sea stars before. They were everywhere, all sizes, including babies! We also saw lots of six-rayed sea stars, ochres, and mottled sea stars. The two sea slugs above were quite a find – I think I might have only seen each of those once in all the years I’ve been visiting our beaches. I also saw my favorites, the opalescent nudibranch. It feels strange to swoon over a sea slug, but you can’t help who you love, I guess. A sea lemon (another kind of nudibranch) also made an appearance.
We saw a bald eagle on one of the pilings when we arrived, and an osprey flew over in the afternoon. We watched a seagull pick up and drop a clam shell on the rocks so he could break it open and eat it. The sun had a sun dog around it, and there was also a strange mirage thing happening out on the water. Looked like land where there wasn’t any. We also saw a keyhole limpet, all kinds of clams, various colors and textures of seaweed, sponges, eelgrass, eggs of different creatures, teeny fishes, tube worms, and probably other things I’ve forgotten.
It was a good day to be on the water, and so interesting to see what things we get to see each time. Every beach walk is a unique experience. You never know what you’re going to get.
Some of the resources we use to identify what we see are the following:
The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest by J. Duane Sept
Marine Wildlife From Puget Sound Through the Inside Passage by Steve Yates
Common Intertidal Invertebrates of the Salish Sea; a set of laminated cards with color photos, from Periwinkle Press
I also just came across a fabulous blog that helped me identify some of the eggs I’ve found on the beach: Buzz’s Marine Life of Puget Sound. (Though the first post on there at the moment has some crude language and you might want to scoot beyond that before letting your kids loose on the site.)
Also, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, there is a Ranger Station that is staffed on weekends. Pop in to talk with a volunteer or ranger, see some critters in the saltwater tank, and learn about the area’s beaches and intertidal life.
Edited to add: I’ve put up another post about beach walk etiquette, tips and places to go.