Often times when I arrive at a beach I find myself staring at the ocean. The kids start digging in the sand or jumping in the water. This summer our family set out on our vacation to not only enjoy the ocean playground but to explore all of its nature offerings! We grabbed our copy of National Audubon Society Regional Guide to New England (National Audubon Society Regional Field Guides) and embarked on a nature scavenger hunt. If you are not in New England, you can find a National Audubon guide for just about any location in the U.S. With guidebook in hand we set out and found amazing discoveries. Because the beach lies between the ocean and the land, it provides a great opportunity for nature findings. Be on the lookout for:
- Beach Plants
- Seaweed: Seaweeds are greatest abundance in rocky areas between high tide and low tide as well as floating after a storm or even washed up on shore. Green seaweed populations fluctuate with the seasons. Refer to your guidebook for species and identification.
- Grasses: Tidal marshes are some of the most productive biological systems in the world. Salt Meadow Cordgrass and Amulet Spikegrass grow in areas less frequently inundated by saltwater, typically closer to dry land. Sea lavender, Salt Marsh Aster, Seaside Gerardia, and some species of Glasswort can often be found and are beautiful to look at.
- Cattail marshes: In areas where salt water is more diluted with freshwater from rivers. Cattail marshes replace salt marshes. Various types of grasses, including wild rice, and sedges, including bulrushes, are found here.
- Eelgrass meadows: Eelgrass is typically found in protected bays, coves and other areas of brackish water. Sea Rocket and Dune Grass occur here, but not in abundance. Dune Grass and plants that thrive on dunes are largely responsible for the creation and growth of the dunes. On the seaward side of dunes can be found Beach Pea, Dusty Miller, and Seaside Goldenrod. Other beach plants to identify include Orache, Beach Clotbur, Seaside Spurge, and Jimson weed.
- Fish If you are able to go fishing the ocean provides an endless abundance. Fishing from the shore and spotting fish that swim along the coast is just as exciting as taking a boat out. Mollusks are perhaps the most fun to explore! Grab a pail and set out for an adventure. Mollusks to look for include periwinkle, blue mussel (a popular, edible species), Eastern oyster, Atlantic slipper shell, hard clam (also known as the quahog, little neck clam or cherrystone clam), Atlantic bay scallop, mud snail, Blue Mussel and salt marsh snail.
- Crustacea:Crustaceans include crabs, shrimp and lobsters. Green crabs are common crab found on the shore, where it feeds on Eastern oysters and soft-shell clams). We like to catch these crabs and release them. They are fun to catch and interesting to examine. Blue crabs, red crabs, and Jonah crabs are found in deep water areas. Other crabs found include the lady crab, spider crabs, and fiddler crabs; hermit crabs and mole crabs. My son recently participated in a hermit crab race. Not sure how we felt about this as we spent the rest of our vacation trying to explain to him that although they sell these crabs as pets, we do not have the proper habitat to provide the crab a happy home. The sand shrimp Crangon and two species of grass shrimp are plentiful along the shore, especially in late summer and fall. The American lobster is fished commercially and is found in deeper waters.
- Birds: Birds are my favorite and I was so thrilled to see a female red-winged black bird on the beach this year!! Birds use open water areas, tidal marshes, mudflats, sandy beaches, offshore islands and mainland uplands to habitat. Some birds come for just a season while others stay throughout the year. Coastal migrants (also called "transients") are interesting to note and identify and summertime is the perfect time!
- Farmers Markets provide a great opportunity to buy locally grown foods and products. Many farmers markets also provide great entertainment for the whole family by featuring local artists, musicians and story tellers. If visiting New England check out our wonderful Farmers Markets!
- With comfortable evenings and often clear skies, summertime provides the perfect opportunity to brush up on your astronomy. Visit astronomy.com for daily reports on what to observe each evening. The other morning while watching the news I learned about a new planetary nebula found by an amateur astronomer! Great stuff!
- What summer is complete without catching a few lighting bugs to light up the evening? This year we took a firefly class at our local Audubon sanctuary. There has been talk of lighting bugs being on the verge of a rebound. In 2008, the Museum of Science in Boston launched a project to track lightning bus and have counters. The past ten years has brought about a decline in fireflies and now scientist are saying that there could be resurgence in the numbers! Read more about amazing fireflies!
- The skills needed to kayak can be learned in a day and being out in the water affords the most amazing way to view wildlife in its natural habitat. Since there is no motor needed to ride in a kayak, you have a far greater chance to view wildlife without disturbing their habitat. My favorite part about being on a kayak is the quiet opportunity to view nature. If you are planning a visit to New England and want to explore on a kayak, check out Boston.com's 10 Greatest Places to Kayak in New England.
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