Beachcombing on Alabama’s Shore

I’m a beachcomber. I love to hunt the beaches for treasures. My collection of shells and trinkets is large. I’ve been to beaches on the east coast from Delaware to South Florida. I’ve hunted on the Gulf coast from South Florida to Corpus Christie. I have sea glass, toys, broken oars, nurdles, crab pot floats, surf wax and carnauba wax. I have sea beans and drift seeds of all kinds. Shark teeth, corals, fossils, dried up man o’ war and algae specimens, urchin spines and tests, sea stars and sand dollars. You get the idea.

When I lived in FL, I bought a book by Blair and Dawn Witheringon called Florida’s Living Beaches and promised myself I’d collect or see everything in the book and more. I’m pretty close to it. Some items they have found, I haven’t and visa versa. The book includes two sections on plants and animals which I’ve been checking off as well.

Coastal Cleanup, the annual clean-the-beaches activity, has allowed me to find some cool items as well. Although I’ve picked up mostly trash that gets thrown out, I have been known to set a few things aside for my collection.

Beachingcombing on Alabama’s shores is interesting in that there’s not much here. On my many trips to the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Bon Secour National Beach and Dauphin Island I’ve come up fairly empty handed. Shells are not plentiful here. The reason a beach has a lot of shells is because there is a lot of sea grass nearby.  Sea grass beds are a place for gastropods, echinoderms and others marine creatures to live.  These beds provide both protection from preditors and a food source.  The Alabama coast has very little sea grass.  Dauphin Island, especially the west end, may be an exception for the area, though. I’ve seen an over abundance of hermit crabs there with various shells attached to them, although mostly oyster drills. (This may just be from marsh grass habitats, not sea grass.) Not a collectors jubilee but these moving shells are fascinating to watch and observe. It’s a good idea not to take any of these home. First they are salt water/brackish water creatures and in order to keep them alive you need a salt water or marsh tank. Second, they’ll die before you get home and your car will stink. Best to leave them alone, have a seat in the sand and watch them.

I read on internet sea glass forums that Dauphin Island was “the” place to hunt for sea glass. That must have been written by one person who had a good day, or was delusional. I’ve searched the beach and found nothing more than a few small shells and a few seagull feathers.  My place for seaglass is in Fairhope along the Mobile Bay.  I find mostly brown glass (beer bottle remnants from a day on the boat) but I’ve had days when green is plentiful. 

East of Mobile Bay, the beaches are beautiful but almost shell-less until you get well into Florida. You can find, in small quantities, the small coquina clams and a few tellins, some mussels, ceriths and augers, and venus clams. A friend did tell me that one day Blue Buttons washed ashore, but they are related to Jellyfish (which we have a lot of on our coast) and don’t need sea grass like other creatures do.  More often than not you’ll find jellies, algae of all kinds, mole crabs, drift wood and an occasional tar ball. I’ve never found a washed up toy although I seen many left behind on the beach.  I do have 2 pottery shards from different items.  My guess is they are household remains from a past hurricane.

Once in a while there will be a great find.  Following Hurricane Isaac just this summer, the remains of what some people think is a blockade runner from the Civil War surfaced on the beach in Gulf Shores.  It had appeared slowly from 2 other hurricanes but Isaac moved more sand around revealing more of the boat’s skeleton.  I’ll head to the beach soon to check it out but it’s nothing that I can add to my collection.  Just a memory and a great story.

Beachcombing on Alabama’s shore is not as fun as other beaches I’ve lived on or visited but I keep walking the beach and looking each time I go because you just never know when you’ll find something interesting.  I don’t purposely go to any of the Alabama beaches in search of something (other than R&R and a good tan) and I won’t bet the house that I’ll have a great find, but I’ll have fun.

Beach House Hospitality

If you move around the country a lot, like we do, have you ever noticed that when you live in a “cool” place, people come to visit?

When we lived on Siesta Key, FL, we had a little beach house. It was little, but truly fun to live in and to have friends over to enjoy our little space. We even had friends and family visit that we hadn’t seen in a while.

I wanted to record our visitors in our little beach house but thought the guest book idea was boring. As an obsessed shell collector I got an idea that I put to the test.
After assessing my shells and the ones that were readily available on my beach (in case I needed more), I picked several light-weight but sturdy shells to be my guest book.  This variety included the Southern Surfclam, Buttercup Lucine, and a few Cockles and Prickly Cockles.  I placed a handful of these shells in a low-sitting, wide-mouthed glass bowl along with a mini black sharpie pen (so it wouldn’t show too much among the shells).

Each time a friend, family member, or guest of any kind came to the house, I had them sign a seashell and date it. Some would just put their names, others wrote a message. I specifically chose a shell large enough so that it could fit a message.  My guests loved signing shells.

We moved away in 2009, but because of our guest shells, we have some wonderful memories.

Forests, Trees and the Civil War

What do forests, trees and the Civil War have in common?  They all made headlines in the news this week here in coastal Alabama.

First, most States in America have a Champion Tree or Champion Tree program. A Champion Tree is basically a big tree. There are registries for these trees in participating states and one nationally, which is called the National Register of Big Trees.

In Alabama, a Champion Tree is the largest of its particular species. It can be native or introduced. Baldwin County (my home) boasts the most Champion Trees in the state with 20 but added a new one this week, making it 21.

This new Champion Tree, a longleaf pine, is located in the southern forest of the Lake Forest subdivision. GPS coordinates and other location data are not being released.

Another exciting story is the underwater forest found in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere off the coast of Ft. Morgan, in Baldwin County, at the mouth of the Mobile Bay.  This underwater forest contains cypress tree stumps now covered with sea creatures. It apparently was hiddened under the sand and over time, storms and hurricanes have shifted the sand leaving a glimps of what was once a forest. There is speculation that the land of Alabama jutted much further into the Gulf and there must have been swampland in that area as cypress trees cannot grow in salt water.  Unfortunately for divers and fisherman, the GPS coordinates for this area are being held a secret.

And finally the remains of what may have once been a blockade runner in the Civil War was uncovered on the beach by Hurricane Isaac this week. I hope to get down to the beach this week to see it and get my own photos. It’s sitting on a private beach in Gulf Shores between two beach homes and the surf. I wonder how the residents feel about it being there. If the homes are purely rentals, will the boat remains increase or decrease booking for those homes? Will the next hurricane cover it back up or will some historical society “rescue” it from the sand and preserve it in some museum? Regardless, I’d like to see it and witness the size of it first hand.