I wiped away the weeds & foam. / I fetched my sea-born treasures home... Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Footprints in the Sand

Hi! Be advised, this is one of my very Nature Girl-Nerd posts, lol.

foggy footprints

Remember last week when I was upset because the sand-smoother bulldozers covered the entrance to Ratty's den? Usually, what is the smooth white inner sand in the picture below, is a wild wetland area or vernal pond called a "swale", filled with scrubby grass and weeds, home to birds and amphibians...and Ratty. Far beyoned in the distance is the open ocean, to the south-south-west. Many miles away, just to the right a few degrees is, for example, Sandy Hook Light, in New Jeresy.

 Well, it seems Ratty has moved!

Ratty is a marsh muskrat or possibly a nutria. I'm a little ambivalent about his presence in my dunes...Ratty is kind of like if your kid is the fat obnoxious bully on the middle school playground---It's your ugly pimply kid so you love him anyway. (Just for the record, my kids are always gorgeous and well-behaved! Really!) Point is, muskrats are indigenous herbivores: they are hardworking and shy;  they do not carry germs or bite people; their diet is vegetarian, grassy roots mostly, including the invasive water hyacinth. BUT they look like huge fat subway rats, Norway rats I think? Bigger than a tomcat, eeew.

But Ratty is unique and interesting and I enjoy his presence since he washed ashore last year.
Imagine my pleasure when I found his new burrow and many footprints in the outer swale closest to the beach!

The tracks ran round and round, out to the swale entrance, back to the phragmites (beach grass reeds), over and over. Frantic. I worry but try to think it was the full moon---he was dancing under the stars? hoping a girl Ratty would find him?

Then there is that first little piping plover who arrived early. I often locate the shorebirds' nests by following their tiny footprints over the sand. They seem to prefer to scurry along, rarely do they actually fly.

Here are his nest tryouts! See the hollows he has formed in the sand?

This spot is within a foot or two of the spot where a piping plover pair nested last year and the year before. Can we assume it is the same one[s]? A sandy hollow is the only nest they build, the soft sand is warm and cradles their small spotted eggs.

And these tiny bird footprints, below,--so very many!---are from the sanderlings, our ubiquitous little Arctic nesting sandpiper.

They gather here in flocks numbering in the thousands, fattening up for their final trip to the tundra north in May. This week's very high tides must have forced them up onto the higher sand here to sleep. Usually they remain as close to the water as psssible. The photo shows the large flock in flight, also my first pix shows more.

If a beachcomber is patient, observing footprints in the sand can tell them a lot! I've discovered tiny newborn turtles, spade-foot toads, rabbits and raccoons....If you don't have sand, watch the muddy spots in your yard. Or next winter, keep your eye out for tracks in the snow. If you have a science-minded child around, they can have fun identifying animal tracks using a simple nature guide, like those from Acorn Naturalists.

enjoy your world!


  ~~~~~~~gone to the beach