Species Feature: Coquina Clam

I have an odd ritual when I go to the beach. Once I drop my things, I make a beeline to the surf’s edge and stalk up and down the shoreline, hands on my hips, frowning down at the sand. Eventually, I’ll stop, bend forward, and snatch down with both hands, then examine my captured clump of shoreline.

If you guess that I’m shell hunting, you’re partially in the right. It’s not empty, abandoned shells that I look for, though. It’s live coquina clams.

When I was in elementary school, my uncle first clued me into the fact that there are more reasons to dig at the beach than just sandcastle construction. My family came down to visit him and my grandparents on the Florida Gulf Coast and–of course–went to the beach. I was hoarding fistfuls of washed-up shells and showing them off to the adults of the bunch. My uncle indulged my excitement and poked through my finds, noticing that I’d chosen several dainty shells composed of two pieces and still joined in the middle. When the two sides were splayed out fully, I thought they looked like tiny angel wings.

“Want to see something cool?” he said. I was certainly not going to pass on that opportunity. He waited for a wave to recede, then dug his hand into the sand and flipped over a scoop of it. My jaw dropped. A new wave passed over the upended pile and a half-dozen shining, gem-like creatures scooted back down into the sand: variable coquinas. Continue reading


The Salamander Switch-Up

If you measure the success of a week at nature camp by the number of times kids shout in excitement about reptiles and amphibians, last week was a pretty good one:

“I found a skink!”

“Come and see this newt!”

“There’s a salamander over here!”


 If you consider accuracy, though? Far less successful; we went zero for three. We did see both skinks and salamanders, but the kids were confused about which was which. These creatures do have a lot in common, but each is awesome in its own way. Continue reading

Species Feature: Carolina Wren

When I moved into my summer housing, I noticed right away that the burnt-out lighting sconce by the entryway was stuffed full of debris–leaves, pine needles, twigs. I wondered if some bird had nested there, long ago. When I walked up to the house earlier this evening, though, a bird rocketed out of the alcove and right over my head.

Aha! Not an old nest, then, but a current one! I dragged a chair out to climb up and investigate, but the nest was too high for me to reach, even then. I went out to the porch to restrategize and found a visitor perched on the railing, watching me: a Carolina wren, with a bill full of nesticropped-carolina-wren-209621_960_720.jpgng materials. Upon seeing a human blocking its path, it retreated hastily to a skinny tree opposite the gravel walkway, where it observed until it decided I wasn’t so scary after all and began working on the nest again.

Continue reading