After a panettone and lemon curd tartine for breakfast I repair to the lab to carry on working on the material I have brought with me. This consists of shells I have been sent for identification by others, such as Steve Trewhella, and can now label to integrate into my collection. It is deeply satisfying to tie up loose ends which have straggled across my desk for so long. I show Neolepton sulcatulum to Simon and other specimens to folk to resolve identification queries. We make a lunch at the ranch then head off for Bangor. We are going to work in the Menai Strait.
The Menai Strait is a narrow stretch of shallow tidal water about 25 km (16 mi) long, which separates the island of Anglesey from the mainland of Wales. It has been the focus of attention for marine biological studies from groups such as the Conchological Society of Great Britain & Ireland and more importantly it has provided a perfect base for Marine Biology undergraduate and postgraduate courses taught from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University. The differential tides at the two ends of the Strait cause very strong currents to flow in both directions through the Strait at different times, creating dangerous conditions. One of the most dangerous areas of the strait is known as the Swellies between the two bridges. Here rocks near the surface cause over-falls and local whirlpools, which can be of considerable danger in themselves and cause small boats to founder on the rocks. This area between the two bridges is also a rewarding and productive area to work when surveying for marine life. Whilst some of the group decided to work the shore underneath Menai Bridge, others of us parked conveniently for Church Island around which an interesting shore is exposed at low tide. You cross a permanent causeway to the small island on which St Tsilio’s Church with its graveyard is situated. Here Tysilio founded a hermitage in 630AD and the old buildings are long gone, the current church dating to the 15th century. There is a belief that Tysilio is the same person as St. Suliac who set up a religious centre in Brittany. Before accessing the more open marine shore we spent a little time investigating the splash zone of the saltmarsh area, searching beneath plants of Halimione portulacoides for pulmonate snails. We found Myosotella and Auriculinella under embedded slabs on mud which is clean of roots. We found what we were looking for, inviting the attentions, as always, of passers-by who cannot resist asking us what we are looking for.
With the passing of years I find muddy sediments and blankets of fucoids ever more treacherous. Fortunately at Church Island there were more stable patches of pebbly gravels to tread on but once you get to the water’s edge and with the tide ebbing to the kelp zone the risk of slipping is high. But not this time.
I worked amongst rollable boulders finding good coverage of colonial growth and some interesting associated molluscs: both species of Trivia, Lamellaria perspicua, Berthella plumula and Peter found a Sea Lemon. A heron came to observe. We were joined by Tom Clifton who lives nearby at Rhianfa, what a pleasure to see him again and looking well. He is going to come to Traeth Crugan and may bring his axe and bow saw for a diverting foray for beached timber.
My overall species list was unremarkable but at low water and as the tide turned I enjoyed a molluscan experience which took me back many years to a similar occasion at Strollamus on the Isle of Skye. Laying on the gravels and byssally attached in places there were juvenile specimens of Pecten maximus measuring about 2cm from umbo to ventral margin. These beguiling little scallops were just beginning to show their ribbed sculpture; there is a stage when the little shells are smooth and belie their adult form. On Skye the baby scallops were Aequipecten opercularis a more colourful species and their bright pink, orange and yellow shells, surprisingly camouflaged amongst the gravel and pebbles on the shore, immediately became visible when they fluttered to meet the incoming tide.
The drive back to Bryn Engan took the best part of 45 minutes and, not being on kitchen duty, I was able to sort my material and make a few notes about the day’s activity. We enjoyed Rosemary’s pheasant casserole for supper followed by one of Waitrose’s superior desserts, a Lemon Meringue Pie. There is just time after to my scrubbings and weeds on soak, then crash with a ancient John Le Carre that I have found on the bookshelves.