A Place of Spiral Stairs and Pelican’s Feet

Thursday would be my last day of the field trip.  A very special event would be taking place in Welwyn Garden City the following day, a day of homage to a time of my life and the characters who populated that era.

I had hoped to stay at Bryn Engan in order to work my samples and get as much processing and curation achieved as I could.  But this was the day for boatwork; Bas, Simon and Nick would be joining a local skipper to carry out some grab sampling offshore.  So I agreed to ‘lead’ the planned excursion to Shell Island, at Mochras.

In retrospect this place is a bit of a misnomer.   enhancedshellislandinternet2Agreed there are plenty of shells to be had but the site is sprawling and it is not clear just where the island of shells is.  I wish that I had looked at a more detailed map beforehand, and an aerial shot or two.  More correctly it is a peninsula access to which is made possible via a causeway across the River Artro estuary when the tide is out.

We paid our dues to the owner of the campsite there and then parked our cars but I think we did not find the most propitious carpark for our purposes.  We clambered down the dunes to arrive at a fairly bleak sandy shore, with a boulder bed immediately adjacent and sands stretching away to the south.  ShoreMochrasEschewing the high strandline I walked down to the water’s edge and proceeded to track that line south as the tide ebbed.  I found very little of anything.  Perhaps most notable were the darkly orange valves of Callista.   PelicansFootInternet After speaking to a dog-walker I discovered that I was right off track, Shell Island was to the north by the headland I could see, where I would find ‘thousands’.  Arriving at this point I met Terry and Sonia, and later, just as we were leaving, Paula.  They had been picking their way over a thick line of shells at the top of the shore.  These were dominantly cockles and common intertidal gastropod species but Terry had some 36 species including Aporrhais pes-pelicani  Internetepitonium_wentletrap_species_08-06-12_1and Paula was able to find two species of Epitonium (wentletrap).  These two shells are beautiful in their own right but are also blessed with elegant and descriptive common names.  It is evident why the Pelican’s Foot shell should be so named, but the common name for the slender turriform shell of the Wentletrap, most like a steeple in shape, is more obscure.  The name derives from the Dutch Wenteltrap, or indeed the German Wendeltreppe, a spiral staircase.

In the absence of rough weather for some weeks, and given that we were at the end of the summer season when numerous holidaymakers would have trampled the shore we were picking over dregs.  Tom Clifton had previously mentioned finding Trivia shells washed up in their thousands on strandlines.

Looking back in my field notebooks I see that I made a field visit to Mochras when I was in the area on a geology field trip in April 1991.  Unfortunately the habit I developed later of writing notes of the site, where I searched, how I sampled etc had not then kicked in.  However I have a long list of species, many of which are recorded as having been seen alive.  I suspect I carried out a weedwashing exercise for microspecies, I evidently searched the saltmarsh area as I recorded Limapontia depressa, Retusa obtusa and Hydrobia ulvae and I found fourteen infaunal clam species alive.  Maybe I found a good place of deposition where fresh shells were washed in and dumped by the tide.  What is interesting though is that I did not see Trivia or Epitonium 🙂 



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