River of Sand


October 14 brought the first fall storm to the outer shores. The marine forecast, which called for south winds 25 – 30 KT with gusts to 35 KT, was accurate, and this mixed flock of western and California gulls was hunkered down and hesitant to fly as I approached. I had hoped to be patrolling the wrack line in search of beach hoppers, like Megalorchestia californiana, but the strong winds and blowing sand prevented that. Beach hoppers are fascinating and beautiful inhabitants of the outer shores. They are detritivores (they eat the wrack) and are prey for many birds, fishes and other predators of the sandy beaches.  By day they hide in the wrack. Since I couldn’t find any, I checked out Ingrid Taylar’s wonderful photos and story about California beach hoppers on the Mendocino coast, California.


My quest for beach hoppers was foiled because the whole beach, from the mirror to the wrack line, was a river of blowing sand.  My waders were coated with it. When I took the photo above, it was all I could do to brace myself against the stiff breeze.


We don’t really think about it much but beach sand is constantly on the move. Wind, waves and alongshore current move vast amounts of sand. I illustrate this phenomenon with two photographs taken eight months apart. The photo above shows one of my favorite rocks. I wrote about it in my post, Island in the Sand. The photo was taken on February 12, 2012, after months of strong winter storms scoured the beaches.

The photo below was taken October 14, 2912, after the relative calm of summer, and months of sand accumulation. Thus, the beach is not as stable as it sometimes seems. It’s a river of sand, and organisms that live in and around beach sand are built to go with the flow.


Note: I updated the photos and lightly edited the text on October 1, 2017. Since this post was published, I did get in touch with two species of beach hoppers. If you are interested, you cn read about them at California Beach Hopper, Megalorchestia californiana and The Pale Beach Hopper, Megalorchestia columbiana. Now that I’m talking about beach hoppers, how about Beach Hoppers Rejoice Over Drift Macrophytes?

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