Along the Winter Drift Line

Winter is a season of strong winds and big surf, forces that lend a seasonal flavor to the drift line. The strongest signal on my home beaches arrives in the form of bull kelp- drifting masses cast up with the first fall storms. Masses keep arriving, one after the other, all winter long. Bull kelp is attractive in the drift line, but it makes a more important contribution. It nutrifies the beaches. Beach hoppers, those happy little detritivores, appear to rejoice whenever a new mass is cast ashore. Drift kelp carries hitchhikers too, mostly invertebrates and algal epiphytes. You can lose track of time seeking rarely seen subtidal visitors still clinging to fresh drifted kelp. Bull kelp holdfasts sometimes attach to cobbles during the growing season, only to drag them ashore in the winter drift. Ever find a good-sized cobble, out of place on a lonely strand? Thank bull kelp.


The winter drift line is full of decay and treasure. The images below were selected to highlight some of the diversity that might be encountered on a seasonal beach walk. They are all finds from December through February over the last few years. I put them together to help myself, and you, imagine a stroll along the winter drift line.

If you think you might enjoy seeing other things I’ve found washed ashore over the years, and over all the seasons, have a take a look at any of my Wrack Line pages.



  1. Oh wow, does this ever make me want to go for a beach walk. Closest water to me is Puget Sound but it’s just not the same as my childhood haunts, when San Diego was still a “town” , and all beaches North, all the way up the coast, were mysterious, unoccupied treasure hunts.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks! I haven’t been lucky enough to spend much time on the Southern California beaches. A little around Pacific Grove, mostly tidepool work. And not much time at all on the Puget Sound tideline. Thanks for getting me thinking about past and future beaches.

  2. This was so cool! I also take photos of stuff I find on beaches, but I can’t name things like you can. So interesting. Merry Christmas from summery Australia.

    1. I’ve had a lot of help learning to identify things that wash up on the beach, and I still find things that stump me. Merry Christmas from the Pacific Northwest, USA!

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