Thursday, November 25, 2010

Driving to the beach at daybreak through a light dusting of snow, the sea lay duck-egg blue and gunmetal under greying skies, dark clouds lit pink in the dawn.

A great curtain of snow swept across the Llyn Peninsula.

Five waders lit out from the strand-line low over the sea: two boldly patterned Turnstones; two smaller Dunlin, white rumps bisected black; and a larger grey wader, white rumped with thin white wing bar, distinctive bold black blotch in the wing-pit confirming second Grey Plover of autumn.

Working through thousands of black Scoter, numbers of snake-necked Great Crested Grebes are increasing, with a scattering of long, low, silver & white Red Throated Divers. A tiny, compact Grebe, black flat cap contrasted boldly with snow-white front, fished hard in the middle distance, repeated dives bringing it close enough to see a baleful, ringed red button of an eye.

Amidst a pack of black Scoter floated a large, heavy billed duck, dark with whitening back; drake Eider, not yet full white and black.

Great haystacks of red-brown weed pushed up by last week’s storms stand on the beach awaiting dispersal by next high tides. Along the strand-line lay thousands of soft but resilient translucent jelly lozenges c. 25mm long, bringing enquiries from locals, as well as the photograph below. Field guide checks settled around the Sea Squirt pages, but it took a regular recipient of this diary to provide the definitive identification as:

‘Ascidians, probably Ascidiella aspersa, that grow on weed and small cobbles and have been washed up by first winter storms. These Urochordates (sea squirts, tunicates) are related to fish and their tadpole larva probably was the neotonous root of the vertebrates’.

Seeming inanimate lumps of jelly have a tadpole larval stage from which fish and all other vertebrates may originate.

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