Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Low, Low Tide

I got up yesterday, my first day of summer vacation since the college classes I teach are over. I had a full schedule of things to do at home, but was drawn to head into town in the morning. As I drove past McNeil Canyon School and the Homer Spit came into view, I gasped at how low the tide was. The mud flats always give us a clue as to where the tide is at, and the mud extended far past where I'd ever seen it before, so when I got to town I headed to Bishop's Beach. The parking lot was packed with cars and school buses, and the tide was indeed waaaaaay out. I checked the tide book after I found my parking spot and discovered I was in luck. It was 10:36, and low tide, a -5.4, was at 10:33. Glancing through the book I discovered it was one of the lowest tides of the year, and the lowest I'd ever seen. Looking out over sand to the waters edge a long ways away, I saw a dark line of...something. Grabbing my camera, I took off, saying mean things to myself for not bringing my muck boots. Later I would tell the kids I would take them out of school to see a low tide like that (today was a -4.6, and I didn't think it would be low enough to see what I saw). It was one of the neatest things I've seen in Alaska.

Basically, the tide was far enough out that the kelp beds, where the kelp grows, were exposed, and that is where all the action was. As I looked out over the kelp I saw little fountains of water shooting up all over the place. When one would shoot I would rush over and try to figure out where the water was coming from. I finally figured out it was coming from the clams breathing hole. The 3 dots in the sand in the picture below are the clams breathers, and in the next picture all the little dots on the picture are clams--that's a lot of clams! There were also clams in the kelp, underneath rocks with the breather poking up between stones.
The next few pictures are jellies/anemones/etc. I have to admit I don't know the names of most of what I saw, but the starfish I did recognize.

This clam had its leg (or whatever it's called) out and this shell was flopping all over the place when I saw it. By time I got my camera focused and zoomed it was settled back down. I'd never seen a clam flopping around like that before. It was quite a show!

This picture is of a different type of clam's breather. It is right at the surface, but is wider (up to an inch). I don't know my clams well enough to know which kind this is, but I think it is a razor. When it withdraws its breather it leaves a depression in the sand and that's what we look for when we're clamming.

I was so thrilled to be able to explore the beach at such a low tide. I kept thinking I'd seen it all when I would come across yet another treasure. Finally a very full bladder drove me back to the parking lot. We're going to be out of area for the next 2 low, low tides, but will be around for a fairly low tide in August, so I'm marking my calendar now. Of course, maybe I'll just dig the clams next time.

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