We all know that heading to the beach can lead to a ton of family fun in the heat of summer — but in February, March and April?
You bet! Rough winter storms wash all kinds of interesting things up onto the beach, from scallop shells and clamshells to driftwood, beach glass, crab claws and even lobster pot buoys. It’s all fun stuff for kids and families to seek out, investigate and collect.
One of the coolest things about combing the coast is that no two beaches are exactly alike. Some are bordered by dunes, others by cliffs. You’ll also find different creatures and objects washing up on different shores, which can make for great scavenger hunts.
While no special permits are needed to gather seashells by hand in New York State, the taking of live shellfish may require a town, village, county or state license depending on the specific location and the species gathered.
Beachcombing and a scavenger hunt
Kate Mesquita, of Southold, and her children Sophia, 6, Maxine, 4, and Vivi, 21 months, examine their finds on a beach near home in February. Ocean beaches can give up giant surf clams with shells larger than your hand, while bay beaches are dotted with the shells of hard clams, which are smaller but usually have some blue or purple on the underside. You’ll find clamshells along Long Island Sound beaches, too, along with a lot of moon snail shells.
Look for oyster shells. Scattered around also will be pieces of driftwood, beach glass, lobster and crab trap buoys, crab shells, sea gull feathers and plenty of other interesting stuff.
Look for clamshells on most beaches. Ocean beaches, for example, often give up giant surf clams with shells larger than your hand, while bay beaches are dotted with the shells of hard clams, which are smaller but usually have some blue or purple on the underside. This colorful part of the shell was used by Indian tribes, including those on Long Island, who carved and polished it into beads, called it wampum and used it as jewelry and money.
You’ll find clamshells along Long Island Sound beaches, too, along with a lot of moon snail shells. These are about the size of a quarter and housed snails at first, then, perhaps, a hermit crab after the snail lived out its life.
Spider crab claw
Pieces of crab wash up most everywhere. While most beaches have a shell type that is most common, you’ll find a mix of shells just about anywhere you look.
Among the bird feathers that are scattered about are from seagulls. One of the coolest things about combing the coast is that no two beaches are exactly alike. Some are bordered by dunes, others by cliffs. You’ll also find different creatures and objects washing up on different shores, which can make for great scavenger hunts.
Everything you find, including driftwood, has a story to tell if you use a little imagination. How did it get there? Did it float, crawl, swim or roll along the bottom? Was it alive at some point, man-made or carved from nature over many eons like a stone with a hole in the middle?
Conch, whelk or scungilli shells
A conch shell may be found on Atlantic Ocean and North Shore beaches. These are the big shells with a point at one end. Hold one up tight against your ear and you can hear the "sea" echo within. Check the beach right after a storm and you might even find some live ones. It’s your choice whether to bring them home for dinner or to toss them back into the water.
The inside of a conch shell
Weathering of a conch shell exposes the spiral within.
This crab shell came from a beach in Southold, but crab shells can be found on most Long Island beaches.
Razor clam shells
Razor clam shells are among objects found along a beach in Southold in February.
An egg case is among the beautiful, complex objects found on a winter beach in Southold.
Peconic Bay beaches, between the North and South Forks on Long Island’s East End, feature the shells of bay scallops. These beautiful shells harbor one of the tastiest creatures in the sea. Bay scallops only live for three years, but their shells can last a long time if scrubbed clean, allowed to dry and placed on a shelf, desk or window sill.