|On A Florida East Coast Shelling Expedition|
|To The Jacksonville Shell Club With Love|
|By Karen Vander Ven|
Three days to spare in Florida? Two questions - (1) What could be better than to shell the East Coast? and then (2) Where to go to get those fabled East Coast shells such as the large Crown Conchs, Melongena sprucecreekensis Tucker, 1994; the rare cream and orange Eastern Banded Tulip shells, Cinctura hunteria (G. Perry, 1811), and the West Indian Fighting Conch, Strombus pugilis Linnaeus, 1758. The latter were often seen in South Florida as well as unusual colored forms of the Florida Fighting Conch, Strombus alatus Gmelin, 1791. This agenda suggested a three-stop schedule, one for each day.
I had lined up two friends, Nancy Gould and her son David, to accompany me and "all" that needed to be done was to research the locales where these unusual treasures might be found. I checked the tide tables and then the Jacksonville Shell Club web site with Bill Frank's guide to collecting spots and articles from the Shell-O-Gram on expeditions that had been made to them. There was one on each area: Spruce Creek near Port Orange, Matanzas Inlet near St. Augustine, and Peanut Island in West Palm Beach.
The trip began with our rendezvous in Orlando. Soon we were on our way north to our first shelling stop - the Spruce Creek Bridge that crosses Spruce Creek south of Daytona, on Route 1 South. We leapt out of the car at a little inlet on the East side and waded in. The Melongena were there for the effort of bending down, picking them up, and deciding whether they were "keepers" or not. We worked our way through murky waters and mangroves around under the bridge to the west side, and by the time we were done, each of us had been able to select several sizeable specimens, both dead and alive, and in reasonably good condition. The dead ones were larger in line with the reputed size of Melongena sprucecreekensis. I took one dead one, which is 5", and two live ones, 4" and 3 1/2", respectively.
Deeming this first leg of the journey a success, we drove north to St. Augustine and the Matanzas area, where the unusual colored tulips had been found before, and prepared for the next day that we knew would be our biggest and most difficult challenge.
First stop was Vilano Beach, at St. Augustine Inlet, where I had read that Charlotte Thorpe had previously found the shell. We went to the shore near the Vilano Beach Bridge and walked gingerly in the schluppy black mud and oyster clumps. Nothing. Following instincts, I drove around and we ended up at Porpoise Point. The beach looked beautiful and a tempting flat had surfaced as a result of the low tide. Up and down the beach, in and out of the tide pools and we found nothing except for a little piece of broken tulip. "Well, they're here -- somewhere!" I consoled our little group.
It was time then to head south towards the Matanzas inlet. We saw some promising flats near town and were just climbing down the wall that bordered them when we were stopped. Inadvertently we had walked into military territory. We left and crossed the next bridge south to go out to the lighthouse. On to the muddiest flats I think I've ever seen. Every step required effort to pull our feet out for the next step, hoping our beach shoes wouldn't get sucked off. (Mine did). We made it back to shore, with Nancy bringing in a very nice Busycotypus canaliculatus (Linnaeus 1758) [Channeled Whelk], nicely colored and in good condition, and for me, a slender Thick-lip Drill, Eupleura caudata (Say, 1822). Tulip-wise, nothing. We continued South and Nancy suggested we try the bridge to Crescent Beach. We did and on the west side there was access and acres of the same type of muddy and oyster clump filled flat. Once again, with hope springing eternal, we lurched around the flats. Finally, each of us picked up several tulips. They tended to be clustered in the same area, not far from the bridge. There was just one thing - they were so mud-encrusted it was possible to tell no more about them than their distinctive tulip shape. Nancy found a pair of scallops that were also hard to identify.
We needed to make West Palm Beach that night to be ready for our sortie to Peanut Island and faced a long drive. We couldn't wait to get some Clorox and see what our tulips really looked like and when we did, once at our hotel, it was most interesting. Several shells turned out to be the "ordinary" gray and dark banded Cinctura hunteria. But unmistakably - and perhaps incredibly - among our assortment each of us had one of the distinctive cream and orange tulips with dark orange bands! Sure, none were live taken and they weren't in stellar condition although Nancy's, somewhat smaller than my "main" specimen of three inches, is really quite nice and I'd say mine at least "isn't bad". To boot I also had two others, one being 1 1/12 inches long and the other a real juvenile at 1 1/4 inches. We had found some! I was thrilled, especially when it occurred to me that we were probably not there at the best time of year.
Next morning, still feeling happy about the tulips, we drove to Riviera Beach to try to find a water taxi out to Peanut Island. Because it was Memorial Day, I had expected it to be mobbed, and it was! Someone overheard us asking ourselves where the taxi might be and guided us right down the dock to one that soon deposited us dockside on the eastern inlet side of the island. By that time, flats were appearing looking north towards the Blue Heron Bridge and we could see they were covered with boats and people! How could there be any shells here?
However, we started over the first flat from shore and onto another one and here Nancy found two Strombus alatus. There didn't seem to be any more there so I forged on to another flat that looked darker and textured. Suddenly we were in a veritable colony of Strombus just popping up as the tide was turning. It wasn't long until David called out - "Here's one with a purple lip" and soon I distinguished a specimen as a Strombus pugilis. We spent some time carefully examining and replacing the strombs, and by the time we left, each of us had picked from the multitudes several outstanding specimens of the Strombus alatus with purple apertures, and of the distinct orange and wider bodied Srombus pugilis. David pulled out a Strombus alatus whose aperture was essentially all white with just a tiny splash of purple at the base of the shell. All the time we were doing this we were surrounded by people walking the flats and sunning themselves on their boats. We were totally ignored and nobody else seemed to notice the shells at all.
On a small adjacent flat I spied numerous olive trails, each made by a tiny Lettered Olive [Oliva sayana Ravenel, 1834]. These were all left with the exception of one larger trail that yielded a very handsome adult specimen. We then returned to the Peanut Island shore and went around to the side directly facing the inlet where it seemed that there were rocks to turn. However, the rocks were mossy and uninviting and there was nothing under any of the ones we examined.
Still happy, however, we returned on the ferry. Reviewing this trip and its agenda, we actually accomplished it, finding at each site exactly what the guides from the Jacksonville Shell Club had suggested. So….this brief report is sent to the Jacksonville Shell Club… with love!