Photography and text by Marcy Ford

My beachcombing adventures began when I was a child visiting Cockle Cove Beach in Chatham. During those summer strolls, I can remember scanning the seashore and finding all sorts of treasures to admire. Now, after living on the Cape for over 27 years, beachcombing is still one of my favorite pastimes.

As a photographer, I head to the shore with a goal in mind that includes capturing shore birds, sea glass, or interesting sand patterns. However, I almost always end up wandering for hours. The long stretches of sand beckon me to go just a little further as all my senses are fed by the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of the water, salty breezes, and sand between my toes. 

Low tide exposes the most treasures, but there’s something to discover regardless of the tide, time of day, or season. For me, the joy is in the search. Beachcombing is both a meditative treasure hunt and natural history lesson. I think John Muir captured it well when he said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” 

Of course, sunrises and sunsets on the Cape are reason enough to start or end a day beachcombing. Occasionally, I arrange some of my finds in little temporary art installations reminiscent of the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, and I leave them to be taken by the next tide. 

There is so much to learn and appreciate in Cape Cod’s extraordinary coastal environment. Some of my most unique finds include Icelandic scallops, a baby skate just coming out of its egg case, antique bottles, and an old clay pipe, not to mention some amazing wildlife, including endangered shore birds, snowy owls, coyotes, foxes, and grey seals. You just never know what you might find along the wrack line, so head out now, and you’ll be glad you did.

 

Sea Scallop

Quahog

Common Slipper

Blood Ark

Oyster

North Atlantic Moon Snail Shell

Wing Shell

Ponderous Ark

Stimpson’s Whelk

Bay Scallops

Wavy Asante

Waved Whelk

Favorite places…

Great beachcombing spots include Crosby Landing Beach in Brewster or any of Cape Cod’s bayside beaches, especially at low tide. For a longer walk, the beaches in the National Seashore are amazing. Ballston Beach in Truro is full of surprises. You’ll find lots of shells on Nantucket Sound beaches. If you are looking to learn more about the Cape’s natural treasures, the Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Wellfleet Bay Audubon Sanctuary, and Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham are great places to start.

 

Before You Go

Bring fresh water, snacks, and sunblock in case you find yourself wandering longer than intended. Take a camera along so you can photograph and chronicle your finds. Carry a bag to pick up any litter you may find to help keep the beaches safe and clean for the wildlife and for human enjoyment. 

Blue Mussel

Corded Neptune

Channeled Whelk

Amethyst Gem Clams

Morton’s Egg Cockle

E. White Slipper

Jingle

Common Razor Clam

Common Periwinkle

Ribbed Mussel

American Pelican Foot

Miniature Ceriths

What did I just find?

Winter skate baby fresh out of its egg case. (Fun fact: The egg case is called a Devil’s Purse, which also happens to be the name of a great local brewery!)

The spiral egg case of a whelk.

A moon snail’s egg collar.

Sea gooseberry, a species of comb jellyfish.

The sand tube of the ice cream cone worm. (That’s some amazing masonry!)

Horseshoe crabs shells. (These arthropods shed their shells several times in their first two years of life, and the shells can be found along the shore after they molt.)
 

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