By Pat Foster-Turley
Lots of people collect seashells, and if you are from the inland somewhere you might be thrilled at the seashells you might find at Fort Clinch State Park and the other beaches of Amelia Island. But if you live here and know more, you can head to Little Talbot Island State Park to find the best shells. And if you are particularly looking for those disc-shaped smooth clam shells called Dosinias this is the place.
And why would you seek Dosinias? Other mollusk shells, like whelks, and olive shells and sand dollars (Echinoderms) are often more striking and more sought after. But some of us specialize in Dosinias. These shells have a smooth surface that makes them easy to paint. And if you are a member of the Amelia Shells Facebook Group these are the shells you seek to spread your handiwork to others. Anyone can join Amelia Shells and get in the action, and anyone can paint or hide shells for others to enjoy. I am not a shell painter, but I happily hide my share of shells that others paint, and I carry Amelia Shells to distribute when I travel. I am a Shell Fairy.
I thought it was time to give back to the shell painters by getting them more Dosinia shells. The first time I hunted Dosinias at Little Talbot Island State Park I was with Betty Duckworth, a manager of the Amelia Shells Facebook page, who I had just met. She trained me to spot Dosinias but I didn’t really see why these shells were better than any other. But then in the ensuing years, I have grown to be a part of Amelia Shells, and I see their value. And now it was my time to replenish their stock.
So one sunny day Susan Gallion and I set off on a low tide to Little Talbot Island to find some more and to join the ranks of Shell Angels (those who collect for others). The sky was clear blue, the beach was sparsely populated by people, and seashells of all types abounded. It took a while for us to get our search image together and to actually find a precious Dosinia. But then they seemed to be everywhere. Scanning down the beach these shiny white gems were easily spotted and collected. Before long Susan and I had maybe 80 shells between us, enough to help power some Amelia Island painters for at least a little bit. But at the rate some of these painters paint, these will be used up and distributed in just a few days.
Susan and I could not travel down to Little Talbot Island without extending our trip another few miles down to the Sandollar Restaurant off Heckscher Drive. Bucko and I stop here often too when we drive further down Heckscher to the Carlucci Boat Ramp to bird and vessel watch. The seafood is always high quality, the shrimp are local and the servings are ample at a good price. Best yet, the outdoor tables give a great view of the Mayport Ferry crossing the St. Johns River, and the village of Mayport and its shrimp fleet just across from us. On lucky days we have seen dolphins passing by the windows and sometimes in summer, even manatees.
So here is another day trip for you. Head south on A1A off Amelia Island over the Nassau Sound bridge. There is a bird observation platform on Big Talbot Island you might want to visit on the way back when you are on that side of the road. But continue down past Kayak Amelia and you will see the main entrance to Little Talbot Island on the left. Once inside, park at the beach parking area and head down the boardwalk to the beach. On weekends sometimes this beach gets a bit full and on rare days the park is closed when capacity is reached. But on the day Susan and I went — a weekday, not in the summer — we just about had the beach to ourselves. There were a few fisherfolks, a few sunbathers, and a few beach walkers, but basically, the beach was ours.
Check it out next time you feel adventurous. And be sure to eat at the Sandollar. Tell them Pat and Bucko sent you!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]