So Tidal Is Its Pull – Jekyll North End

The night was soft and thick and black and warm as velvet, silky on my skin, smelling of iodine and salt and crepe myrtle and that ineffable, skin-prickling saline emanation that says ‘ocean’ to me whenever I smell it, hundreds of miles inland. It always moves me close to tears, so visceral, so old and tidal is its pull. I have often thought that it is the first smell we know, the amniotic smell of our first, secret sea.” ― Anne Rivers Siddons, Downtown


I wrote my introductory thoughts for this series in the South End post.

Here’s a reminder of my imaginary sectioning of Jekyll Island, for reference:


In this post, I’ll focus on the beach at the north end of Jekyll (the right-hand map), from the Clam Creek Picnic Area to the Villas by the Sea. (Clam Creek marsh itself will be a separate posting.) Also check out my previous posting about the mid-beach. All photos were taken by me in December 2015.



The marsh at Clam Creek is probably my favourite part of the island, for its ever-changing colours, chance of spotting interesting birds (among others, I’ve seen roseate spoonbills, tricoloured herons, greater yellowlegs, bluebirds, and painted buntings here) — as well as deer, raccoon, the long-needled pine, wildflowers, hollies, butterflies — and the peaceful bike path through the marsh.

But the beach has also become a favourite place to visit. This is the bit of the island that faces St. Simon’s Island, which is just north of it, across the St. Simon’s Sound, through which very large cargo ships travel regularly. My photos don’t do justice to the appearance of these monstrously big wayfarers dwarfing St. Simon’s coastline, a shrimp boat, the beach and Jekyll shoreline, the horizon.



Some people call this beach “Driftwood Beach,” erroneously, because the bare tree trunks and limbs found here haven’t drifted over the sea but are what remain of the trees that used to grow here, fully alive, until their roots were completely exposed as sand, dirt, ground washed away from beneath them. It’s the way of barrier islands for beaches to wash from north to south, and in this case the natural process is artificially accelerated by the dredging of St. Simon’s Sound to make it deep enough for the cargo ships. So the north beach is losing ground, literally, and the trees are mute witness to it. I call it a “boneyard beach.”



Birds like to feed in the water that collects around the trunks and roots, and the algae wrapping the wood can be quite lovely.



I saw a lot of willets and sanderlings on the north beach this time.


Sanderlings (upper right is a juvenile):

Also some terns and gulls:

royal terns and a gull

And a damselfly! There weren’t many dragonflies or damselflies to be found this time of year, so it was a pleasant surprise.

red damselfly

Pelicans are always flying by in small groups but are hard to photograph.


Non-flying fauna (and evidence of fauna) of interest included ghost crab burrows, onuphis (soda straw or parchment) worms, plume worms, sea pork, the waste pile of an acorn worm, a squareback crab (I think), a cannonball jellyfish, an olive shell with a hermit crab living in it, dogs, and horses with riders.

ghost crab burrow with fecal balls
bird feet and feathers by a ghost crab burrow
Onuphis (parchment) worms
Onuphis (parchment) worms
onuphis worm tracks
plume worm tube
sea pork
waste pile of an acorn worm, either a golden (Balanoglossus aurantiacus) or helical (Saccoglossus kowalevski) – thanks to Tony Martin for the ID
squarebacked crab
cannonball jellyfish washed up
olive shell with hermit crab inside
Someone lives here!



I’ll leave us with a few images of the beach.

Lanier Bridge from north beach


pine trees and needles alongside the beach
soft white sand, grasses re-duning part of the north beach
pine log resting on sand


The Johnson Rocks and boardwalk to Villas


Sunset over north end fishing pier

And my favourite shot, because it looks so nostalgic in this light:



“The few trees still upright were stripped of their branches, lonely flagpoles without a nation to claim them.” ― Mike Mullin, Ashfall, speaking of volcano damage


Exceedingly helpful if you’re trying to identify anything found on the Golden Isles beaches are Life Traces of the Georgia Coast: Revealing the Unseen Lives of Plants and Animals (2013), by Anthony J. Martin (website here) and Living Beaches of Georgia and the Carolinas: A Beachcomber’s Guide (2011) by Blair and Dawn Witherington. Especially useful for identifying anything natural on Jekyll is A Guide to a Georgia Barrier Island, Featuring Jekyll Island with St. Simons and Sapelo Islands (1996) by Taylor Schoettle, ill. Jennifer Smith.



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