What interesting things can I be doing at the beach and marsh while it's too cold for the usual summer activities? Sciency, educational, artsy craftsy, exercise/activity...
December 2, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

What unique activities could I be doing at the beach and the marsh over time to take better advantage of both while it's too cold for swimming, sunning, and the usual beach activities? Educational things, amateur science experiments/measurements, artsy craftsy things, exercise other than jogging, etc. Let your imagination run wild.

I live at the beach and near a marsh and do the usual pleasure/exercise activities you'd expect during warm weather, both in and out of the water. When it's cold, though, that list reduces to only occasional jogging/cycling, so I feel like I've kind of wasted my two winters here between working too much and not being able to do the warm weather activities.

I won't live here forever and want to take better advantage of it while I've got it. So what other interesting things could I be doing that don't involve swimming, sunning, sitting, being scantily clad, etc.? What are things specific to the beach that vacationers wouldn't really have the time or inclination to do that someone who lives here could do and enjoy over time? Mostly solo things but also small group things or things that might make for an interesting date. Sciency, educational, fun, hobbyish, artsy/craftsy, exercisey. Really these things could be done anytime, not just in cold weather, but when it's warm I'm pretty much set already.

It just seems like I've got this specialized ecosystem right in front of my and could be doing interesting activities or ongoing experiments that take advantage of it. I could easily pop out there one or more times per day to check on something quickly or could bundle up for something extended on the weekends. I have all the sand in the world. What could I do with it or in it? I have all the water in the world. What could I do with it? I have dunes. I have wide a wide open treeless area forever in three directions. I have particular wildlife in and out of the water.

I'm not interested in fishing and I got the stunt kite bug out of my system years ago. Sand castles don't grab me. People surf here in cold weather using wetsuits but getting in that cold water is absolutely not for me. I don't have a boat of any kind and won't be buying something expensive like a land windsurfer or sea kayak (no place to store stuff like that). I thought about photography but it's not grabbing me, not just for art's sake. But if I were using it in some more functional way, like to track the change of something over time, that might be neat.

I found this children's book of experiments to do at the beach and from the Amazon reviews it sounds like adults have found it interesting too, so I'll give that a try. I've kind of daydreamed in the past about other experiments like testing the water for something over time, or some localized version of that thing where they release a fleet of little floating things in the water and track currents or whatever. I don't think the water here is clear enough, but I'd love to have a remote controlled submarine with a camera and lights attached and do something like this, sending it out past the breakers to see what goes on out there beneath the surface, seeing what's on the bottom, confirming my shark swarm nightmares, rescuing treasure with a robotic claw, etc. And if not a sub, what neat task could I do with a little RC plane or helicopter aside from just the fun of flying it (which would wear off after a bit without some other purpose)? What about a sand tunneler if they exist outside of apocalypse movies? What about an RC boat to send out for samples or measurements of some kind?

Bonus add-on: There is an extensive marsh nearby, part of it more like a small river with trails alongside and part of it a huge maze of channels through the marsh grass. A friend of mine has a dock there and kayaks I can borrow. It's nice for exercise and would be great to fish there if I were a fisherman. But in such a unique ecosystem, there have got to be all sorts of neat things I could do there just like at the beach - educational, sciency, something with the water or the tides, the flora, the fauna, something artsty craftsy.

Whatcha got? I'm your man at the beach/marsh - use me! What would you like to learn or do or explore if you lived here? When I tell people what I'm doing, I want them to go, "Holy crap, that's so interesting!" Go blue sky on me and toss out your neatest ideas. We'll deal with any limitations later.
posted by Askr to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You could make sand-castings with plaster-of-paris. Are there pretty shells, stones, or beach glass there?
posted by The otter lady at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2010

More fun than a stunt kite: kite aerial photography
posted by Prawn at 9:25 AM on December 2, 2010

How about stunt kite flying?

And if not a sub, what neat task could I do with a little RC plane or helicopter aside from just the fun of flying it (which would wear off after a bit without some other purpose)?

Learning to fly either of those machines is the work of several years. And they're going to run you hundreds-to-thousands of dollars.
posted by Netzapper at 9:26 AM on December 2, 2010

Treasure hunting! Get a metal detector, and a small shovel and rake, and comb the beach for goodies that have washed up (bonus: no summer crowds to find stuff before you do).
posted by amyms at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Askr says they got the stunt kite flying bug out of their system years ago.

So, it's not very exciting, and the payoff, such as it is, is more of a long-term thing, but what if you went to the beach and to the marsh every day at the same time, and recorded what you saw? I used to work near a nature preserve kind of place, and I went pretty much every day - usually at lunch, but often before or after work as well, and I kept notes of what I saw when.

You can decide to track birds, or plants, or whatever else you can see. You can decide to go each day at high/low tide. Get some field guides for birds/plants/invertebrates and teach yourself to ID them. In addition to written notes, sketch or photograph something each day. As the seasons change, the animals and plants will change as well. Observing and recording these changes are Science!, yo, and I've found it incredibly rewarding. (Also, people think you are magic when you say "Well, we've seen the last of [creature/plant] for the season, and we'll start to see more of [creature/plant] as we head into the next season.")
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on December 2, 2010

This doesn't scratch the technology itch that seems to run through your post, but if you set aside time each day to walk/kayak the beach/marsh with a camera and notebook as an amateur naturalist, experiments might come to you.

Each day, try birdwatching/counts, seashell documenting, noting changes in the marsh hydrology as the plants die back, recording any other fauna you see. Differences with time/tide/temperature/water level/wind/ will show you patterns that you may want to further investigate.

You're also likely to run into likeminded folks, and learn a lot about the ecosystem from them, and maybe even learn about local organizations that are doing things like grab samples for water quality, or otherwise looking for volunteers like yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 10:17 AM on December 2, 2010

posted by ErikaB at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2010

Collect driftwood and make furniture?
posted by hazyjane at 10:33 AM on December 2, 2010

Feed the birds (toppins, the birds)

More seriously - dogs love the beach and running in the sand in the off season. Do you have a dog / could you borrow one from a friend / is there a shelter near you that you could volunteer at and take dogs on excursions (my local SPCA lets volunteers do this after training).

Cloud watch. Trip.

Make your own tide charts based on your own recordings of the tide everyday.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:47 AM on December 2, 2010

tuppance a bag apparently...
posted by WeekendJen at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2010

Seconding going the naturalist route. I would get an invert book, a Bird book, and a kelp book. With these in hand you should be able to spot most of the stuff on the beach and know what it is. Keep a life list and see if you can get everything in your area.

Also, my favorite activity on the beach is walking, slowly, a deep breath of and a nice walk. It does wonders for a long day. I would say that this is boring, but I never felt like I was done with it. In fact I went twice a week to the beach all winter long for 3 years just to walk and enjoy the ocean and always enjoyed it.
posted by Felex at 10:52 AM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: I'm liking these ideas, everyone. Keep 'em coming. I think that sand cast plaster idea is neat, Otter Lady. Easy to do, plenty of shells and stuff laying around, all the sand you can eat. I could make precise, shallow holes using some kind of rigid cutouts and make something small worthy of hanging on a wall. Maybe some little Christmas ornaments too that I could write a message on the back of and give as gifts.

Prawn, that kite photography idea sounds really interesting. Maybe I could take photos at different times of day and from different places up and down the beach, have them printed and framed, and sell them at the local festivals and farmers markets. Maybe businesses and city hall might like them too.

rtha and ldthomps and Felex, I like the idea of getting out there in the elements and seeing what I see. I have a mini HD cam I never use and a regular digital camera, plus binoculars. I was hoping for something more specific and outcome-oriented that people already knew about and did, but maybe you just have to get out there and see what ideas arise (still, anybody with specifics lay them on me). It would be neat to take vials of water and send them off to some place to get analyzed for pollutants and then see if there's a way to figure out what plants and creatures that may be having an effect on - make some observations about crabs or herons or marsh grass or something.

ErikaB, geocaching sounds interesting. I had not previously wanted to shell out for a device, but it looks like there's one for about $70, which isn't bad. Better yet, if I get an Android phone here soon, I could get a geocaching app and, signal strength allowing, not have to have a separate device.

Weekend Jen, we do have a dog shelter and they do loan them out so they can get people time and exercise and all. Nice idea.

More more more. Out-there stuff. Neat stuff. Fun stuff. Learny stuff. Want.
posted by Askr at 11:14 AM on December 2, 2010

Definitely bird watching. There's probably a local group that can take you out and introduce you to the local fauna. Check Audubon to see if they can hook you up with some people. Kayaking around a marsh is perfect for seeing lots of neat stuff like herons and rails (usually very hard to see even in a kayak). Or get a bird field guide (I'd recommend Sibley's or the National Geographic one) and a cheap pair of binoculars and wander around. Once you recognize the common species you can start looking for oddities (the one gull with black legs or the sandpiper with a shorter bill) and doing counts or keeping track of seasonal fluctuation (e.g. when do the sandpipers start flocking?).

Also, please be careful of taking dogs out on a beach. There are a lot of nesting (and foraging) shorebirds who will be harassed by off-leash dogs. I love dogs as much as anyone and I love how happy they look when they're running on the beach. But I wouldn't do it. Especially if there are notices posted about nests (Piping Plovers but also other shorebirds).
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:21 AM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: I thought about bird watching but it falls into a category of stuff that to me has no outcome. If tracking birds helped me prove that there were aliens amongst us, or that the factories were poisoning us, or that birds were secretly behind the lost sock phenomenon, I'd be all over it. I would want Brad Pitt to play me in the movie. But it seems like it just goes on forever and doesn't lead to anything. I know my request is vague so I appreciate the effort.
posted by Askr at 9:14 AM on December 4, 2010

Oh, but it does! It's just that it takes so long to get there that you, personally, may not see the results. I'm a volunteer with an organization that tracks migrating raptors, and our dataset wasn't considered to be fit to be studied for longterm trends and implications until it was about 20 years old.

One outcome of birding that has immediate implications (but only if you care about it): you learn to ID birds; you learn about their habits and habitat; you increase the knowledge you have and are able to pass on. There's a lot to be said for that. But having birding be the thing that gives you that may not be up your alley, and that's okay.
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2010

There are a lot of citizen science projects that you can participate in related to birding (bird feeder studies, Christmas bird counts, shorebird surveys, to name some off the top of my head). But they do require you have a decent level of basic knowledge and don't provide training. I would suggest that participating in birding (meeting fellow birders, talking about birds with other people, getting involved in conserving places, etc.) is a lot more valuable than doing little science experiments on water quality. There are also little scientific studies you can do - do Sanderlings are defend territories? Are there rails in the marsh (especially Black rails)? How to gulls figure out who has food?

Otherwise, I think there are artists that build balancing sculptures or inukshuks on beaches.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:43 AM on December 5, 2010

Response by poster: Whoa whoa, that wasn't a shot against birders or birding, just a not-carefully-enough-worded statement that I looked into it and that it doesn't lead to outcomes that interest me personally. Bird on, birders.

Thanks again everyone. If anyone finds this in the future and has other neat ideas, please memail me.
posted by Askr at 1:35 PM on December 5, 2010

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