You’ll be amazed at what you can find in and around Sandbridge Beach, VA – from seashells of all shapes and sizes to flora and fauna galore.
Why not organize a family scavenger hunt to see what you can discover? Each family member can create a list of specific things to look for – one list for Sandbridge Beach itself, another for Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and a third for Little Island Fishing Pier.
If you wish, you can assign points for each item found and even award prizes for “most points” or “most unusual discovery.” Prizes can be simple – say, a monster donut from Sandbridge Seaside Market or an ice cream cone at Sandbridge Sugar Shack. And, of course, you can make sure every family member wins first place in some category or other, whether it’s “weirdest whelk shell” or “longest piece of driftwood.” That way, everybody gets to enjoy a yummy treat at the end.
There’s no need to pack all your scavenger hunting into one exhausting day. Instead, you can space it out: Spend one day at the beach, for example, and another day at the Wildlife Refuge. Plus, you can make flexible rules: For instance, if an item’s too big – or too alive! – to stash in a bucket or tote, you can permit participants to simply take a picture.
So, go ahead, gather the family, and head out in quest of…
The best times for shelling are at low tide and early in the morning. Search for seaside favorites such as:
Scotch Bonnets: Thanks to their distinctive bonnet shape, these 2-4-inch-long snail shells are pretty easy to spot. Look for ridged oval shells with delicate coloration ranging from pale yellow to brown and orange.
Whelks: With their spiral shapes and pointy ends, these familiar snail shells are also fairly easy to identify. What’s more, they come in all sizes and colors, so you can end up with an impressively varied collection.
Ocean Quahogs: You’ll often see these thick-shelled specimens scattered along the shore. They come from bivalve clams, each with two scalloped shells held together by a hinge. But the two halves often become “unhinged” in the surf, so, by the time they wash ashore, they’re usually single clam-shaped shells. Look for the distinctive clamshell shape, whitish interior, and purple rim. Also look for broken quahog-shell pieces, known for their richer purple hue.
Other Shells in the Clam Family: From Cockles to Mussels to tiny Coquinas, clamshells abound along Sandbridge Beach. Use your phone’s iNaturalist app to identify specific shells. Or simply look up common seashells via your favorite search engine.
Starfish and Sand Dollars: You’ll know them by their familiar shapes. Just make sure the specimens are dead before you pick them up and stash them in your bucket!
Worn smooth and whitened by the waves, these stray pieces of wood are common at Sandbridge Beach. Gather as many as you can, with a special focus on distinctive shapes and sizes.
What happens when bottles and other glass items break up in the surf? Over time they erode into sea glass – smooth white, green, and amber pieces that resemble glassy pebbles. See how many you can find. And be sure to look for any unusual shapes and colors.
Lightning Glass (Fulgurites)
Have you ever seen petrified lightning? If you’re lucky, you may spot a specimen as you stroll along Sandbridge Beach.
Also known as lightning glass, this natural miracle forms when super-hot lightning directly strikes the sand. The lightning fuses with the sand’s silica crystals to create crusted glass tubes called “fulgurites.” Each fulgurite is shaped exactly like the path the lightning bolt took as it radiated through the ground.
Most fulgurites are knobby sand-covered tubes only one or two inches in diameter. But you may find larger and stranger specimens, including some that resemble gnarly, twisted tree branches. Always handle with care – fulgurites are incredibly fragile!
Go Scavenging at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Ready for a photographic scavenger hunt? Bring your smartphones and/or digital cameras to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the unspoiled 9,250-acre nature preserve located just south of Sandbridge Beach.
Here, as you wander along scenic trails, scan your surroundings for all kinds of birds – ranging from native shorebirds like herons and egrets to migratory waterfowl like ducks, geese, and tundra swans. Use a birding app such as Merlin or iBird Pro to identify the birds you spot. Plus, be sure to snap plenty of photos of any other critters you encounter, including foxes, deer, salamanders, and giant loggerhead turtles. Award points for “most critters photographed,” “most unusual bird,” and so on.
Last But Not Least: Scavenging at Little Island Fishing Pier
Turn a fishing excursion into an exciting game with a scavenger hunt at Little Island Pier. See how many different kinds of fish you can identify in the waters just off the pier. Then, either take a few photos or cast your line and reel them in. Who knows? You may even spot a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf.
There’s So Much More to See and Do at Sandbridge Beach, VA
You’ll never run out of family-friendly ways to enjoy this serene seaside haven!