Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
“You walk the beach and you find treasures,” said Jan Reaves about her avocation of shell collecting.
That about sums it up for the members of the North Carolina Shell Club, shell nerds who make a yearly two-day visit to Ocracoke at the end of March each year.
Most come for the special trip to Portsmouth Island and 34 members made the trek. Few people, especially at this time of the year, spend time in search of interesting shells on one of the remotest islands in North Carolina. So, beachcombing can yield some of the best finds, including shells that make the record books.
That was the case for Stephanie Bain of Youngsville, whose find of a large jingle shell on Portsmouth has been deemed the largest recorded jingle shell in North Carolina at 1.96 inches.
It was Bain’s and her husband Phil’s first trip to Ocracoke and first time to a club meeting, having just joined during their visit to the island.
“I found people who are as crazy as I am about shells,” Bain said about the group.
Official recording of the largest shells, using strict measurement criteria, is part of the shell club’s mission.
After shelling on Friday and Saturday, the group gathers in the evenings at the Community Center to display their finds, have silent auctions of shells from all over the world and listen to speakers. These meetings are open to all.
Islander Dave Frum regaled the group Friday night with stories and history gathered from his many years working for the National Park Service in maintaining Portsmouth village.
On Saturday night, Doug Wolfe of Beaufort gave a slide presentation of the bird-watching trip he and his wife, Nancy took to Thailand. Although this was a birding trip, he kept his eyes open for shells that he photographed and described. They also saw one of the world’s rarest birds, two Spoonbill Sandpipers.
Also on Saturday night, members of the group displayed their “finds of the day.”
Toni Boldy of Newport News, Va., and Jan Reaves, of Williamston, S.C., tied for that honor, both having found colorful specimens of the state shell—scotch bonnets—on Portsmouth.
“You can’t find these in Kill Devil Hills,” Boldy said. “I squealed a little when I found the big one.”
Boldy found two and Reaves found three whole scotch bonnets. From their unweathered, brown-striped colors, they appeared to be fresh.
“These were some of the best Scotch Bonnets I have ever seen to come off either Ocracoke or Portsmouth Islands,” said Everett Long, club president. “The colors were just perfect. Fresh dead with the operculums still attached. Great finds.”
Reaves said she’s never found any scotch bonnets in South Carolina, although she has found white ones on Sanibel Island, Fla., which is another prized shelling location.
“We’re very nature oriented,” said Reaves’ husband, John, about the club. Their many forays scavenging beaches has resulted in more than 920 species of shells in their home collection.
“Our winter project is cataloging them all,” he said.
But scotch bonnets are what everyone hopes to find during their trip, said Vicky Wall of Mayodan, the club secretary, who tries to make the Ocracoke trip every year.
“I love the history and that there are still places so remote that you have to get to them by ferry,” she said.
More information on the club can be found on their website and on their Facebook page.