Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Our Mission, Should We Choose To Accept It... 12-1-2018

Turtles are coming in at an alarming rate this year. Over 700, as I type this (Dec. 4th). Loggerheads have started coming in, even on "our" island. We made ourselves available for the weekend, which we always do. We got a call Friday to see if we could go out to the point of our island to retrieve a "floater", a device that measures tides and wind and is useful to see what natural occurrences are moving the cold-stunned turtles. We said OK... how bad could it be?

The floater was about 3 1/2 miles out. Hey, we go that way anyway.
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The water was calm and we didn't expect many turtles. The sunrise was quite pretty. (We had left the house at 4 AM).
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I added a couple of birds to the year on the way out but mostly, we kept our eyes open for turtles as we made our way along the beach. Here's an arty shot of Andrea doin' her thing.
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Finally, we got out to where the floater should be. I walked up the harbor side, thinking it might be out that way. It was. I loaded it on to my sled and made my way back toward Andrea.
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One thing I hadn't counted on... it was heavy as hell. The big canvas sail was soaking wet and sand covered and the whole shebang was over 100 lbs.

I parked the sled and continued, unencumbered, out to the point with Andrea. She had found a cold-stunned cabbage while I was dragging the floater over.
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We found three deceased Kemp's Ridley's on our way out. They had been stuck in the middle for a while and were very dead. Out at the point, we watched Eiders and Gulls and wondered why there were no seals present. Or were there?
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We headed back, gathering up the dead turtles as we proceeded to the sled. It saddens me that I feel that I have become desensitized. Four years ago, all of these dead turtles would have made me cry but this day, I was carrying them like schoolbooks, just trying to get them safely to the sled to wrap them up and drag them back. Bringing them in is just something that has to be done and we do it unblinkingly.
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One more Kemp's was found, one that we'd missed on the way out. It too was dead.
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It started to feel like I was single-handedly destroying the alive/ dead ratio on the year.

It was very slow going. I was moving at Andrea speed and my back was achin' before too long. Still, I tried to enjoy the beauty around me (as I carried dead turtles and a massive floater)...

Blue.
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Sand painting.
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We finally got the sled back (though getting it up the steep, eroded sand dune was quite the effort and I had to take an "I can't breath" rest for a few minutes) and took the load back to the sanctuary. Evidently, I didn't need to bring the sticks and sails of the floater back but leaving it there would have felt like littering. There were students visiting so the dead turtles were taken for dissection pretty quickly. The good news was, two live Loggerheads had come in while we were out there!
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Our friends Tim and Kim were there and they had the pleasure of taking these ones to the aquarium. The top one tried to climb off of the cart while being wheeled to Tim's car!

We stuck around to make some pick-ups. We had to go back to "our" island to pick up 3 more Kemp's. When we got there, the woman was petting one of them hopefully but I could see from the car that they were all dead. We gave her and her husband the ol' "You never know!" but these three were definitely already gone.

Just as we were leaving to head home, a call came in from a beach in Dennis that we know and we decided to go grab that one before hitting the highway. I'm glad we did because the woman there had pulled a small Kemp's off of the beach and it was alive!
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We took it back to the sanctuary, relieved that we'd ended the day on a live note.

We got home 16 hours after we left the house and I was toast. I went to bed at 6:30 PM and slept for 12 hours.

So, since Tim goes by the nickname of Box Turtle Tim, I'm thinking of adopting Dead Turtle Mike. It doesn't have the cachet of Tim's name but it seems horribly accurate this year.

Monday, November 26, 2018

When Dedication Becomes Stupidity. November 22nd and 23rd, 2018

We had made our schedules completely clear for Thanksgiving and the day after. We shipped Andrea's Mum down to celebrate the day with Andrea's sisters and we were ready and available to patrol beaches on that Thursday. Of course, there was a cold snap of unprecedented proportions. And I had Andrea's cold from the week before. Undaunted (well, daunted as hell, but still...) we headed for the Cape to take our walk on the big island between tides.

We arrived a little early and were told that all scheduled walks had been cancelled. Any turtles coming in wouldn't stand much of a chance in the ridiculously cold air and with the wind, it was dangerous for us warm-blooded walkers. Because we don't have the combined brain power of a gnat, we headed to the beach. This was what Andrea's thingey said:
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We wore layers and layers and heading out, the wind was at our backs. "Hmm.. it's bad but let's at least try to get to this spot..." We pushed on past the half-way rocks and were surprised that we had seen no turtles. That was good, really, because they would only have minutes to survive out of the water (the water temps are still in the 40s). We decided to head to the harbor side of the island to get out of the wind a bit. It sounded good on paper.

You can see how much fun Andrea was having as she crossed over the dune.
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We saw another deceased Ocean Sunfish. We also began to realize that we didn't know the terrain on this side and we kept coming to dead-ends and tide-pools. We had to backtrack a bit, stick to the dunes and still fight the wind. We finally decided to go back over the dune to wrestle the windy beach... at least we knew where we were. We did find two frozen-solid Kemp's Ridleys back there, though.

Much to our chagrin, when we got back on the beach, we were barely past Halfway Rock. We had made a giant U-turn in the cold back there. We pushed back towards the car for what was likely the worst hour and a half we've ever spent together. My way of dealing with wind, ice and blowing sand is to put my head down and push... try to get it over with. Andrea, on the other hand, had bad Achilles tendons flaring up and had to walk backwards, one teeny step at a time. I love her so much but I told her afterward that it was like walking the beach with Tim Conway's old man from The Carol Burnett Show. I waited for her to catch up a few times, standing with my back to the wind and freezing my balls of. Literally. It was so cold and windy that our sled broke. Shattered. I never even noticed when the main part blew away. Andrea grabbed it. I was able to fly the remaining chunk like a kite.

I beat her to the car. I just couldn't take it anymore. The Diet Coke in my backpack had frozen to slush. We really should have listened and stayed in, staying warm. All we had to show for it was two Kempsicles and a broken saucer.
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We took the dead turtles to the sanctuary and put them in the dead turtle room. It was a full house in there. Many many turtles had stranded that day, only four were still alive. We went to check in to our hotel one town over. Andrea looked much happier on a warm bed with hot tea.
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Why the hotel? Because we had our dear friend Bob coming up on Friday to walk that goddamn beach with us the next day.

Staying on the Cape also meant we got to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner at the sanctuary with our good friends Tim and Kim (who supplied the dinner! Thank you!) and others of this magnificent crew of turtle-helpers. I brought the upper left pie (mixed berry made by the one and only Stabatha LaThrills) and there were three others. Pie is good food.
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We managed to turn in pretty early. I drowned myself in NyQuil and didn't sleep too badly.

Bob and two of his kids showed up while we were having breakfast the following morning. We told him about our shitty day previous and mentioned that walks might  be cancelled because of the temps. Still, we all got ready for the inevitable. We were expecting a huge day. I borrowed a sled from the sanctuary and we headed to the island, a motley crew indeed.
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Much to our delight, the winds had died down and it was in the high 20s... a fucking tropical paradise.
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There wasn't much action on the beach and sadly, the boys' first sea turtle encounter was a frozen solid Kemp's that probably came in during the night.
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I got this ace picture of a Ruddy Turnstone. I didn't need it for my year count but its a decent shot so here it is.
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Bob and I were walking together as we neared the point, with the others about 100 yards behind us. There were loads of birds out there... Gulls and Eiders, mostly. Then we noticed a big blob right at the edge...
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He tried to call his boys to get up to where we were... seals make all things good again. He plopped into the drink.
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We all stood out at the point, 3 1/2 miles from the car, watching seals watch us. Then an extraordinary thing happened. A young Gray Seal came up out of the water, not 15 feet from us, and started looking us up and down. We stood there in the moment (I got no pics, Bob got a few) just enjoying this once in a lifetime experience. Then, it decided we had nothing of interest and he flopped back into the water. A breathtaking encounter.

Unfortunately, only one more turtle was found... a battered Kemp's that had probably washed up the day before and was taken back out with the tide. Poor guy.
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It seems the winds had shifted during the night and the expectation of a huge day turned to a very light day. Which is fine since the turtles stood much more chance for surviving if they didn't wash ashore.

Andrea and I were very proud of ourselves for making it. Thanks to Bob and his boys, we sucked it up and did a walk we thought we might not be able to do. I feel badly that we didn't get the boys some live turtles but you just can't predict these things.

The season isn't nearly over. Will I survive? Ah, who cares. As long as some turtles do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hope Springs A Turtle. 11-17-2018

Turtles have been coming in at an alarming rate this year. I was told on Saturday that roughly 200 had come in on the last four high tides. That's in two days, so we expected a pretty big day for our assigned Saturday high tide/ first light walk. Unfortunately, Andrea fell ill and I had to go it alone.

Undaunted, I got up at 4 AM and hit the road by 4:30 for an uneventful drive to the Cape. I got there just after first light, right at high tide. And saw footprints in front of me. A well meaning local had taken it upon himself to walk the beach that I just drove over 2 hours to patrol. I can't get mad because the more eyes, the merrier. But damn, people... check in! There might be turtles stranded on a beach nobody is walking.

I caught up to him (damned bathroom break! I coulda beat him!) and mentioned my assignment and whatever. We walked along together and then I found my first Kemp's Ridley of the year. It was very much alive, though it didn't look it.
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He called it in for me, which is nice, because I had Andrea's cell-phone but would rather not use it if I didn't have to.

He turned back soon after that and took the turtle back to the sanctuary with him. I did the next few miles and back on my own. I saw no more turtles but way out at the point, I got to enjoy the Gray Seals out there.
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On the way back, I saw another couple starting the Great Island walk. *sigh* Well, this worked out because I told them to check the Bay side closer as I didn't get a thorough look there, and the sand flats would likely be exposed by then, too. But I started to wonder why I break my ass getting out of bed well before the ass-crack of dawn to do this when Joe Goodguy will be there anyway. In the end, I saw no more turtles anyway and the only other thing I removed from the beach was this tangled, sharp death wire.
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I went back to the sanctuary and they were loading up turtles for a ride to the aquarium. My guy was right there (#313, he of the bloody flipper). I volunteered my car for another run since I pass by there anyway. Much to my delight, Tim and Kim were there and they were picking up turtles that people were calling in. I joined them for a while.
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Our first call had us going crazy looking for a turtle that seemed to not exist. We saw a massive ocean sunfish but no turtles. Kim and I walked 1/2 mile or so out along the tide line and the shore but came up empty. After a number of phone calls, Tim finally reached the woman who reported it and it turns out this is her "sea turtle"..
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This (as it turns out... Tim reported it to our friend who researches these magnificent creatures) is a 910 lb. Ocean Sunfish. Not a turtle. The woman who reported it confessed as to why she mis-ID'd it... "I'm from Connecticut".

Our next stop was easier. We got to the beach and saw a well-marked turtle mound. Kim and I said almost in unison "Now, that's how its done."
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This Kemp's looked to be in decent shape. It was responsive at least.
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Next up was a three-fer. We went to the beach and nobody was there. In the distance, there were two figures but they were still very far away and we had no idea if they were our meet-ups or not.  A few hundred yards out, in their direction, was some exposed sea grass that I figured I'd go poke through until the turtles turned up. I saw no stranded animals (added a bird to the year, though) and by then, the two figures were close enough that I could see they were carrying something. They were probably our people. I trekked on to meet them.

They were a delightful couple doing turtle patrol for the second time ever. They had a (sadly) deceased Green and two teeny Kemp's. It's a shame, I've still never encountered a live Green on the beach. But the two Kemp's were responsive and one was no larger than a tea saucer. Rest in Peace, Mr. Green. I'd love to see a live and healthy one of these fragile beauties in the wild.
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Wee Ridleys⬇ 
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Back at the sanctuary, they said I wouldn't be taking turtles to the aquarium until 2 PM so I had some more time to wait. I added a new bird to the life list... a Fox Sparrow, #102 on the year, Lifer #179.
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Tim and Kim went off on another pick-up but I was asked to stay in case they needed another driver. They did, in fact, need one and I went over to a nearby beach to pick up a very lively Kemp's who was giving me side-eye from the back seat and pushing his towels off on the way back!
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I went back and waited for a bit longer, then it was time to pack the Corolla and get some turtles to the Aquarium. I would have sworn that we got 11 banana boxes in the back seat before but we only fit eight, then three in the passenger side. I had to leave two behind, which crushed me but Tim and Kim had picked up another lively Kemp's so he would be following me in a bit with three more turtles. This is what a 2003 Corolla loaded with 11 endangered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles looks like.
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We had an uneventful drive back to town and the turtles were delivered safe and sound. My legs were absolutely noodles after this day and I paid for it for a few days after. But its all good. Turtles are worth it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It Ain't Over Till the Fat Snake Hisses. 11-4-2018

It was cool, but sunny. 52° to be exact. But the sun was shining and we know where the local snake dens are. Why not? As an added bonus, the rain that drenched us the day before should have stirred up a few salamanders, too. So we hit our local den spot a little after noon on this brisk Sunday.

The sun was shining in all of the right places so we hurried to them, only stopping to flip a few logs along the way. Redbacks were abundant (plentiful Plethodons)... check out all of the life under this first flip.
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A few more Redbacks.
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The sun was painting the valley so we went to look around the den entrances that we know of. Andrea realized all of a sudden that two Garters were at her feet, the first one being fairly large.
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This little fella was handsome, too.
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A known Water Snake den entrance (dentrance?) had a noggin that had inched out...
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I'm glad I know where that hole is exactly; here is the big picture.
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The trail was a little tricky. A lil something was in the way.
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We went down by the Cottonwood Dens. I walked right past a large Garter gal who was seen by Andrea.
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Surprisingly, she was the only one out at this site. The sun was hitting it just right.

Out behind the Rock Wall Dens, this Garter couple were spooning. She of the stub tail, he of the skinny.
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A close-up of her, flattened for optimum sun-catching.
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We were already satisfied so we turned back, hoping to see an Ambystoma among the salamander sightings. First up, however, was another stunning and oddball Redback. Check out the cream coloring on the back.
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Another color variation I'd never seen before.

We got to our final flipping spot. It has stones, so we were only going to lift the low hanging fruit, being extremely careful of anything that might be underneath. Andrea found this Redback doing a decent 4-Toed impression.
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Then we found our first Ambystoma of November, a Blue-spotted all tangled up with a couple of Redbacks. (Were the Redbacks Tangled Up in Blue?)
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Yes, that is a fairly small Bluie.

Then we flipped this. I sense a theme.
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And that was our Sunday. Not too shabby for a day in the low-50s. We'll not be over-visiting the dens this year. We might go back on a sunny December day just for the novelty but I prefer to let the animals have a safe rest until Spring. Hopefully, they (and we) will survive the winter to enjoy life again in the woods next year.