Monday, January 16, 2017

Welcoming 2017

2016 went into the books as not one of the greatest years ever. That was true on many levels, though there were a few bright spots. Hopefully, I have learned by now to roll with the punches and enjoy what we get, whatever that might be. Life is only so long... we need to make the best of everything.

Monday January 2nd:
With that new attitude (and a new prescription to... take the edge off...) we embarked on a new year of nature by taking a trip to northern Worcester County to take a look for stream salamanders. It was January 2nd, which also meant we could start our bird count anew. We got a little bit lost finding the place, this being our first visit there. We finally made it and got stuck in the ice in the parking lot. Oh well. We made it out and then got stuck again. While I was pushing and Andrea was flooring it, I noticed the back tire was flat and smoking.
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Calmly, I jacked it up, got the nuts off and... the tire was stuck. Rusted in place. OK, we called Triple A. Surely they wouldn't take too long. Well, they kinda did. We passed the time by starting our bird count around some feeders around the place. This is an Audubon park so it has a lot to offer. I also used my nervous energy to chip the ice away and make a clean spot. Eventually, AAA got there, got my tire off and we put the donut on and we were free to peruse the sanctuary.

Time was short by now, so we hurried along. One thing we hadn't taken into consideration while planning this trip in the morning? They got a lot more snow than we did in town.
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We finally got to the stream we sought. Surely we could find some Spring Salamanders, some Dookies and Two-lines... right?
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We couldn't. We peeked into a few seeps as well. Great habitat but no one was home.
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Since we would be driving on a donut, we had to find a garage for a tire. That made us cut our hike short. That and tons of snow. We left herpless and with 6 bird species photographed. This place does hold great promise, however. There's a Wood Turtle on the front of the trail map, loads of stone walls and this sign on the road in (and out)...
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We will be back.

We did manage to get a tire after a short stint on the highway and a look around Worcester. No harm done... just not the way we had planned our first outing.

Friday, January 6th:
Since I was stuck at 6 birds and it didn't look like we'd get too much birding in over the weekend (I was catching my second strain of flu in a month), I hit the grocery store on the way home from work and baited my #7, 8 and 9 bird species with some cereal.
#7 Ring-billed Gull, #8 Canada Goose, #9 Mallard Duck
I regret nothing.

Saturday, January 14th:
For some bizarre reason, I wanted to try finding some stream salamanders in Worcester again on a cold Saturday. Of course, we have some nearby in Suffolk County, but going the extra 30 miles puts us into range for Dooks and possible Springs. My target was Duskies, however, having ruled out Springs at this certain spot. The week had given us some warm days and though Saturday's temps were in the low 30s, we felt like we had a chance. Though it did freeze overnight.

The water was rushing,  but it was cold. And much of it was icy.
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Despite the flu, I gave it my all... peeking under stones in the water, sifting with my dip-net... I really did give it my best effort. But Nature had beat me. Any stream salamanders would be in the deepest parts of the water, where I was not prepared to go. It was beautiful, though... an ice mountain.
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Monday, January 16th:
Martin Luther King Day, we both had it off. I was starting to feel a bit better and we both needed some fresh air. We decided to celebrate the great man's memory by hitting some local places where our effort could be minimal but our chances would be greater. The temps were scraping 40 and it was sunny. It was full-on beautiful.

Upon seeing the trickling stream, our habitat target, my heart filled with joy. Such a beautiful sight... and sound.
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It didn't take long before we found our first herp of 2017... a bright and gorgeous Two-lined Salamander.
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Less than a mile from our back door.

We found another robust pair of them before leaving the place.


We headed over to our snake den spot after that. It was far too cold for any noggins to poke out (though we did give a cursory look) but it was sunny and we felt good. We hadn't been on beach patrol for quite some time and thus, we hadn't been getting much outdoor time in.  It wasn't as birdy as we were hoping. We got to observe a few Mallard couples for a while and we added bird #10, a Downy Woodpecker.
Downy Woodpecker #10

Needless to say, we're off to a fairly slow start this year. I'm not too worried about it, though. It's a long year and we'll see our animals. I just have to keep my cool on the days where we don't see as much and revel with joy when we are successful. While I make no resolutions for 2017, I hope we can just enjoy each other's company and enjoy nature... easy peezy.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending 2016. Dec. 27th and 30th, 2016

I think we can all agree that 2016 has sucked on many levels. Our herping adventures were OK, though our two biggest out-of-state trips were underwhelming. With less than a week left in this year, I figured we should try to see a few more animals.

Tuesday the 27th, it was very mild (mid-50s) and though Andrea had work, I figured I'd go alone to a nearby spot in Suffolk County to see if any salamanders were up. I did check the snake dens as well but since there have been many nights of frost, I didn't expect to see any... and I didn't. One spot, however, had loads of Redbacks so I took a pictures of a few of them.
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The brazen and the shy...
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This last one, a Leadback phase, was massive... close to 4 inches long. And *ahem* girthy.
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Friday, December 30th... it was cold. I battled snow while I was out running some errands. It ended quickly, though, and by the time Andrea was home from a shortened work day, it was sunny again. But still frigid. It was about 35° and with the breeze, it was downright nasty. But we were just heading over to a nearby stream to try to see some last minute salamanders for 2016.

The water was icy, but running. It looked good for Two-lined Salamanders and, since we've seen hundreds in this spot over the years, we knew it was. It wasn't long before we found a couple of adults... one small and one quite large.
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Good thing I got that safety shot in the cup... only the big guy posed for a nature shot... the little pretty one slid off in a hurry.
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Though I was without a dip-net, I still wanted to try to find a larvae. This stream had been bone dry for most of the summer and it makes me wonder if any had survived. They can be larval for 2 or 3 years. So, I flipped stones that were fully in the water and scooped with the cup, hoping for a larvae... nope, but I got us another adult.
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Finally, another scoop yielded a good sized larvae. I have no idea where these guys went during the drought, but this guy has been around for a year or two, so he did something right.
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Andrea gently poured him back into his stream. He is our last herp of 2016.
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OK, last year was weird. We had a Garter on New Year's Eve. No hope for that this year. In fact, oddly enough, our last snake for 2016 is... a Copperhead on November 19th. Weird.

Our last frog of the year was a Pickerel on October 23rd.

Last toad was an American on October 16th. (Pretty late for a toad, too)

Our last non-sea turtle was a couple of Painters on the same day as the Pickerel.

So, that's our year. Personally, I hope 2017 is better. We'll do our part to try to make it a better year for all life on Earth.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas on the Beach. 12-25-2016

Just because it's a holiday, it doesn't mean turtles are going to take a day off. It has been a skeleton crew doing turtle duty around the holidays and they needed volunteers to step up so Andrea and I took the big beach for Christmas morning. Up at 4:30, breakfast, drive to the Cape... hell, we got there a half hour before high tide, which was to come in at 8:30.

It was windy but not too cold... the car read 41° when we parked and the sun was coming in quickly. The waves were pretty heavy; we were probably going to get turtles.
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The sad thing is, anything that comes in this late is dead. The day before, however, two Loggerheads were alive so we might not just be on clean-up crew. Something might be alive. Our first turtle was a Kemp's who was definitely not alive.
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These little guys just can't survive this late into the season. There hasn't been a live one found in weeks.

A little past the half-way point, there was a large lump... a Loggerhead just at the high-tide line.
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This big guy was supple but unresponsive. My eye-poking test didn't really yield any results that were obvious.
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But we treated him like he was alive. You never know.

I'd always heard a lot about Christmas Seals and and how they raise funds for charity but I'd never seen them until this day!
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Greys.

We were about 3/4 of a mile from the point, about 2 1/2 miles out, when we saw this lump about 20 feet above last night's high tide line.
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Pretty little Loggerhead but he was stiff and obviously dead. Who knows how long he had been there. Still, we covered him up.

About 100 yards from him, a small Kemp's that I had walked right past was half buried in sand at the high tide line.
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That was that... we were at the tip of the point and it was time to head back. We had our sled with us so getting these far away turtles wasn't going to be a huge problem.
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Still about 50 lbs of turtles, though. They got heavy pretty quickly.

We got a call from the sanctuary... our friends Tim and Kim were coming out to meet us to help get the other turtles. Yay! But they were still a way off and we came upon the first Loggerhead quicker than expected. There was absolutely no way I could do it. The guy in the sled already was 40 lbs or so... this other guy was easily 70 lbs. Oh well, what is turtle duty without a little bit of insanity?
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OK, this was pretty dumb. I had to go incredibly slow and it was a real slog. I might have gone a quarter mile tops, but had to stop. Over 100 lbs of turtle was too much even for my tenacity (stupidity?). Tim and Kim were within sight, along with another volunteer named Charlie. We finally all got together and divvied up turtles.

Charlie headed back out to the point to see if the receding tide would reveal anyone else. Kim took the 40 lb. Loggerhead and left us in the dust! She was sick but still disappeared way ahead of us. That left me and Tim with the 70 lb fella and the Kemp's.

You know, if I'm going to torture someone on Christmas Day, it might as well be people that I like! I resisted the urge to do the "Guess what Santa has in his sack for you today... dead turtles!" Tim took over solo for a while.
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Eventually, we had just the 70 lb guy on the sled, a Kemp's in my backpack and the other in Andrea's arms. It was very tough going through the wet sand. Tim and I pulled the sled together, fused at the elbow as the rope tightened, and took breaks every 100 yards or so. Luckily, both of us were well beyond the macho "I can do this with no breaks" stage... our legs were jelly and we had to stop to reoxygenate and switch sides. It took a while, but we finally made it. Kim was at the car wondering what had taken so long! A couple of wimps.

We took all of our turtles to the sanctuary to a warm(er) holding room. The big Loggerhead was still supple but I'm not going to hold my breath for its survival. Still, we'll do necropsies on these turtles come February and March, so we can still learn from them. One other (small) Loggerhead was sharing the room with our four.
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So, that was our Christmas. We headed over to Malden after and got there at about 3:30 PM, ate too much, then got home and had a quiet little Christmas by ourselves.

Not a bad day, really. The aches and pains weren't as bad as expected. I hope Tim and Kim feel the same way!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Baby, It's COLD Outside. 12-10-2016

Sorry to be so slow to write this up. I have been sick. This is how I got that way.

We got the call for turtle patrol at a new (to us) beach. Our usual loooong walk was being replaced by a tiny one, just .2 miles. Seems easy. It was in Dennis, which is about a half hour closer than the usual walk. So, we set out in the wee hours of Saturday morning to get there between first light (7 AM) and high tide (7:30 am)... and by jiggity, we made it there at 7:15! Now the bad part... it was brutally cold with high winds. "Real feel" of below zero.

When we pulled into the lot, there were two people there with a Kemp's they had just plucked out of the water. OK, so turtles were indeed coming in. We went down to the beach and saw what we had in store for ourselves.
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Waves were crashing in relentlessly. There was no real beach to speak of... just rocky walls and crashing waves. Our job was to ride out the high tide as it came in and keep our eyes peeled for turtles.

I wonder how many crash to their deaths on this wall. The waves were pounding into it. There was a seal playing out there at one point. Crazy mammal.
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We did our best to patrol the waves and tides on the tiny bit of beach area and the crashing along the rocks. Sure enough, about 15 minutes into it, a wave quickly came up and soaked my feet. It was bitter cold and my feet went numb pretty quickly. I walked a lot to keep them usable. I didn't notice it after a while, but that's probably where I got sick.
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It was so cold and the wind was so harsh that Andrea actually had to take a break after an hour or so. It was nasty out there. This was a different kind of turtle patrol. On the big beach, we walk along and "find" them washed up. Here, in this frigid cold, we wait and watch. Time is of the essence; turtles only have minutes before exposure to this cold will kill them. They're sick already, don't forget... cold stunned. After a few hours, we decided to call in and see if we were needed elsewhere. High tide hadn't brought anything else in and low tide wasn't revealing anything.

We were told to just walk any beach on the way to the sanctuary. We were in the viscinity of a place we were familiar with so we took a quick detour to walk the 1.5 mile beach. Stretching our legs helped keep us warmer. The tide was going out and revealing plenty of rocks, but no turtles. We got to the end of the beach which has a rocky barrier that goes on for about 30 feet before the next beach starts. I climbed over the rocks (carefully) to look at the adjacent beach. It was about a half mile long and had been beaten by waves. It needed a look-see. I believe it was a private beach.

On the way out, I kept my eyes peeled for whatever might be there. A dead Loon was the first thing I saw. Just before the next rock barrier, which marked the end of this beach, I was pretty sure I saw a turtle. I did. It was on its back, never a good sign. I flipped it over and saw that it was a young Loggerhead. 
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No way this guy was alive, but you treat them all as if they are, so he was coming with me.

The term dead weight must have been invented by a guy carrying a turtle. Only a short half mile to the rocks where Andrea was waiting. I was guessing about 40 lbs on this guy. Biceps were screaming as I hobbled over the rocky divider. I rested while she called it in. We were going to have to get him the last mile and a half to the parking area. I had a rare moment of lucidity and fashioned a turtle harness for him. I unzipped my coat to the bottom and stuck his legs and the bottom point of his shell into that so it would hold him up. I wrapped him in the towel kindly donated by my friend Brenda. Then I put my backpack around the front to hold him like a papoose.
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It should be noted that Andrea froze her hands taking that photo.

We got him almost there and were met by a volunteer named Maureen who had recently plucked a Kemp's out of the water on a nearby beach. She had it with her and it was very much alive! Her first solo rescue!
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She was on duty to collect turtles that had been found but, since we were heading to the sanctuary anyway, we traded duties and we took her Kemp's and our (dead) Loggerhead to Wellfleet.

The Loggerhead went into this room, where it is slightly warmer, to see make sure the animals are dead.
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That front row is a Loggerhead, a big Kemp's and our guy on the right. Not much hope for any of these turtles, but volunteers were watching over them, looking for signs of life... a breath, a blink... any sign. One Kemp's took a breath; no efforts were wasted.

We were told that our usual walk, the big beach, had yielded no turtles. Weird. We also got some always-appreciated face time with our friend Tim, whose turtle-efforts are legendary. 

We were going to taxi turtles to the aquarium on the way home but that wouldn't be until later, so as we awaited further instructions, we relaxed for as moment and looked around the sanctuary, one of my favorite places on Earth. Oh, how I miss Painted Turtles.
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The sideways smile of a flounder...
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A call came in from a guy who had found 4 Kemp's so, since we were handy, we went to retrieve them. They were on a beach behind a museum in Dennis. We got back over there in pretty good time and took our sled with us on the hike. The grounds and trails behind this museum look amazing for Box Turtles and, once it got marshy, for Terrapins. But that's for another season. We had to find the sea turtles this guy had stashed.

They were exactly where he'd said they would be. We packed them up on the sled (and the last, bigger one in my backpack).
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After getting them into the Corolla, we called to say that we were heading back and they gave us another spot to make a pick-up. It was right next to where we'd been in the morning. We got there and I headed down to the beach and a man was walking up. I asked if he'd reported turtles and he said yes. I asked where they were and he said "right here." He had them in his backpack.

This is the guy who had found the other four that we'd just picked up, too. He is also the owner of the beachfront property right there. It's good to have him on our side. We now had a Corolla full of turtles again.
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It was a pretty safe bet that all of these turtles were expired.

We got them back to the sanctuary and put them into the waiting-for-death room, which was now empty. It turns out that both Loggerheads had shown a small flicker of life when they were loading the vehicle to head to the aquarium (our pick-ups made it so we were unavailable for the aquarium delivery), so they put them both in and sent them on their way! Now, I'm not going to go out on a limb and say YEAH!! My Loggerhead lived! But at least he had a shot. (One Loggerhead out of 5 on the year had died, it was reported that afternoon... I don't want to know if it was our guy.)

So, that's that. We got home, warmed up, crashed and I have been sick ever since. I will not be able to participate this week in turtle patrol, should they have them. (Patrols were cancelled today, Friday the 16th, due to obscenely cold temps that would be dangerous to humans. Hopefully, turtles will stay in the water until things warm up later in the weekend.) I'll be well enough to get back out there soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December Turtle Adventure. 12-3-2016

So, despite having said we weren't going to do turtle patrol again unless we were specifically called for it, I found myself contacting the directors about walking the big beach again on December 3rd. Our friend Bob, one of the world's most caring naturalists, was planning on driving up from Northern PA to lend a hand, walk the beach and hopefully save a turtle or two. They said that the 1:40 PM high tide had been assigned already and we were asked to walk at first light. Bob left PA at sundown on Friday the 2nd. He slept in his car to await first light. We set the alarm for 3:45 Saturday morning and hit the road exactly one hour later. Too bad we had band practice on Friday night and were working on just 4 hours sleep.

Meeting Bob on Cape Cod was an excellent carrot to dangle in front of us. However tired we were, he had worked harder to get there. The forecast first light was 6:51 but by the time we arrived, the sun was up and we saw Bob out birding as he waited for us. It was cold and very windy. It was good weather for turtles to wash up. We made our greetings, bundled up and trekked out to the beach, where we were greeted with pelting sand and icy winds.

It was low tide, which was weird for us; we are usually there at high tide. The three of us spaced ourselves a bit for maximum beach blanketing as we walked South. About a half mile in, we saw something in the distance. Had the low tide unearthed an unfamiliar rock? Bob and I checked it out with our binoculars. Too big to be a turtle. But it sure looked like one. No, no way. Too big. But doesn't that pink rock in the front look like a head? No way. If that's a turtle, it would have to be a Loggerhead or something. As we got closer, it became more clear... we had indeed stumbled across a large Loggerhead.
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Our quick life-test was administered... I touched it's closed eye and it blinked. Alive. Bob and I braced ourselves and prepared to move it above the high tide line.
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It was heavy... we were guessing 50 lbs or so. It was flapping it's flippers and legs a lot... it was very much alive.
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I dug out a hole and Bob single-handedly placed the large turtle into it.
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We then proceeded to cover the body with seaweed and placed our marker and called it in. Our friend Rebecca was already manning the phones. It was 7:30 AM.

That's the first Loggerhead Andrea and I have ever encountered on the beach. Thank goodness Bob had made the trip... it made the moving of this beast much easier on the two of us!

The rest of the walk to the point (roughly 3 more miles) was uneventful but we were all pumped with some much needed adrenaline. It was ridiculously windy out there and we were getting pummelled with wind, salt and sand. This is a shot of us walking back North... that is Andrea and Bob walking with their backs to the wind. It was the only way to move at times.
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While out at the Point, we encountered two Kemp's Ridley turtles that had washed up. Both were found on their backs and looked pretty much expired. But we are to treat every turtle as potentially alive, so we prepared to bring them back. This first one was put into my backpack while Andrea and Bob alternated carrying the second one back in their arms.
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Andrea's face was already windburned.

Not too far off the Point, we saw a group of people heading out. We thought it was another turtle patrol. They turned back. As we walked along, the waves were crashing in. It was pushing 10 AM and though the high tide was still a few hours away, my footprints from the way out were beginning to wash away. The wave were pounding in. It looked like it was going to be a big afternoon.
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We started to catch up to the other group and could see that they carried a sled. Definitely turtle folks. One member of the crew headed out towards us. He reached us and said hi. I was asking him if they were looking for turtles, but before I heard an answer, I heard Bob exclaim," Mike... that's a turtle..."

In the crashing waves, he thought he had seen flipper. He did. There was a small Kemp's Ridley being thrashed about in the waves. He would start coming in, stick his head up for a breath, disappear, reappear, get knocked onto his back in the waves... he just never got close enough to make things easy. Eventually, he got into the shallow-enough water. Bob filmed this.

That's worth a couple of soakers. This was Bob's lifer Kemp's, so he got the honor of carrying it in. His keen eye is what saved it's life.

It turns out the group that we had now caught up with was the crew that had come to retrieve the Loggerhead, but they had considerably overshot it. There were calls made to Andrea to help get them back to the right spot but the wind had been so vicious that she was unable to hear her phone. Lesson learned... we must always keep it near our ears and check it often. We added a couple of miles on to these fine volunteers' day. My deepest apologies.

The volunteers were from Maine's Unity College and they had been on this beach at high tide in the night and would be doing it again this evening. This is an amazing crew of young folks who are sacrificing a lot of sleep and working their butts off. We finally got back to the Loggerhead. All tracks and marks we had made leading to the turtle mound has been blown over by sand. Our reflective marker stood but on this vast beach, it was easy to miss. The turtle itself had also been covered with sand. As I cleared the sand from her head, she started moving again and became cantankerous again. I lifted it onto the sled they had brought. The line from JAWS came to mind... "we're gonna need a bigger sled..." But we got her on and moving. She even helped the pull a little, acting like a surfer paddling out to the big wave.

Forget all of that "he ain't heavy, he's my turtle" stuff... he was heavy!

Bob had gone ahead with his Ridleys and while he waited for the rest of us, he made a good, informative video about the plight these turtles face. It can be found on his Facebook page.

I had both Ridleys from the Point with me and I got the the Sanctuary truck and laid them out. Sadly, they hadn't relaxed at all... their flippers were still stiff. Rigor mortis. These two had expired on the beach.
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But the other Kemp's was alive and feeling good enough to give me the side-eye.
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We loaded up the turtles and everyone headed back to the Sanctuary. We went there as well, to see if any turtles, ours or others, needed a lift to the aquarium. It was on our way home, after all.

We would indeed be taking turtles, including "our" Loggerhead and living Kemp's Ridley, plus one more Kemp's that had come in that morning. While looking over the Loggerhead, it was weighed at 88 lbs!!! Man, I guess our adrenaline had kicked in or we're just stronger than we thought. Another Kemp's came in while we were waiting and we'd be taking that one, too.

So, getting a big Loggerhead into a Corolla isn't as easy as it sounds... and it doesn't even sound very easy. But we made it and loaded two boxes of Kemp's back there, too. The third Kemp's rode on Andrea's lap. We had to keep the car at 55°, which wasn't too bad. (Last year, we had to keep the windows down in cold winter weather. It was a balmy 47° when we hit the road.)
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Bob had decided to stay on the Cape and go birding at Race Point, since he was nearby. So, we made our teary goodbyes.
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And we hit the road...
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We got the turtles to the aquarium despite some very crappy traffic. The Loggerhead made quite a stir there. It was estimated to be about 5 years old... old enough to know better, I should think! We looked around the facility for a spell, watching rescued turtles swimming in their rehab tanks. The work these people do is amazing and inspiring. Between them and the Sanctuary folks, I am completely humbled to be in their company. They do such an incredible, tireless job. These people are true heroes in my eyes. We didn't take any photos inside the aquarium, so this little statue, quietly hidden away outside, will have to suffice.
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And that is what its all about. People working hard to help animals in need. It is very rewarding for us and I am proud to be associated with people like Andrea and Bob, who put aside personal comfort for the chance to help an animal in danger. And the people at the aquarium and Sanctuary... Bob P., Rebecca, Jacklyn, Tim, etc... who dedicate their lives to the well being of animals, I am in awe of them and forever inspired by them.

I imagine we'll be back on the beach next week.

Support the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary here.
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Check out Bob's page here.