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.
DSCN4880
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.
DSCN4883
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.
DSCN4884

I dug out a hole and Bob single-handedly placed the large turtle into it.
DSCN4889
DSCN4891
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.
DSCN4892

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.
DSCN4894
DSCN4895
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.
DSCN4896

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.
DSCN4901

But the other Kemp's was alive and feeling good enough to give me the side-eye.
DSCN4903

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.)
DSCN4904

Bob had decided to stay on the Cape and go birding at Race Point, since he was nearby. So, we made our teary goodbyes.
DSCN4905
DSCN4906

And we hit the road...
DSCN4907

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.
DSCN4910

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.
.
Check out Bob's page here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Novembering... Nov. 25th and 27th 2016

Not that there's much to disclose...

Of course, since the last weekend, the winds and temps had turned and turtles were washing up left and right. I felt helplessly trapped at work as nearly 100 turtles washed up. Well, at least that many were found, so that's good. But still, I felt useless. Right up through Thanksgiving, people were finding turtles. We made our plans to get to the beach at first light on Friday the 25th ("Black Friday") since we were both off from work and we didn't want to participate in the crazed shopping phenomenon.

We got there, ready to do our part, but the water was still. It lay before us like a sheet of glass. It really didn't look good for turtles to wash ashore. Still, we did our walk. It was warmish (low 50s) and seals were plentiful. I'm pretty sure that this was a Grey (back) and a Harbor (front) frolicking together.
Harbor and Grey Seal (right, J?)
If that is correct, it's our lifer Harbor Seal.

Every once in a while, we'd see a solitary loon... and their haunting calls were audible at a few points along the walk.
DSCN4852

A gaggle of Red-breasted Mergansers.
DSCN4853

Yeah, there were no turtles but the birding was pretty swell.
DSCN4856

And the sealing...
DSCN4857
Oh well... we tried. At least we got home at a reasonable hour and got some relaxing in.

Lots of relaxing.

In fact, neither of us even left the house on Saturday. On Sunday, even though I was unshaven and quite grotty, I had to go out and get some groceries. It was cold and rainy for the second day in a row but since there was a break in the clouds, I decided to hit the local Two-lined stream on the way to the store.

I hadn't stopped by in a long time but I figured that, like every other source of water in the area, it had spent the entire summer dry as a bone. Therefore, I was delighted to see it was now running with pretty good force. I found a half dozen Two-lined Salamanders in a short time and they all looked robust and healthy. Here are a few of them.
DSCN4870
DSCN4874
Eurycea bislineata
Nice looking animals right there. First Two-lines of the month. (First in quite a while!)

So, that is how November ended for us. We have decided to not go back to the beach unless we're specifically called. The crew in charge really know what they're doing and know when and where we'll be needed. If we don't get called, that means either the conditions aren't right or they have everything covered. I can live with that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Frosty November Weekend. Nov. 19th and 20th

This time of year, when we're not on turtle patrol, we have a rough time figuring out what to do with ourselves. Saturday the 19th was supposed to be sunny and in the mid 50s, but we didn't really want to bother the Garters and Waters again. (Maybe next month.) Salamanders? Yeah... why not? But then our pal Ryan asked if we wanted to join him at the Copper dens to see if any knuckleheaded vipers would be out. Sensing more of a challenge, we decided to join him.

When we got there, the "sunny" portion of the forecast hadn't happened. It was about 53° and with the breeze, it felt cooler. We had only a short time to poke around. The trails were shady and flipping logs yielded no salamanders, though it was plenty damp. It was nice to see a pond present where there had been an open field the last time we were here. We headed up to the Copper spot and started carefully looking around. If only the sun would come out and stay out... the rocky hills were cool and it was very unlikely that anyone would be out this day.

Until one was. Ryan stumbled across this adult...
DSCN4817
One look at that tail should tell you why it was out, trying desperately to get as much vitamin D into its system before hunkering down for the winter.
DSCN4819
The last few inches of that tail will be falling off before too long. It looks like the damage starts aboiut 1/2" below the vent, so that's good. The wound is healing nicely along the top. A proud and beautiful animal.
DSCN4820
That was the only snake we saw on this cold, late November day. Luckily for him, the sun did come out for a while later on. Hopefully, he absorbed some healthy UVB rays before tucking in for the night.

On the way out, we poked around some swampy spots. Ryan found a Redback that disappeared before I could slog my way over for a picture. Damn! Double-soaker in my new shoes for nuthin'!

We headed over to another spot for a quick look around, hopefully for Racers. But it was cold and windy and our chances were very low. Ryan asked if I'd give him a dollar if he found another Redback. I said yes.
DSCN4822
I paid up.

That was our Saturday. We didn't expect much, but two species (one of them being a Copperhead) on November 19th isn't bad at all.

On Sunday, the weather forecast for Cape Cod made us think about turtles. Winds were going to be heavy and the temps were going to drop. We changed our plans and went south to walk, even though I woke up feeling like a cold was coming on. A miscalculation on my part got us there at low-tide, but I always figure that the ebbing water could easily leave things on the beach. It was frigid. I was miserable.
DSCN4832

We pushed on and noticed that a set of footprints were already there. Still, you never know whose they are and what they're doing there, so we kept going. Eventually, a figure loomed in the distance, coming back towards us. As he got closer, we saw he had a sled in tow. One of us!! We were about 2 miles out when we got to him, a familiar face from the turtle group. He had gone all the way out to the point and no turtles had washed up. He made our decision to turn back easy... I was feeling crappy and the wind wwas chilling me... I told Andrea that it felt like someone was holding a cold piece of bologna to my back. It did.

We headed back, feeling the chill, seeing the waves...
DSCN4833

It's so frustrating... they're out there. They'll be coming in. I hope eyes are on the beach when they do.
DSCN4835

We got back to the sanctuary to see if there were any turtles to be delivered to the aquarium on our way home. None. Hey, at least we got to see the display Painters. They have gotten so big!
DSCN4836

We were enjoying the birds and a rest before the two hour drive home when we ran into our friends Tim and Kim. Tim was going to be checking his Box Turtles to see if burrows were occupied and to check on his Electra-turtle... a transmittered specimen. The four of us walked and talked for a while as we went through the woods, checking on Boxies. Some burrows were empty, but nobody was up. Hopefully, they're all tucked in deep for the winter. (Tim has since sent a pic to us of an occupied burrow... all nice and cozy.)

The two of them were on for PM beach patrol. Since we walked on Sunday, many turtles have started to come in. We were just there a bit early. Tim and Kim found some and overall, the total count jumped from 19 to over 90 in just 3 days. Now is the crucial time. Andrea and I both have a few days off for Thanksgiving and we expect to spend much of that time on turtle patrol. I will walk as much as my body is able to. And then some.

I now leave you with a Blue Jay looking at you like you just said something stupid.
DSCN4840

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November at a Glance... The 5th, 12th and 13th.

With the cold climes, there is far less that we can do in the natural world... or rather, far less we are mentally capable of doing. We're not much for going out into the cold on purpose. But it's still not horrible, so we make plans that will fit into our hatred of cooler weather. But we don't want to hit the local dens every time. That would get old for both the animals and us.

Saturday the 5th, we planned on going up to Maine to visit the kids. On the way up, we stopped by an Essex County pond to poke around. Of course, frogs and turtles would be long gone and snakes would only be near their hibernaculums so we were going on a wing and a prayer. Our main target was salamanders, as it often is this time of year. And our first animal was a spiffy Leadback.
DSCN4729
My own newly described "Speckle-puss Phase".

It took plenty more work before we saw our next animal... a Redback, who posed provocatively with some mushrooms.
DSCN4731

We searched through a mile or two of powerline cut, thinking that there might have been some dens nearby, but no snakes were draped about. I mean, it was warm in the sun, but the air was only 53° and felt cooler in the breeze. On the way in, one spot that we were pretty sure was a den had been barren. So imagine our surprise and happiness when, on the way out, this Garter was poking around in the cool shade.
DSCN4732
This specimen is as stubborn as we are. We worked hard for this guy.
DSCN4735
In fact, we worked hard for all three animals. Those are the only ones we saw in about 3 hours. That's fine, though. We got sun, air and a few animal sightings. Always a wonderful thing.

The evening of Friday, the 11th was going to be cold and windy. Very windy. We were mulling over the possibility of pulling turtle patrol on the Cape on Saturday. Our minds were made up for us when we got officially asked to do it in the afternoon. We happily agreed. High tide was at 8:47 AM, so we'd have to leave home two hours before that. We set the alarm for 5 AM. No sleeping in this Saturday.

We got out there pretty much on time and made our way to the beach. The paths leading there were flooded by the tide, so our timing was pretty good. When we got onto the beach, the tide was high (and we were holding on) and the waves were choppy.
DSCN4752
It looked pretty good for turtles.

But we didn't see any. We saw a couple of guys that had walked part way out the beach (which is about 4 miles out) and they hadn't seen any. Oh well, undeterred, we went on. We were going to do the whole beach like we were asked. One interesting thing... Grey Seals kept popping up. They almost seemed to follow us.
DSCN4755

By the time we were near the point, over 3 miles out, seals were all over the place. They kept bobbing up, looking at us, diving, submerging, coming up, watching us... I swear they were showing off a bit.
DSCN4768
DSCN4772
DSCN4776
DSCN4778

My favorite hilariously bad shot...
DSCN4777

Yes, I dare say that the Grey Seals were ubiquitous.
DSCN4780

Not everything was fun and games, however. While we had seen no turtles in need of help, this young Greater Black-backed Gull needed a hand.
DSCN4781
She sat there, cowering before us and when she tried to move away, we saw her leg tethered to something in the sand. She was trapped there. Andrea reminded me of the pocket knife in my backpack, so I took it out, planning on cutting the line or netting or whatever it was stuck on.

I took off my coat and put it over the bird (at Andrea's suggestion... she mentioned "razor sharp beak" and the fact that they can "turn their heads all the way around", which was being demonstrated). Unfortunately, it was worse than we'd thought.

There was a fishing lure with a triple hook going through her foot. Luckily, it was just the webbed part, through two areas.
DSCN4782
As I worked on one hook, another would pull on her foot or stick me in the finger. Finally, I extricated the hooks from her foot. But it was worse.

There was a second set of hooks (presumably also three) stuck into her wing.
DSCN4784
I tried to see how much damage there was, but it obviously was causing her a lot of pain and I freshened the bleeding on the wound, so I stopped prodding. I worked the ring that held the hooks stuck in her wing, planning to remove the heavy lure and other hooks. It was like a tiny, tight key ring loop and it finally came off. Sadly, there was no way I could work on the hook still in her wing. I just wasn't equipped.

I make no secret about it. I am not a fan of fishing. I have many friends who fish and enjoy it and I have no doubt that they are very responsible. But I absolutely abhor it. This incident does not help my view.
DSCN4787
At least I got most of it off of her. I removed my coat and she bit it a few times. I thought that was fine; it reinforced to her who was boss. I held the sleeve out to her and she bit it again for good measure.

She tried to walk, but plopped back down. The foot was in pain.
DSCN4786

But it wasn't long before she stood up and limped about 30 yards to the water, her bum wing hanging low.
DSCN4788
She walked into the cleansing water and took a salty drink. We watched her for a while. She attempted to fly once, but couldn't do it. Yet, I hope.

We let her be and went on.

We rested at the very tip of the point for a while. A trio of young Eiders swam by.
DSCN4791

On the way back, we saw our Gull sitting atop a throne of rock and seaweed. I looked around and found a full scallop shell that I cracked open for her.
DSCN4792
I tried to take some noms to her but she got up and briskly walked away, wanting nothing to do with the Coat Guy. I tossed the snack her way but she ignored me. OK, well, at least she was ambulatory. Being a scavenger, she will find something. We started our 4 mile journey back to the car feeling a bit better about her.

No turtles. It was a tiring hike back. We stuck close to the water just in case the receding tide had left any chelonian surprises but there were none. Walking in the squishy, wet sand did a number on our feet.
DSCN4793
Ah, well... we made it and wound up none the worse for wear. I fell asleep at 7 PM. For the night.

Only three turtles had turned up on the Cape the whole day, all from other beaches. Luckily, other volunteers were there to help them. All three were alive, too!

Sunday the 13th was warm. It was going to scrape 60° and be sunny. We figured we owed it to ourselves to take a quiet walk and check on the local dens. Just to see some herps. We got there after 11 AM and it was lovely out. A few Redbacks were our first encounters.
DSCN4798
DSCN4799

Andrea saw a small Nerodia in the valley, right near the den entrance. He was being shy, but we got a couple of pictures.
DSCN4801

Most of the den areas were empty. We thought we'd see more than we did but there has already been a frost and some of these knuckleheads might be wising up. The Cottonwood Den had one small Garter tucked into a sunny nook. Andrea noticed this guy... I'd have never seen him.
DSCN4803

An example of how beautiful Andrea is... I was behind her and said "hey look" as if I'd found something. She turned quickly, I snapped the camera and got this...
DSCN4808
I was hoping for a goofy, embarrassing shot but got this ravishing creature. Damn, I'm lucky.

Up on a sunny trail, a small sparrow was poking around and I took his picture. Song? Swamp? Chipping? I was having trouble IDing it at home and asked my friend Bob for some help. It turns out it's an American Tree Sparrow, #103 on the year and Lifer #158.
American Tree Sparrow #103 (Lifer #158)
I had also added a Tufted Titmouse to the year's count earlier, so it wasn't a bad bird day at all.

So that is what November has been so far for us. Nothing Earth-shattering but good days out in nature. We expect to do many more turtle patrols in the coming weeks. I need to add some steel-cutters to my backpack arsenal.