Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tisn't the Season December 16, 23 and 26th.

Right now, on December 27th, I declare the season officially over. It is below 10°F outside and I'm not stepping foot out there unless it is absolutely necessary.

On Saturday, December 16th, I had an itch that I needed to scratch, so we went over to a local stream. Temps were in the high 20s/ low 30s. I just needed to see something alive. The habitat looked a bit like this.
A few flipped rocks later, we had a couple of Two-lined Salamander larvae and a sub-adult.
The last herps of 2017. But we didn't know that yet.

We weren't on call for beach walking on Christmas weekend, but we went anyway. They weren't expecting much so they didn't schedule people. We didn't want to get out of practice so we took it upon ourselves to walk. We got up early on Saturday, December 23rd and hit the beach on Cape Cod at first light. It was drizzling.

The fog was very thick, too. Seeing turtles would be difficult. Photographing birds would be near impossible.

Then again, when you get shitty photos, sometimes you can put enough filters on to make them interesting. This Crow shot ain't so bad after all.

Through the muck, I could see a Snowy Owl perched on a branch. I couldn't get a shot through the soup, though.

We got way out there, almost to the Point, and saw something we'd never seen before. Earlier in the week, a rare Leatherback had stranded. They are not known to cold-stun but apparently, this one had. They had sent people out to do a necropsy on site. The carcass was still out there.
As much as I hate to put gruesome dead things on this blog, this was fascinating. It will likely be our only chance to inspect one of these animals up close. The flipper alone weighs more and is larger than most of the turtles we see stranded.

Carrying on, we were almost to the Point when Andrea spotted a turtle that had been revealed in the low tide.
This Kemp's Ridley was supple but probably dead. We treated it as if it had a chance and packed it up to bring back.

Andrea at the end of the world...

Right about then, 4 miles out, the rain started to get pretty hard. We tried to hurry in, but Andrea had suggested that she stick to the sandbars in case any other turtles were left out there. We made our way slowly back. I had often said that I didn't think I'd ever seen a live wild Horseshoe Crab. Andrea found one on a sandbar and brought it to me.
It is good to finally see a live one after seeing so many deceased specimens.

It was eerie out there in the fog and pelting rain. We couldn't shake the feeling that someone... something was watching us...

Since we see so much death out there, I tried to respectfully (and hopefully artistically) represent it.

I figured I wouldn't get too many more chances to compare a young Leatherback's flipper to a young Kemp's Ridley flipper so...

We were drenched to the skin. The camera was wet. We rested in the pouring rain.

With about a mile left to go before reaching the car, I saw a small turtle getting thrashed about in the incoming waves. I put the very-dead Kemp's on the sled and brought it in.

We gave the turtles a Corolla ride back to the sanctuary.
We checked them in (both dead, obviously) talked for a bit, then made our way home. (We stopped at a Walmart so I could buy a dry sweatshirt.)

The winds on Christmas Day were going to be huge and they were expecting a final big turtle push. I let them know that I would be off work and thus available for beach walking after the holiday. I got the call for Tuesday the 26th at first light. We even borrowed Andrea's mum's phone should I need it.

I figured there would be multiple Loggerheads piled up since I would be there alone. It was damn cold and still very windy.

My first sight of the beach... no turning back now...
I don't know what the wind-chill was but that wind was whipping off the ocean and cutting right through me. Damn, it sucked. I moved pretty quickly while still making a thorough check for turtles. If any came in, time would be very much of the essence.

I saw an old friend waiting for me...
That was one of three Snowies I saw out there but the only one I photographed before my camera's battery froze.

The Point itself was wonderful, as always. Got my #92 bird of the year (White-winged Scoter) which will likely be my last.
White-winged Scoter #92
There was also Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders and a curious seal out there. This was my last photo before the camera died.

The walk back was painful as I had to walk into the wind. Other than seeing a couple more Snowies (one in the same peek-a-boo spot as Saturday) and seeing the first one again, it was uneventful. I made it back to the car and started to thaw out. The camera's battery thawed out in time to capture my lovely wind-burned face.

It turns out no turtles had come in during that wind event, in fact no turtles since our two dead Ridleys on Saturday. They're not calling the season over but it may well be. That said, this might well be the last Hit Me with Your Nature Stick post of the year. Quite an up and down year it has been, too.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like DAMN ITS COLD! 12-10-2017

We had been given the call to walk the big beach on Saturday. Then, temps and winds looked like they'd be better for us to walk Sunday, so we were asked to be at the big beach at first light on Sunday morning. We were also requested to pick up a dead Snowy Owl that was out there. Ah, the glamorous life.

We got to our destination just before first light and I made my way through the murky morning to the spot where the bird was laying. I bagged it up, brought it to the car and we suited up for the beach walk, just as the sun was breaking. Upon seeing the beach, the waves and the cold wind, we figured we were in for a big day.

It was pretty cold and windy, raining, sleeting and even some snow blew at us. Surely the turtles would need our help. I walked briskly, getting way ahead of Andrea. Though she was cursing me (she told me later), I thought it was important to get to any turtles as quickly as possible, considering the low air temps.

We weren't seeing turtles, though. It seemed right and we'd been told earlier in the week that Saturday night was going to be "a wild one". One good thing happened, though. Way up, almost to the Point, I saw some white. We got a small reward for retrieving that dead Snowy... a live one hiding up ahead.

Of course, we didn't want to scare it, being a tired long-distance traveler and all, but we had to get past where it was. We had a job to do. So, we carried on. The bird did take flight, moving closer to the Point by about 100 yards. Roughly 20 feet from where it had been hiding, this very dead Kemp's Ridley was half buried in the sand.
It had been nibbled on and was very limp so into my backpack it went as we carried on. (Bird footprints around a turtle are never a good sign...)

The Snowy wasn't bothered by our presence anymore.
Snowy Owl #91
#91 on the year.

At the Point, we stopped for a breather and called in the turtle that we would be bringing back. A Grey Seal kept popping up to look at us.

We had a fairly uneventful walk back, still surprised by the lack of cold-stunned turtles. Back at the Sanctuary, we learned that the "wild night" didn't materialize and that the only other turtle of the day was a live Loggerhead. We helped check in our deceased specimen... he will get necropsied later on. We can learn from everything.

Tim and Kim were there, so it was nice to talk with them. The dead Snowy was laid out (prior to freezing and taking to an Owl guy in the Blue Hills) and one of the staff there taught us all a lot about these birds. This one was probably an adult female. An interesting fact... Snowys have  one talon that is somewhat like a thumb; it can turn to go in and grasp from the side. This pic kind of shows that...

A long day but not a wasted day. IF something had come in, we'd have been there. We learned some, we exercised some and we were together (when I wasn't 300 yards ahead of Andrea...)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December Beach Days 12-2-2017

We got the call to walk the big beach on Saturday morning. Well, we got the call on Friday, but the call was to walk the beach at high tide on Saturday morning, which would be at about 8:30 AM. We got to sleep in a bit. Our friend Bob was going to be driving up from Pennsylvania to give us an extra set of eyes. He is mad. He left for the beach on Friday night.

We got there at right around 8:30, met Bob and hit the beach right away. The water was calm and the sun was warm. It really wasn't good turtle weather but a sick turtle needs little reason to wash ashore. Having Bob with us was good for more than excellent company... he pointed out some birds I might not have otherwise photographed, such as this Lifer (#167) Razorbill. Very cool bird!
Razorbill #88 Lifer #167
#88 on the year.

Word was out that a Snowy Owl had been seen at this beach so we kept our eyes peeled. Bob was also anxious to see seals. This Gray Seal was our first mammal sighting.

I honestly don't like being around too many people, but these two are always welcome in my line of sight.

We weren't seeing any turtles. I felt bad that Bob had traveled so far to lend a hand for turtles that just weren't showing up. We got almost to the Point and the high tide had our path covered. We had to wait for it to receed.

While waiting, a couple came up to us. They had traveled from Worcester to unofficially walk the beach. They had a sled. They had seen a couple of turtles the week before and had caught the bug. That's great, though they really should check in at HQ and let their presence be known. Whatever... the more eyes the merrier. They didn't wait for the tide to ebb and they went back, starting on the bay side.

I went to the Point, startled a bunch of gulls and Eiders, then headed back having seen no turtles.

Half-way Rock had something Bob was waiting for... a big ol' Gray Seal lounging on top of it.

Then I saw it... a turtle in need. I looked closer... no! It was washed up body!!
Ah, no... just Bob photographing the seal.

Heading back, we noticed a sled trail in the sand. Evidently, the couple had found a turtle and were bringing it back with them, even though the sanctuary knew we were out there. At first, I thought "well, good for them." Then I thought about the fact that my band was playing that night and I could just as easily stayed home and slept had I known someone was going to be walking the beach. I was tired and cranky and I started to walk fast. I got way ahead of Andrea and Bob.

Way up past the turn-off to leave the beach, I saw what might have been a turtle washed up. I looked through my binoculars. No, maybe it was just a fat gull laying there. As I got closer still, I realized it was a seal pup. Probably a Harbor Seal. It watched me as I got closer. I thought it might be injured because it wasn't doing much more than looking at me...
I couldn't see any wounds (the brown spots on the neck looked like dried blood through the binoculars) but it only flopped a little towards the water, still watching me.
Harbor pup, I think
I attempted to get on the other side of it to look for a wound. Then it hit the water and BOLTED off like a bullet. It was fine and healthy after all.

My guess is that I was the first human it had ever seen. Poor guy... such a homely first human!

We went back to the sanctuary to see if we were needed in any other capacity. Evidently, no turtles were called in or delivered from our beach. That means either the couple stole a turtle (unlikely) or they used the sled to haul other stuff, like found buoys or something. That relieved me a bit. We stopped in to say hi to our friends Tim and Maureen who were checking in expired turtles. Only five live turtles had come in all day from the entire Cape. Time threw us a bone and let us show Bob the turtles that he was getting ready to take to rehab.

I hope it was worth it for Bob. I know we always enjoy his company and I think he's becoming a big fan of Cape Cod. We made it home by 5 PM which wasn't really enough time for a nap, but we rested and later that night, rock and/ or roll happened.

We're still trying to recover from that long day and we'll be right back to the beach this weekend. This "second season" is a tough one but its really the only thing that we do that matters.

Monday, November 27, 2017

TGI Plastron 11-24-2017

Our Thanksgiving was very nice, thank you. We visited my daughter in Maine and had 11 people sitting around, eating and shooting the breeze. Very nice indeed. We got "the call" while we were up there... we were needed on the beach at first light on Friday morning. So, once we got home from our long day of driving, we hit the hay to prepare for... another long day of driving and a long day of beach walking.

After not a lot of solid sleep, we hit the road (and saw a City-Coyote crossing the main road near us in the dark) and arrived as planned, at first light. It was mild, temps in the low 40s, and it wasn't too windy. Still, it didn't take long to see our first turtle, a Kemps Ridley. It was on its back when first seen, not a good sign.
It seemed pretty dead to us but we did the normal protocol. We carried it up above the high-tide line, dug a small ditch, put the turtle in and covered it with wrack line seaweed. We marked it with a board and a pole and called it in.

Though it didn't look promising for that individual, at least we knew that turtles had indeed come in on the tide. On we went. Nearing the half-way point of the 4 miles out, we saw another Kemps. The flipper marks in the sand made this one look more promising.
Sure enough, when we picked this one up to bring above the tide line, his little flipper pushed weakly against our hands. It lifted its head up a bit for Andrea as she put him in his protective ditch and covered him.

That right there made everything worthwhile. The long drive, the lack of sleep, the everything... totally worth it.

Within a half-mile, Andrea spied one more Kemps up on the other side of a tide-pool. This one didn't look too good at all.
Still, we treated it as if it was alive.

We made it all the way out to the point with no more turtle sightings. I did see a bunch of Common Eiders, getting us #87 on the year.
Common Eider #87
Again, there were a few deceased seals out by the Point and we called them in.

The sanctuary asked us to pick the turtles up on our way back to the car and bring them in as their personnel was pretty busy. No problem: we had our trusty new sled.
(Plus, it was only three small Kemps-Ridleys... not a massive Loggerhead!)

While I stayed up higher, Andrea stayed near the shore looking to see if the low tide revealed any more turtles. She saw none but picked up other people's damn litter. I too had a pocketful of balloons. DO NOT RELEASE BALLOONS!!!!!!!!

We got the turtles loaded in to the Corolla and got them back to the sanctuary. The team quickly jumped into action, looking the turtles over. Bob actually said he thought they were all alive, but some of the movement (particularly on the last one) might have been muscle memory rather than reflexes. Still, our first seemed to be slightly alive and our star pupil, the second one (now known as #245), was moving its flippers while waiting for inspection.

Here he is in his banana box, ready to go to the aquarium for rehab.

All three were going North to the aquarium, though you'll notice that our third turtle, the box on the floor, has a sign that says "alive?".

We were toast on the drive home, hallucinating from a long day with little sleep and we were putting the word "plastron" into everything. (That's how we named this post.) Our friend Karen from the sanctuary called us later in the day to tell us that upon arrival at the aquarium, all three of our turtles were alive! Not that they'll definitely survive this ordeal but as of Friday afternoon, they were alive. *whew*

We weren't needed either Saturday or Sunday (I slept 16 hours straight Friday into Saturday!) as they had plenty of volunteers to walk. It's a good thing too because as I write this on Monday afternoon, they'd had 48 turtles wash up in 12 hours. Thankfully, there were people on the beaches to find them and the amazing crew at the sanctuary was ready to take care of them.

I couldn't possibly be more proud to be a (tiny) part of this group of dedicated people. The work they do gives me some faith in humanity. I'm honored to know them.