Friday, July 10, 2009

a week in photos

It's been crazy here, as always, so here's a series of photos showing what I've been up to....

This is Heidi, she's nested as BHI for at least 6 years now and this was her second nest for the season. Fortunately we had a camera crew here from a Wilmington tv station so we were able to take pictures with the light from their red lights. One of the camera guys rode with me on patrol to film some of the interns in action, so I think I'll make my tv debut in the next couple months (be sure to watch for shots of the back of my head as I drive and the blank stare of an intern on turtle patrol).

The BHIC hosts an annual picnic and fundraiser on the 3rd of July. One of the highlights for the interns (and executive director Dr. Dorsey - who has been grooming her team since day one) is the pie eating contest. The Gator Gurgitators (the BHIC intern team) faced off against the Hungry Hunks (the team from the police dept) and of course we dominated. I'll spare you the pictures of them shoving their faces with pie, but here's a victory shot. After watching this I may never eat pie again.

On the 4th, after my night of patrol, I woke up early to watch the parade. As the Dalby side of my family knows, the 4th just isn't the 4th without a parade. Tons of islanders decorate their golf carts - this was an intern favorite. Later that night we watched the fireworks over the island from the UTV on patrol. Nothing like working on a holiday...

On the nights with no turtles I keep myself awake by looking for other cool things on the beach. Sometimes I come home with a beautiful whelk shell or pictures of an alligator. A few nights ago this made the 5:00am run exciting. Apparently cannonball jellyfish and spider crabs have some sort of mutually beneficial relationship and the crab hangs out under the cover of the jelly's lid. I had no idea, but it made for an interesting find.

So I made a new friend this week, this is Mary Ellen, the bird lady of Oak Island. Every once in awhile we find an injured bird on the beach or we get a wildlife call from someone on the island. This was a particularly special bird because everyone on the island has watched two baby red tailed hawks grow and learn to fly this summer. Well, one of them had an accident and the two Merediths and I were able to take this big guy to visit Mary Ellen who gave him a once over. Her diagnosis was positive, but she took him to a vet for x-rays the next day. As it turns out the hawk only has a pinched nerve in his shoulder and with a few weeks of rehab should be ready to come back to the island. Point for the interns!

Since the three of us made the trip all the way to see her, Mary Ellen took the time to show us around and introduce us to all of her birds. We arrived right at pelican feeding time so we got to see her feed three juveniles (I would equate this experience to letting loose a bunch of hungry teenage boys on a table of food). She also showed us a Cooper's hawk, a baby tern and this loon, a bird she's especially proud of right now. I had no clue, but loons are particularly finicky birds that often die of shock in rehab. This guy is doing really well and will be released soon.

Only five more weeks here for me! It's amazing how quickly the time has passed. Unfortunately the turtle count is still low (23 nests and 37 false crawls now), but I still try to rush out at every turtle call. I've seen hundreds of turtles now and I still can't get enough.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

turtle, turtle, gator

It's been a busy couple of weeks - not much time to do anything other than patrol, eat and sleep.

But in that time we've had nine more false crawls and ten more nests! A couple of these recent nesting nights were particularly exciting because we had two females nesting on the same night. Last week we even had two females come out of the water within ten minutes of each other. Jake and I were driving to see the first turtle and on the way found our own. These are by far my favorite moments because the turtle walk went to watch the first turtle nest, so Jake and I were able to do all of our tagging and measurements and then just sit and enjoy. This night was also really special because one of the mommas was Thomasina who was nesting for the second time, two weeks after her first nest. Unfortunately we rarely get shots of the turtle nesting, but here's a photo of Thomasina's first nest.

She laid another huge nest - 175 eggs - and we hope she'll be back in a few more weeks.

Earlier this week Meredith and I had another unique wildlife run in on the beach. Normally, if we see red eye shine while we are patrolling there is a red fox sniffing around somewhere. This time we saw red eye shine and then after driving closer saw a big, long body. Turns out one of the island's gators decided to go for a swim in the ocean and was hanging out there on the beach. One of the wildlife interns told us that scientists believe these odd trips to the ocean help kill fresh water parasites living on their skin. Regardless, we were thrilled and surprised and over the course of the night watched him walk at least 3 miles down the beach. Meredith and I were also nervous, late night beach walkers never expect to run into an alligator, so we stopped everyone we saw in that area to give them a heads up. Granted the two of us don't know a ton about gators (everything I know I can attribute to Dr. Wheeler's Comparative Vertebrae Morphology class), but we guess that this guy was about 6 and a half feet long - pretty big for this island.

In other island favorite UTV has died an epic death twice in the past week. This time around I don't know if Lola is salvageable. Also we have a team of three people here from Oceana to photograph the nesting process, so we've been hanging out with them this week. As much as I enjoy the company of the other interns it is always nice to have visitors and Emily, Carrie Lynn and Jeff have been great to have around.

Things are going well here, the weather has been gorgeous and the time is flying by. Until next time...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

beginning of the season

It seems that our turtle season has finally started. Thank goodness.

Since I wrote last we've had two more false crawls and one more nest - all in the past two nights. The turtlers have a four night on, one day off schedule rotation. So, Sunday night, my last night on, the two other patrollers were lucky enough to see the female on the beach, even though she didn't nest. They had about two minutes with her, which was long enough for them to scan for a PIT tag and record her metal tag code. Turns out this turtle's name is Heidi and she was one of the loggerheads that was satellite tagged in 2006. So, this afternoon I looked her up on to see where all she stopped the year she was tagged. You can check out Heidi's information here:

Then a few hours later Jacob and I were cruising East beach and saw a second set of tracks. We went straight into work mode and shut off the UTV, grabbed our stuff, ducked and ran up before we realized that we actually missed the turtle. Still, it was exciting because based on track measurements we could tell that this was her first time to come up on the beach this season.

All of that would have been enough for us (some nights our highlight is picking up trash...), but while we were doing our last run at 5:30a Jacob and I stopped to look at something at the waterline. We had looked at this "dark spot" all night and decided since it wasn't moving that it wasn't a turtle and never stopped. Turns out the "dark spot" was a flipped horseshoe crab. Neither of us had ever seen a live horseshoe crab, so we took a bunch of pictures before letting the big guy go.

It was huge, it's belly side looked alien and each leg had a claw sort of thing. Definitely one of the craziest looking animals I've ever seen.

And then we flipped him over and watched the beast crawl back in to the ocean.

Last night I was off, but around 2:00a I got a call saying that there was a turtle on the beach right off of beach access 42. She had already been there awhile so I hopped on my bike, rode furiously to the access and then sprinted down the beach to the group watching. Fortunately we didn't have to relocate this nest, but unfortunately that means we won't know how many eggs she laid till they actually hatch. I made it there to see her for about the last ten minutes she was on the beach. She was another beautiful, big turtle and after looking up her information the turtlers found that this one was also a satellite tracked turtle. Her name in Thomasina and she was tagged in 2006. You can check out her migration here:

Heidi and Thomasina laid 4 and 3 nests respectively and both had pretty high egg numbers and relatively successful nest, so I'm looking forward to seeing them both again this season.

I'm back out on the beach tonight and hoping for more exciting news for you soon!

Friday, June 5, 2009


I know it's been awhile, but I'm gonna skip over details of the normal work days to bring you this exciting news:

We finally saw our first turtle! Our full work schedule started this week, so the turtlers have been out in full force (9p to 6a). Unfortunately, our nest count has remained at two since the last weekend and our turtle siting count at zero. Last time I blogged I wrote about our first nest and then later that afternoon we were called about another set of tracks that had been nearly washed out by the incoming tide. So, Sunday afternoon in the heat of the day the whole crew tramped out to relocate the nest. Because we were a bit late in moving them we had to be careful to shade the eggs on the beach as we worked.

As you can see we looked ridiculous. Yes, that is actually all 12 of us under a huge tarp worked to excavate the nest.

Here's a shot from inside. Between the fierce wind the tight quarters it made for quite an adventure. She must have been a hefty momma because she dropped 161 eggs.

Considering we then went four days without anything, even a false crawl, the turtlers have been disheartened. Especially because each morning we hear from the surrounding beaches that have reported two or three nests a night this week. To make matters worse we looked through previous data and it seems that this time last year they already have 14 nests! Anyway, four of us went out to patrol last night at 9 and at 9:12 I got a cell phone call from another intern screaming "we have a turtle! we have a turtle! 25A! 25A!". I thought she was kidding until her patrol partner called with the same enthusiasm. So, Jenn and I raced across the beach, hopped on the road, parked at 25A and went sprinting to the beach. And it was probably the coolest thing ever. Meredith and Jacob spotted this loggerhead as she was crawling out of the water and when I got there she was still digging her nest. It was absolutely phenomenal to watch her scoop out the sand with her cupped hind flippers, gently set it aside and the dip the other flipper in. It seemed like she dug for forever, but finally she started laying and we were able to get to work without disturbing her. We found two metal tags and a PIT tag and took all sorts of measurements. This big girl had a straight (measured with calipers) carapace length of 113 cm and straight carapace length of 79 cm. In other words - her shell alone was about 3.7 feet long. Incredible. She was also an interesting turtle because she had a huge gash across her carapace that was likely caused from a boat accident and she had bites out of both of her rear flippers. Nevertheless, she was gorgeous and it was so amazing to see her nest from start to finish. This momma dropped 182 eggs, which is within BHI top five largest nests, and took a surprisingly long hour and 40 minutes from exiting the water to swimming back home.

Of course this experience would have been mind blowing all on its own, but it was made better because all 11 of the interns, Brett and Maureen were there to watch together, along with three families that had signed up for a turtle walk.

Nine hours patrolling on the beach can be really brutal, especially when you live in a tight space with others with the opposite schedule, but last night we cruised along happily all night long.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

BHIC home to 127 new babies!

It's been a busy few days on the island!

Friday morning Meredith A, Meredith W, Jen and I all went out to Middle Island to meet with Becky, a biologist who is part of a painted bunting tagging program. On BHI there are a couple bunting feeders and then to capture the birds they replace the feeder with a similar feeder and trap. Then when the birds feed again they squeeze through the cage to eat, but can't get out. The program bands the buntings with a series of four colored id bands so the birds can be easily identified in other areas. Of course we mostly wanted to hold one :). Unfortunately while we were out there with Becky no bunting flew into the trap, but we did catch a yellow throated warbler, which is a beautiful, very small bird.
Becky is the collections manager of birds at Raleigh's Museum of Natural Sciences and also, obviously, an avid birder, so she pointed out tons of birds for us including Carolina Wrens and a Cuckoo.

Later that afternoon we met with Dr. Matthew Godfrey who is the coordinator of North Carolina's sea turtle program. He runs workshops to teach groups how to do necropsies, so he brought a small green with him to practice. The program keeps and freezes freshly dead sea turtles just for these workshops, so we actually worked with a juvenile that was caught in a fishing net in 2007. After the necropsy I talked with Matthew for a while about potential projects of my master's thesis. We came up with a few great, feasible ideas and I hope that I'll get all the logistics worked out to look at multiple paternity in loggerhead clutches on BHI.

Now for the really exciting news! We had a big storm Friday night so patrol was mostly non-existent due to all of the lightening, which made it kind of surprising to find we had our first nest that night! Brett and Meredith went out for the morning patrol and Meredith came back on the UTV from east beach, tore into the house, shook all of us awake and we all drove back to the nest. Unlike other mornings someone only had to say "turtle nest" and I popped right out of bed and threw on clothes. The momma left a beautiful set of tracks and 127 eggs (we all guessed, I was closest at 125).

We relocated the nest higher on the dune to prevent loss of the eggs due to erosion or inundation, put a huge wire cage around the nest and marked it. Hopefully 50 to 60 days from now (late in July) we will release a bunch of little loggerheads.

This is the turtle crew with our first nest!

Jeff, one of the conservancy's educators, invited all the interns over for barbecue so later Saturday afternoon we all made the trek across the ferry to Southport. We all had a great time playing games in the backyard and then with another trial round of pie eating.

This is our last weekend "off" so other than patrols we've enjoyed lazing around the house. Today we all volunteered to take one hour shift in Turtle Central, the gift shop, but otherwise I've done little chores around the house to ge ready for the next week. Later I'm going to read out on the beach and tonight we are celebrating Meredith's 22nd birthday!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

frogs, turtles and NC shells

I wasn't scheduled for patrol last night, so instead I went with Maureen and a few other interns on an amphibian survey. We stopped at a series of 8 locations around the island and sat for five minutes at each spot to listen to and identify any calls. According to Maureen it was a quiet night, but we heard at least three different species of frogs and toads. All of us enjoyed the ride and we got to check out a few new spots, like the pond behind the village's community garden. But of the eight my favorite was the Gator Overlook because we saw Bob, a six foot gator, and a ton of yellow bellied sliders.

This morning I woke up for 7am patrol (barely...) and headed out with Eric in order to give Brett, the sea turtle biologist, a morning off. While we didn't find any real turtles it was a pleasant and fruitful patrol in its own way.

Some kiddo left this turtle for us to find and while it's not quite the same as a nesting female it was fun to find. We also found a couple beautiful whelk shells.

Later this afternoon someone called the conservancy from the marina to say there was a small green sea turtle floating around. All the interns were in a short training session, but we were so excited about finally seeing a live sea turtle that we were let out long enough to take a trip to pick the little guy up. It was exciting to see a little juvenile green and even though the poor thing was covered with barnacles and tons of tiny shrimp he kicked when picked up and I think with rehab will be fine.

Since Maureen had to make an impromptu run to the mainland with the green in order to pass him off to another biologist the rest of our afternoon training schedule was thrown off (another kayaking trip, I know, rough), so we have had the night off. Today was a beautiful day so I took a long bike ride and walked on the beach to look for shells. There are so many species of bivalves and crabs native to North Carolina that are new to me, so I really enjoy picking up new shells like the olives, mermaid's toenails, augers and angelwings.

Today the interns also had pie eating contest try-outs take one. As it turns out, at the 4th of July there is a pie eating contest and last year the BHIC intern team beat out the island's fire department team. Needless to say there has been a lot of talk between teams since and the BHIC staff is already encouraging us to form a team. So, the BHIC executive director Dr. Dorsey bought a couple pies and today the bravest of the interns tried their hand (or belly) at eating pie. Fast. Really fast. This was the before picture.

The after was way messy.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

spa day

And by spa day I mean mud baths. And by mud baths I mean traipsing through thigh deep mud and muck in the salt water marshes.
A group of us went out to seine the salt marsh to find diamondback terrapins, a species of turtle that lives in brackish water, to mark and release. Instead we netted tens of thousands of young shrimp and other assorted juvenile fish like flounder and drum. While it wasn't quite productive the way we intended the six of us had a blast and were soaking wet up to our armpits. I've never seine netted before and walking 500 meters or so up creek, right through mud and oyster beds was a bizarre sort of adventure.

Over the weekend I also got to follow along during the beach combing biology class and the crabbing and casting class. Initially I thought the beach combing program would be mostly about identifying shells, which would have been great - I love combing the beach for shells, but Maureen went out into the surf with another seine net and pulled in all sorts of little fish, hermit crabs and sea anemones. We sorted through the contents of the net with the little kids and at the end took a bucket with some fish and crabs back to the classroom to stock one of the tanks. I think, though, that the highlight (or lowpoint depending on your perspective...) was when we watched one of the sea anemones snag one of the fish we also put in the bucket. I think most of us thought it was really cool to see the tail end of a fish sticking out of the anemone, but it may have been shocking for some of the kids.

The next morning more of us went out to the dock at the creek for crabbing and cast netting, something else new to me. All of the interns got really into cast netting, even though we collectively caught only five very small fish. I had a blast and was relatively good at tossing the net after a bit of practice. Only once did I have a mishap, I got the net caught on a button and got a front full of mud, and after that was fairly fearless. People asked if I had fallen in the creek by the end...

Yesterday all the interns had Turtle Central (the BHIC gift shop) training in the morning and we all took an afternoon ferry to the mainland. It was nice to get off the island and grocery shop and we all met at Provisions Co. for dinner before coming back home. Oddly enough however, the highlight for most of us was buying ice cream more cheaply, which required significant planning and packing in ice to make it back across the ferry and all the way to the freezer. I can't wait for Rocky Road ice cream tonight :)

All day today the turtlers spent in First Aid and CPR training with the fire chief on the island. It was a long day inside and when we finished up Maureen took the whole crew out to the beach to respond to a call about a stranded loggerhead. The poor thing had been dead for awhile and was extremely bloated. BHIC is cleared to do necropsies on dead turtles here on site, so we all watched the necropsy and then helped bury her on the beach. Maureen removed one of the front flippers to send off to the lab, something new I learned today, apparently they can age a turtle by looking at the humerus bone.

Still no turtle nests, actually we haven't even had another false crawl. But we are still patrolling and this time around with the UTV. Unfortunately however, with the Groins (which are essentially huge, long sand bags that stretch out into the ocean and are supposed to prevent some beach erosion) so exposed from the recent, extremely high tide and erosion we have to walk the western portion of the beach. So, Meredith and I walked west beach last night, but we had slide down these huge sand bags to lower ourselves to the next section of beach. As these got gradually taller we essentially ended up sliding down best we could before falling down into the sand and getting soaked by the waves. Needless to say when we finally finished with patrol we were pretty well soaked (at least on our front sides where we had fallen face first into the sand) and very sandy. Looks like high tide is going to be an adventure all season long.

It's dinner time here. And then I'm off to bed, I'm exhausted from a short night and long day, before 7 am patrol tomorrow morning. Ciao.