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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Training Day #3 and #4 and day off #1

Ok I know I'm way behind, but these past couple days have been so busy I've barely had time to sleep. So, here we go...

Thursday morning we took a wonderful three hour hike through the Maritime Forest. One of the really cool things about barrier islands is the unique set of environmental niches. Here you can walk across the island and see all the distinct flora and fauna of the beach, a maritime forest and a salt marsh. So, during our hike we identified tons of plants found along the trails of the forest. The great thing about hanging out with such a nerdy group is we repeated the names till they stuck and then quizzed each other the rest of the way. I think, with about 80% certainty, I can identify a good chunk of maritime forest trees and shrubs here on the island (red bay, red cedar, laurel oak, carolina laurel cherry, live oak, yupon holly, american holly....the list goes on...)

Then Thursday afternoon we took a historic tour of the island with the guide from Old Baldy. It's amazing to look out at the island from the top of the lighthouse and see the beach, forest and salt marsh and it was so neat to learn more about the historic role of BHI. We learned all about Stede Bonnet, a pirate who used BHI as a home base, the various lighthouses and the forts that were once here.

Later that night the turtlers (sea turtle interns - hence the blog name...) did our first beach patrol shift. Ok granted we only did a three hour beach walk, but we were loaded with equipment (a backpack, a cooler with tagging supplies and calipers), walking in almost complete darkness and shlepping through sand. Though I started out almost skipping with excitement and anticipation the pace quickly slowed and when we dragged back in at 12:15 am we were seriously disappointed in the lack of turtles. I had no idea ten miles could be so exhausting.

Friday morning I woke up just in time to have a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal before our hike through the salt marsh. It was really awesome to see such a distinct niche and Maureen identified all sorts of other plants and animals for us (sea pickle - edible and salty, fiddler crabs, periwinkle snails, salt marsh elder....). And Brett caught a glass lizard, a legless lizard native to this area, for us to see, which he later marked and released.

Friday afternoon after lunch we all took a quick birding trip to the Ibis pond and Middle Island and we, thankfully, were given the rest of the afternoon to rest up before the turtlers went on another patrol. Turtle patrol can be a really great experience when you actually see a turtle. But, when you see nothing but darkness for hours on end and all you can think about is how much your knees and feet hurt, can take quite a toll. The 7 of us, 6 interns plus Brett, stumbled in late last night rather disheartened and completely exhausted. Fortunately this weekend we only have a few optional activities like beach combing and crabbing classes that are open to the public. Both of which I ideally will be at, but we are supposed to start full nights of patrols this weekend, so I may be resting up instead.

In other news I've already started (or rather attempted) to collect data for my summer research project that involves measuring turtle tracks and correlating these measurements to turtle size and carapace length/width. And I'm shooting out emails to see if I can use previously collected turtle biopsies to get a jump start on my Master's research (woohoo higher education!). And I have a lead on housing in Fort Worth for next year. All good news.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Training Day #2: birding and potluck

This has been the most bizarre training. First thing this morning we all met with Brett and Dr. Dorsey to talk about our summer research projects. Of course I'll be going something sea turtle related so the morning discussion was exciting and inspiring, hardly like other tedious trainings I've been through (though I keep preparing myself for a day that will be more tedious...). Afterward Maureen and Brett took us on a beach walk for a bit of birding, then we broke for lunch. This afternoon we cover UTV training, so the interns went out the beach one on one with Maureen and took a little drive - again, nothing but fun.

I've never been really into birding, I think mostly because I want to see the animals up close, but I went out this afternoon with Brett and a couple other interns who are big birders to try to find a Painted Bunting. When we finally found one it was a huge feeling of success. The Painted Bunting is a very tropical looking blue, red and green bird and is just beautiful. I hope I'll be able to learn more about the native birds while I'm here.

Then tonight we had a special potluck with the board members and volunteers to welcome all the interns to the conservancy. We had great food and met a ton of really great people. Here's a picture of the whole crew, 11 interns, Maureen and Brett.After we ate and cleaned up all of us played ultimate frisbee, walked on the beach, watched tv and headed to bed. Another great day on the island.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Training Day #1: the grand tour

Today was our first day of real training, though I suppose from our schedule you wouldn't actually know that we were training. The whole intern crew had a pow-wow with Maureen, Jeff and Brett this morning to go over general house and conservancy rules. But then the rest of the morning and early afternoon we took a tour of BHIC facilities, the island and parts of the beach. To hold everybody we took a caravan of four golf carts and we made it to the UPS shed, the mail box, the recycle drop off and various other intern chore related spots. By about 4 we were all done so I was able to walk on the beach for a bit before dinner.

Some of the crew are in the midst of planning an elaborate two week dinner schedule for us. I definitely enjoy eating and hanging out with everybody (tonight a couple interns grilled), but I think they might regret the decision when they begin to realize the extent of my cooking skills. To those of you who followed my blogs from past summers, think smoke alarm without a battery....

Tomorrow we will continue with training, but the highlight of the day will most definitely be the potluck dinner with all the staff, board members and nest monitors. It will be nice to eat someone else's cooking and meet the conservancy's extensive volunteer base.

So far there have been three false crawls, one of which may have been an Atlantic Green sea turtle. Three more people are going out for a morning patrol tomorrow and then tomorrow night all of the sea turtles interns will spend a "half-night" (9 to midnight) on walking patrol. Fortunately the rain has stopped, but the weather is still cold and cloudy with a vicious wind, so walking the beach after dark will be an adventure.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Today was another wet, cold day so the bunch of us spent the morning sitting around reading. Fortunately the rain stopped by lunchtime so when we walked over the BHIC classrooms for Dr. Paul Hearty's seminar we stayed dry. The next two weeks I'll spend in training with the rest of the interns and listening to Paul's talk on the islands aquifers and water conservation was a great way to kick off our island lessons. I learned a lot about the drilling process and the layers of limestone, clay and sand his team found on various parts of the island. Geology has never been my strong point, but it was a fascinating lecture and I look forward to learning more from Paul this summer.

Afterward the interns all layered on more clothes and went to Gator Overlook that looks out on a small pond. Brett has been netting and marking turtles around the island and we all wanted to help out. Granted in 60 degree weather it's not an ideal activity for people or turtles, but we had a great and fairly successful time. We marked the yellow bellied sliders by notching specific marginal scutes (the ones that go along the edge of the top shell) as they correspond with the alphabet.

The id assigned to the first turtle we caught was K O, who we then named "Knock-Out". Then we notched his K and O scutes with a file, dotted his carapace with white out, photographed him and returned the little guy to the water.

While it was fun to mark the turtles (the group caught enough for each of us to notch one), it was probably most fun watching the group try to actually catch the squirmy little things with nets.

After the slider adventure the 11 of us came back to the house to meet Meredith, the final intern, and then the whole crew went to Eb and Flo's on the island for dinner. I'm starting to feel like I'm part of a huge family with 12 kids :).

Tomorrow morning we start bright and early with tours, talks and lessons in the island's flora and fauna. Can't wait!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Bald Head Island Choppers

Today all but one of the interns made it here so we were all able to sit around and really start to talk for the first time. And of course what better way to bond than to ride our bikes around the island. Between seven of us we managed to hobble together a mostly functional group of bikes from the conservancy bike rack. Our little bike gang ran into rain almost immediately and our attempt to ride on the beach was a struggle, but once we hit the roads all of us had a soggy, but great time.

When the group made it back to the dorm we met two more interns who had just taken the tram over and together the eleven of us had dinner. I can still hear voices downstairs from my bunk bed upstairs, but we are all drained and I'm going to bed earlier than I probably have in months.

Today was also interesting because I made my first solo trip on the ferry with my load of groceries - I still have a lot to learn about basic BHI life.

Tomorrow is our last free day before training, but all of us plan on attending a seminar offered by the conservancy and then helping Brett mark and measure a small population of fresh water turtles in a pond here on the island. Undoubtedly, adventures will abound.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New summer! New island! New turtles!

I was the sort of kid who chased down frogs in the backyard, sang "Born Free" when I released grass snakes and kissed my minnow before baiting the hook. So, I suppose it's no big surprise that today some of my greatest life passions are sea turtles and marine conservation. The past two summers I worked as a sea turtle intern at Sea Turtle, Inc., a sea turtle hospital on South Padre Island, Texas. This year I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology and Spanish and made my way to Bald Head Island, North Carolina for another sea turtle filled summer. The Bald Head Island Conservancy where I'm now working offers a ton of great educational programs for kids and locals, but I think it's nice to share some of the behind-the-scenes action as well. I hope you follow along and enjoy the stories from my summer adventures!

One thing I love about working with wildlife conservation organizations is the daily adventure, there is never a slow or uneventful day. My dad and I have had a few days to vacation (a biologist on a true vacation....HA!) on the island before I start training, but true to my biologist-on-vacation theory our days were non-stop. On our first full day we went out with Maureen Dewire, BHIC's Director of Education, for a 7:00a turtle patrol. Within minutes it started raining and we were all soaked, but we were all so excited to be out on the beach that we kept on anyway. We finished about half of the patrol when it began to pour so we decided to put the rest of the patrol on hold. As we pulled up to the conservancy two police cars were parked in the drive. It turned out one of the officers found an injured red fox pup and brought the little guy over to see if we could help.

After the rain finally stopped the three of us went back out to the beach to finish out the patrol and we found the first false crawl of the season! The momma turtle didn't actually nest, but it means the turtle season has started on Bald Head.

This morning Brett, my dad and I patrolled again and found a second false crawl, so we are all hopeful that there will be a nest soon.

I've also celebrated "biscuit payday" with Amanda and Maureen with the Market's breakfast biscuits, tried my hand at a bit of birding and walked the paths along the salt march. It's amazing how eventful these past few days have been.

Over the next few days all of the interns will be moving in to the conservancy dorm and Tuesday morning we all start training. I'm looking forward to meeting the new crew, starting work and seeing my first BHI loggerhead!