Sandra Baker-Hinton, Artist and Sea Turtle Volunteer


Hopefully my blog will be helpful to you in enlightening you world of nature and your world of art through the eyes of an artist.

About Me

Amelia Island, Florida, United States
I am an artist, photographer, and nature loving gal living on a barrier island who spends 6 months of each year doing volunteer Sea Turtle patrol for the State Park located her on Amelia Island. I write about my adventures on this special island and the surrounding area. These are my diaries.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Nest Galore

Our nesting boom started really booming two Fridays ago.  I found a nest on Friday's Turtle Patrol on the ocean side.  

Since that was my last day for the week I left without much thought of the weekend.  In the gallery that Saturday one of my patrons told me that she had seen a new nest that day in the park.  I thought, "since our less experienced, and youngest ranger was on Patrol, I would check it out the next day to make sure he found it".

We were doing a family cookout at my sister's place just down from the park boundary, so we thought checking the nest was a good excuse to slip out and take Sis's granddaughter, Reagan, out for a walk on the beach.  She just loves picking up shells.  Once we got to the tracks, we found that they had been rained on since the nest was laid, and I thought them odd but...

...the minute I saw the nest itself, I knew.  We have a Green Sea Turtle nest.  They are rare for our beach and from what I know the only Green Turtle nest on the island so far.  We have had a Green Turtle the past 3 years but the year before last, it was laid so late, (they tend to be late nesters), it was frozen our during winter before it could hatch.  You may remember what I kept calling our eternal nest.  Last year we had another late one, which was totally washed out by an October Nor'easter.  This year, our Green has laid early and high, so maybe we will get to see some Green hatchlings.

Looking at the whole picture, you can see that the nest is pretty high up, and in a great location on the ocean front.

I found another nest on Monday; by Tuesday morning Rhonda, a former ranger now working as our girl Tuesday Turtle Patrol, was waiting on me when I got to the gallery.  She did not know how to get me on the phone that morning, when she found a Leatherback Turtle nest.  WOW!!! It can't get any better!   Unless we have a Hawksbill and a Ridley, (that last, we thought we had, but it got washed away by Beryl).

Back to the Leatherback nest, I put my sandals down to show the width of the tracks, which by noon, with wind and the high overhead light, were not as visible.  Rhonda had marked it with a very large area just to be sure, but we believe the nest is near the center, from all the signs she left with spray.  Leatherback Turtle tracks are over 7 feet wide.

Now, this season is really getting exciting.

In the hard sand below the tide line, you can see the massive track she left a bit better.  This is one track not two, as it might appear to you.  We think this one may have an injured or even missing right front flipper.

Each day that whole week we found more nests.  Most were Loggerheads, and on the oceanside.  The beach was still very shelly from the Beryl mess.  Though this nest looked more like a Loggerhead, it could be a Green Turtle.  It is a fairly large nest, but I still did not think it as massive as a Green 's usually is, so officially I labeled it a Loggerhead.

However, in the shelly beach, the tracks looked a lot like the tracks of a Green turtle.  We will have to wait and see on this one.

With all the beach upheaval there have been lots of beach treasures, and I often find beauty in some of the less perfect of the shells.  With all the nests to log, and having to get to work, I had very little time to explore.

More Horseshoe crabs but not the large numbers we had seen earlier in the season.  This one had an unusually long tail.  So often they get broken.  The tail is their rudder in life and without this important piece of equipment they don't have a very good chance of survival for very long.

This Dead Man's Finger's seaweed was a precurser for what was to come all this past week.

More nests.  I put an X where I think the eggs are in this nest.  The reason I think so, is the two crab holes dug right into the nest.  Often a clear indication of the egg's location, since the Ghost Crabs do like fresh turtle eggs.

This turtle had a bit of a different pattern to her tracks, although clearly a Loggerhead she seemed to have a longer reach on one side with her front flippers but not on the other side.  Usually you don't even see the front flipper marks..

My sister, Susan, has been a big help, as she walks up most mornings and meets me part-way through my run, helping me by driving in the stakes while I write up the reports.  I give her a wake up call when I hit the park, and then let her know if there are nests as I make my way down.  Nice to have a sister around.  We have not lived in the same town since she was 12 years old.

Our nest on the river had been washed out by the storm, but it looks like the mother is back to lay again.  She went as high as possible without climbing this escarpment.  Usually we have about as many on the river as on the ocean, but not this year. Marie found this one.

Pretty patterns were in the washes near this nest, and I paused a minute to take some photos while the low light was making them much more dramatic than they would be if I waited until I returned.  

Sometimes I wonder if this always new, but repeating subject will bore you, but I fear much more that I will get so used to them that I won't see them anymore myself.  This Sargassum Sea Weed, which is washed in from many miles offshore, was only the beginning of much to show up.  

As to the hints earlier about the Sargassum Sea Weeds' invasion, here is proof, as I surveyed the beach after taking Wednesday off to visit the knee doc for some more cortisone shots.  In my absence Marie had continued our winning streak by finding three nests that day.  (She is such a show-off.)  The beach looked like it had been carpeted by the same carpet I once used in my rental properties, because it didn't show dirt.  The higher layer which was left from the day before was starting to dry a bit so already darker in hue.  That was all I had to go by when guaging where the last high tide was.  We look for the tracks of the turtles starting at the last high tide line.

The turtles were not happy with it either.  I had 3 false crawls on Thursday.  The Sea Turtles would start in then when they got into all that mess of Sea Weed they would turn around and leave without nesting.  I found this on the river and the ocean front.  This one looked like she had it made, but still changed her mind.  There is a definite strong smell to the piles of seaweed, so possibly that could have been the reason.  I'm sure she just came back another day.

Another similar one, but this time she turned around once she hit the deepest of the Sargassum.

Another of Maries nests she had found on Wednesday.

I found this bird which I thought dead but then realized it was still alive.  There were several others which were dead. I took it, placing it in an old clothes basket I had found on the beach, but alas it died before I could get it help.  I was going to take it to B. E. A. K. S. the local rescue for birds.  I didn't realize at the time that we had a major event happening to birds up and down the coastal area.

I found out that they are Shearwaters and are rare to be found in our waters.  They are usually only out at sea and one of the few birds which go from the Southern to the Northern
Hemisphere, nesting in Canada.  What is believed to be happening with these birds is that they have just been blown about by the strong winds we have had, rendering them weak and unable to feed since they are diving birds.  Running out of energy they are unable to survive.  A sad situation. The weaker ones both old, and the youngest, are not making it. The bad side, besides the seaweed, of the nice cool ocean breezes we have enjoyed the past few of weeks.  The knowledgeable ones tell us that relatively few of these birds have survived.  Whatever that means, I hope it is still a large number.

On the hopeful side, our Ospreys are busy building a new nest in the spot where their original nest of several years ago was located, right next to their storm damaged one.  Each day they are out there expanding it.  Hopefully the power company will leave the nest alone, since they have had such a sad year losing all their little ones.  We don't know if they will re-nest or not since it is pretty late in the season for that to happen.  We will wait and see.  Maybe we will get to watch Osprey chicks after all.

Friday revealed two more false crawls on the river.

With rain-laden clouds threatening in the background, the sun was peeking through to give a bright glow to the Spring green Seaoats.

After the two false crawls, we believe this lady finally decided she just could not hold those eggs back any longer and finally found a spot in which to nest.  We could tell by the tracks that she had not been gone very long.  She must have spent hours on the beach that night deciding to where to lay.

She has a funny track pattern which I have seen before.  I think she has one back flipper which has been bitten off, not sure, but something weird is going on with her.

Once around on the oceanside, I find more false crawls, but also the same situation, the turtle decided to go ahead had find a spot to lay.  She laid her nest nice and high, which is a very good thing with all the high tides we expect this week.

It was a wonderful turtle week for the whole island, with almost as many nests as last year, with still a month and a half to go.  I got a call at 7:00 this morning (Sunday) telling me that we had yet another new nest.  I checked with the rangers since it was my day off and they assured me it had been marked.  Hatching is about ready to start also in another week.  Then things will really be rocking and rolling.
Edited to add' We are fortunate that Debby did not damage any of our nests.  I realize that is why a turtle lays several nests a year, she is hedging her bets, but it still is hard to give up even one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

After Beryl, The Good and the Bad

The time leading up to Beryl had been packed with activities, the Shrimp Festival, Nature Festival, the annual Chamber Music Festival, among other things.

Although it looks like we are in the middle of a dog show we are actually relaxing on the lawn of a local park listening to beautiful classical music being played by some very talented musicians in one of the "free" concerts connected with the Chamber Music Festival.  It was difficult to just listen to the music when my camera kept finding interesting things to shoot like this Whippet with it funny unruly ears.

Not sure how to spell this one but is pronounced as something possibly French.  Its main characteristic is that it looks like a Bison.  This one sure fit the bill.

The music inspired some to relax close their eyes but this beautiful young lady was inspired to gift us with an impromptu dance.  She was so wonderfully expressive that I thought she surely must be in a ballet class, although her expressive moves had to be felt, not just learned from practice.  That, I don't think, can be taught.  Just as quickly as it began her mom called her away and her beautiful dance was no more.

Then a different tune, as we left that concert and rushed straight over Cafe' Karibo to catch part of a CD Release party by one of my artists, Sean McCarthy.  "A Bad Day Fishing" is the name of the album (do they still call them that?).  Classical to Country in just 10 minutes.  It was a fun time also but different.  Isn't music a wonderful thing with so many ways for a musician or writer to express what they have within.  The band was having as much fun as the guests; they shared the stories of how the songs were written.  As you know a bad day fishing is still a good day, the gist of the song.  

Mornings were filled with turtle patrol and excitement as turtles began laying a couple of weeks early early.  One morning as I rounded the point near the River Campground at Fort Clinch I saw this very graceful ship sitting on the still calm river.  It was soon to arrive in port to be open for "free" tours.  Those of you in Chattanooga will remember the "Yellow Deli".  The members of this crew are also part of that same group, and bring this ship from port to port.  They are a religious group who try to live their message, living together in commune style as they travel up and down the Atlantic Coast.  They also weathered the storm in good shape.

Although Lacy weathered the storm just fine she managed a few days later to be behaving rather peculiarly.  I had a feeling that hormones were playing a part in her behavior and I do believe I was right.  A day later she disappeared, but, having gone through this with another young lady, this time I wasn't overly concerned, and in fact was actually expecting it, although I had hoped she would wait closer to the one year mark instead of the 6 months one.    We will send out birth announcements before long if I am right.  For now she is back acting normal and her old playful self.  She is still a pretty small squirrel to be taking on family responsibilities.

Horseshoe Crabs continue to take advantage of the high tides that come with the moon's phases, but do not do so well with ones from the storms.  This upside down fellow was doing his best to right himself, but was only managing to go in circles.

More rescues when they get disoriented and can't find their way back to the now long gone water with low tide.  You can see 3 others struggling to get back to the water.  It was a busy morning.

This suitor just didn't know when to quit.  

What had been our first nest is now a memory, well not exactly because without the stakes we really can't even remember where it was.  Very sad to have lost this one but it seems that is the way it is.  Even the back stake placed further back in the dunes was washed away.  This is the one we suspected might be a Kemps Ridley.

Our duck couple was fine through the storm and I still see them hanging out every day, sometimes on the river sometimes on the ocean side, but always together.

Our second turtle first crawled in with a False Crawl deciding that she was unhappy with that spot and came back a few nights later and thankfully laid a very high nest which has survived.

With the Ospreys it has been a different story.  Little Girl and Alpha are both OK, but their chicks were lost.  It looks like we won't have any Osprey chicks to watch grow and fledge in the nest at the back of the park this year.  The nest now sits deserted.

Good news; it looks like the Least Terns seem to be nesting in the park once again.  As an Endangered Species we are very happy when they come back to us.  They missed last year and did not nest, but the minnow in the mouth is a sure sign of courting behavior, sort of like offering the gal an engagement ring.

This nest which was our first on the river, and in a very vulnerable spot right on the point where the heaviest currents run in a storm seems to be lost also.  It was a high nest laid in the top wrack line but not high enough.  The back dune stake is all that remains.  We will continue to monitor it just in case we are wrong.

It is sad because this mother had worked so hard to lay this nest as you can see on the very left edge of the photo where you can see her tracks coming in and then she crawled all through the rough wash area finally making her way toward the dune to what should have been a safe area before heading back out to sea.  Hopefully she will be back to lay there again this season.  

My first trip out after Beryl offered a treasure trove of sea creatures to find and assist back to the water.  This is a Horse Conch, the Florida State Shellfish and although a bit broken was very much alive.  This one was about a foot long.  Unfortunately my sister who is now living near the park saw a lady carrying a whole arm load of Sea Stars and other live shellfish off the beach to "take home".  This is a very bad thing to do.  Don't ever remove live creatures from the beach.  There is an exception which I will show you on down.

Some really "too pretty to be real" Sea Stars were on the beach.  We put the live ones back in the water.  The colors in these guys are unbelievable.

This Shellfish was a new one for me to find alive.  It is a Banded Tulip Snail.  It was so beautiful and very much alive as it twisted and turned trying to reach the water.  We were happy to assist.  My friend and house guests through the storm, Ocellia and Ariana were helping me put things back.  They were leaving that morning so were able to collect their own arm load of empty shells to take back home.

Attached to this Cockle Shell were the very pretty and frilly egg sacs of the Tulip Snail.  Since it appeared to still be alive we put it back.

This was a very unusual critter and I wondered about it because I didn't think it was a Sea Slug.  It was still alive and I thought it might be a Sea Star missing most of its legs.  A Sea Star can regrow its legs if it loses them but I had never seen one have only one tentacle.  I had also never seen this type here before.

Then we found out that was exactly what it was.  We found one with 4 legs but ofcourse these were not the missing legs for the other fellow.  At least we knew what it was.  As long as the center part is attached the Sea Star can continue to live.

This is the exception to the rule on not taking live creatures.  These pretty barnacles are an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean and we fear because of their large size that they will root out our smaller native species.  When you find these guys and they are still alive as these were, toss them away from the water.  This fellow and some of his relatives are now in my freezer waiting for my son, David to make a mold of them for a project he is doing down in Orlando which has to do with building an ocean reef.

Lots of Whelk egg sacs.  This one had hatched so not sure if those tiny Whelks on my finger tips are alive or not.  We did find some which were not yet hatched and tossed them off the pier back into the water.  It takes the Whelk about 8 days to lay this long string of very tough leathery sacs, which has about 60 or more tiny Whelks inside each sac.  The hole in the sac is the escape route for the new Whelk to enter the sea.  My question of the week is how do shells form?  They grow, but how?

In this cluster destined to be put back into the water is a Whelk, a couple of Tulip Shells, a young Horse Conch, and some other type of attached shell fish on the Conch.  The young Horse Conchs are much brighter in color and are bright orange when even smaller.

This tiny baby Stone Crab was inside another shell I picked up.  Look at his "Popeye after his spinach"-looking front claws.  Their claim to fame, and our fine dining, is these big front claws which are a delicacy to eat and can be harvested without killing the crab.

It looked like most of our Wilson's Plover chicks made it safely through the storm.  As a matter of fact we had 3 new sets of hatchlings show up the week afterward.  One gal took pictures of a Laughing Gull who sat on her eggs throughout the storm to the point that she was buried up to her neck in sand but she did not leave her eggs.  Though the mate was protesting the girl gently uncovered the mom and set her free.  I hope she will be rewarded with a successful hatching after that sacrifice.  I take back all the unkind words I have said about Laughing Gulls being terrible parents.

I have been working on paintings in all my spare time.  I have been in the gallery much more lately with Bruce unable to work for a couple of weeks.  He had an experiment with cooking rice that left some lasting effects with boiling water burning a huge 2nd if not 3rd degree burn to the top of his foot.  He is on the mend and I finally got a day off to go shoot birds on Tuesday.  Some good news and bad news from there also.  Of the three Roseate Spoonbill chicks I photographed in the last story, only one made it, but the one sitting on the nest produced 3 healthy little ones.  I will share some photos after I get time to go through them.

Another small 8 x 10 painting also finished and hanging for our Saturday Night Art Walk, party, and a good party is was!.

In all we lost 4 of our 6 Sea Turtle nests in the park and it looks like about 2 dozen island wide.  However the good news is that we have had 4 Leatherback nests laid on the island.  I am learning to shake off the losses as part of natures plan and nothing that can be prevented.  One nest that had been relocated to a safer higher spot down on the lower part of the island was washed away despite the precautions.  So it just goes to show that you can't predict nor prevent disaster when Mother Nature is prevailing with her surprises.  So we understand better the great number of eggs laid and the multiple layings in a season is to offset their loses and to insure survivability of the species.  Turtles are doing well, although you would not know that by the environmental reports from those trying to raise money for their causes, who only report the dire news.  The best year ever for Green Turtles since we have been recording data was last year.

Hope springs eternal.  The good with the bad.  Win some, lose some.  All those life-explaining -isms really are true.  We are anxiously awaiting the rest of the season to see what surprises nature has in store for us.  Will there be lots of nests, will there be lots of storms, will the fish bite? Que sera sera.