Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another relocation!

Some of you may recall the Portofino nest which had to be cleaned on July 2 due to a large amount of oil which washed over it. You may click HERE to look at the before and after photos of that nest that day.

Yesterday evening, on day 53 of its incubation, the Portofino nest (PB6071) was excavated like FP6041 last Friday, only without all the fanfare. I thought you would like to hear the amazing results!

The biologist and biotechs were happy to find 112 eggs in the nest. But, they were surprised to discover eight little hatchlings already working their way toward the top and thirty more of the eggs pipped (meaning working their way out of the shell)! The rest of the eggs, with the exception of one which was obviously bad and another 'questionable' egg at the bottom of the clutch, were in perfect condition. This was a great result for PB6071, now on its way to the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral.

Now for another bit of good news -- keep your fingers crossed -- we've heard that considering the state of our beach and Gulf water, we may be able to keep some of our later nests here instead of shipping them to the east coast! Nothing is set in concrete at this time, but if we continue to see an absence of oil and get good water sampling results, perhaps we'll have a few nests to sit with this fall!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shorebird Colonies on Santa Rosa Island

The Least Tern colonies located within Gulf Islands National Park seem to have adapted somewhat to the presence of clean-up crews.

They just shake it off (like this one is doing above), or dive-bomb anyone who comes too close.

It's a relief that these endangered birds have made it through the season, unlike our Black Skimmers, another colonial-nesting shorebird, which have appear to have abandoned many of their nests.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sea Turtle Nest relocation video clip

If you would like to see a short video clip from our Kemp's ridley nest relocation last Friday, you may click HERE.

Monday, July 26, 2010


It feels great to see sandcastles being built in the Park again. I've missed driving past them during my sea turtle patrols at Ft. Pickens, appreciating the time and little flourishes people put into their designs.

I also miss seeing fishermen out there at dawn and hope they will be coming back again soon also, but sandcastles are a good start.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I can't begin to describe what a glorious morning it was on the beach. Until yesterday afternoon, I was concerned I wouldn't be able to run my Sunday patrol due to high surf and flooding conditions at Ft. Pickens.

But instead, this morning I was treated to cottonball clouds and knee-high breaking waves. Sargassum was piled high along the shoreline, delighting the birds.

If you are looking down from a condo in the next couple of days, don't despair if you see large patches of something reddish-brown floating in the surf. It may not be oil-related, but so much sargassum is washing in that you'll think Mother Nature ran her own Sam's Club special.

Sargassum is like Krispy Kreme doughnuts for shore birds and other small marine creatures. Small mussels and crustaceans get mixed in with the seaweed, giving smaller birds a great place to forage as well as a place to hide.

In the photo above, you may also think you're looking at tiny tar balls mixed in with the sargassum, but they are really tiny air pockets or bladders which help the seaweed stay afloat. They look very much like seeds close up.

Most people don't like to see the beach covered with ugly brown sargassum, and I admit feeling the same way until I learned what an important role it plays in our marine eco-system. Now I see it in a whole new light.

If you'd like to learn a little more about sargassum, you may click HERE to read a transcript from Living on Earth: The Need for Seaweed.

Those of you on Facebook may also want to check out Public Radio International's Living on Earth.

Breaking Dawn

What a beautiful sunrise we were treated to this morning.

I love the towering and dramatic cloud formations we often see in the summer months.

"Red sky in morning" may be a sailor's warning, but to me it is a pure delight.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Postscript to Nest Relocation

In yesterday's post about the excavation and relocation of Gulf Islands National Seashore's first sea turtle nest, I forgot to give you one of the most interesting sidenotes: we have a photo of the mama turtle herself!

Pamela Young, an employee of the National Park Service took this photo of our special turtle who was found disoriented and crawling across Ft. Pickens Road during an attempt to nest on June 4. Pamela stopped traffic and called Gulf Islands National Seashore Bio-tech Vickie Withington to help guide the Kemp's ridley back into the Gulf.

Within a couple of hours this little turtle returned to shore to complete her nesting. Kemp's ridley sea turtles are most rare of the species, but this one takes an even more special place in Gulf Islands National Seashore history and we even have her photo. Our thanks to Pamela for keeping her safe that day...and taking photos!

If you want to read my original post about this Kemp's ridley, you may click HERE.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sea Turtle Nest relocation

Gulf Islands National Seashore Acting Superintendent, Nina Kelson, welcomed the media, representatives of Florida Fish & Wildlife and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, plus volunteers such as myself who were present today for the first excavation of our GINS sea turtle nests. As Ms. Kelson stated, "The excavation and relocation o f a sea turtle nest to another site to be hatched and released is unprecedented for the National Park Service."

Camera crews and reporters were out in force for the event. Making the occasion even more special, the nest was that of a Kemp's ridley, the smallest and most endangered of the world's seven sea turtle species.

Sean Dugas of the Pensacola News Journal interviews Rick Clark, Chief of Science and Resource Management, Gulf Islands National Seashore.

A tent is erected and carefully lifted over the nest site. A photo of this nest taken during my turtle patrol on June 6, two days after it was laid -- and in a more solitary setting -- may be seen by clicking HERE.

Mark Nicholas, Biologist; Monica Cain Hardin, Bio-tech; and Andrew Diller, University of Florida Marine Extension Agent, began extracting eggs which would be transported to a NASA incubation facility near Cape Canaveral within 24 hours. Also participating in the extraction (but not visable in this photo) is Lorna Patrick, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

LT. Colonel Louie Roberson, a Regional Director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is collaborating with Gulf Islands National Seashore in the excavation and transport of the nest/eggs, is on hand to answer questions after the event.

The eggs are carefully removed from the nest and placed in special coolers. They are also placed into the container in the precise orientation as they were in the nest.

Melanie Waite, left, and Gigi Naggatz, watch the relocation process. Melanie and Gigi have been sea turtle patrolers for approximately 18 years and each have received Presidential Volunteer Service Awards for over 1,000 volunteer hours they have contributed to the Gulf Islands National Seashore during that time.

Note the sky is beginning to darken in the photo above...

Uh oh....

It becomes evident a storm is fast approaching and the process of allowing each media representative an opportunity to get close enough for photos of the nest speeds up!

The biologists and bio-techs try to complete their task as quickly as possible without endangering the eggs.

Getting darker and the wind kicks up.

The beach is not a safe place to be during a storm. The cloud formations can be spectacular; the lightning deadly.

So much for the question and answer period! Haul out!

Everyone escaped to the safety of their vehicles just in time and the precious cargo begins its journey to Cape Canaveral.

Although we do not know the exact location where the tiny turtles will be released once they have hatched, we do have the comfort of knowing they will be released somewhere along the coast near Melbourne Beach, Florida in the (oil-free) Atlantic Ocean.

Tropical Storm Bonnie

Tropical Storm Bonnie is beginning to impact our area. Ft. Pickens Area - Gulf Islands National Seashore will be closing at 10:00 p.m. tonight since the surf is anticipated to build rapidly tomorrow. Even a high tide can occasionally cause the road to flood, but with a Tropical Storm coming near, the west end of the island is most certainly going to be breached. News reports are currently warning of 8' - 9' waves on Saturday and up to 12' on Sunday.

Campers are currently being told they must leave Ft. Pickens today and that the campgrounds will not reopen until the storm has passed and the area inspected for damage/hazards to campers.

With incredible timing, the first sea turtle nest we had this year (June 4), an endangered Kemp's ridley who wandered all around that day, is scheduled to be excavated this afternoon. The eggs will be loaded in special containers and Fed Ex'd to the Atlantic Coast where they will hatch and be released into oil-free water. Considering the location of this nest, it could have been flooded or washed away.

Hopefully I will be able to share photos of the excavation portion of the relocation with you later tonight or tomorrow.

To all my little hurricane buddies from Minnesota to Louisiana and all points in between - high alert!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Feeling alive

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”

~~ Eleanora Duse - (1858 - 1924)


I was completely bug-eyed to see exuvia (shed skin) of cicada on my palm trees yesterday! Not just one or two, but dozens of them!

Cicada are common in Tennessee, where I am originally from, but I never expected to see these out here on the island.

Cicada are much better heard than seen. Yuck!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

False Crawl at Ft. Pickens

I just received word that we had a false crawl at Ft. Pickens this morning.

These photos were taken by Randy Larcom who was on patrol at Ft. Pickens this morning and graciously gave me permission to share them with my blog followers.

As you can see in this photo, the tracks were already being washed away by the incoming tide.

For those new to my blog, a false crawl is when a female sea turtle comes ashore but returns to the water without nesting. Sometimes there may be something about the area which doesn't satisfy her; at other times she may be frightened away by lights or motion, but the only sea turtles which come ashore are females ready to nest.

When we see a false crawl like this, patrolers are even more vigilant the next day because they know the sea turtle will come be coming ashore again soon to nest.

Other good news is that there was two nests were discovered this morning: one was found in the Santa Rosa Area - Gulf Islands National Seashore and another on Perdido Key!

The darnedest things

We see the darnedest things wash up on the beach, but this is the first time I've seen a sweet potato. Crabs and birds were a bit puzzled by it too.

There were also dozens of large sweet onions (similar to the Vidalia variety), washed up along a three mile stretch of beach. They must have fallen off a boat somewhere out in the Gulf.

I would have stopped to get photos of the onions, too, but all the sea turtle patrolers are currently getting a DEP escort each morning to get the all-clear for cleaning crews. I don't think mine would have appreciated a stop to take photos of onions. It is only when I finish the first part of run and head back to the Ranger Station alone that I can take time to snap a few photos.

Beauty of the beach

There are days when the beach is so beautiful that I can almost forget about the oil spill...almost.

It's difficult to predict where the oil will show up next. One area of beach will look beautiful and a few miles away it will be littered with oil balls or tar patties. All we can do is hope for northerly winds and the relief well to be completed soon. In the meantime, I enjoy the beauty of the island as I discover it on any given day.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Next to finding a sea turtle nest or even a false crawl - neither of which I've found this year - the biggest enjoyment I get during my Ft. Pickens turtle patrols is watching shore and sea birds.

These lovely Ruddy Turnstone wait for a wave to bring some tasty crustaceans or molluscs their way.

A willet at the shoreline; bits of June grass are still washing ashore in the waves.

Sanderlings and plovers are especially fun to spy this time of year because you may spot their tiny chicks foraging with them.

A Least Tern colony at Ft. Pickens.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The meaning of dreams

“Dreams are illustrations... from the book your soul is writing about you.”

Marsha Norman

Most of my blog followers know I like to collect quotations and use them in my posts. Today I came across the one above which made me start to worry: what might my soul be writing about me?!

I have recently started having very bizarre dreams. In last night's dream, for instance, I was concerned when our neighbor Brian (sorry, Brian, don't know how you got mixed up in this) started putting out dishes of dog food to draw polar bears away from our homes and protect our dogs. I expressed my fear that instead of leading them away from us, perhaps he was only attracting more to our area. Of course huge polar bears then started lumbering out of the sea oats and oleander, closing in on us.

I realize these bizarre dreams may be due to a lack of sleep from the early morning turtle patrols and sporadic 10+ hour night shifts from dark to dawn as a Wildlife Observer, but dreams such as polar bears descending on the island or me galloping around trying to rustle up a herd of racehorses, etc.?

Perhaps a more fitting quote for today would be,

"I have a grip on reality, just not this one." ~~ Author Unknown.

What if...

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, 'What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'”

~~ Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964), marine biologist and nature writer

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Touch the sky

There was no turtle activity this morning and no fresh oil on the beach in the area I patroled. That's not to say there weren't spots which still need cleaning, but it was so much better than last Sunday.

The clouds were low and fluffy this morning. It almost seemed I could gather a basket of their billowy cotton puffs if I stood on tiptoe.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hope for tomorrow

"It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow."

Robert H. Goddard (1882 - 1945)

Hold your breath!

Even this heron seems to be holding its breath to see if the cap on the oil well will hold!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oil well successfully capped!

At 2:25 p.m. this afternoon the new (and experimental) cap successfully stopped the oil from gushing into our Gulf waters! B.I.G. thanks to one of my blog followers for the update out of New Orleans.

It's a temporary fix until the relief wells are completed, but the best news we've had so far.

You may click HERE to view a video from our local news station, WEAR-TV.

At the Pass

A Willet and a Great Blue Heron near Pensacola Pass. Fairly large amounts of sargassum had washed ashore which gives young shorebirds a place to forage and hide.

Sweet chick

Another adorable young shorebird.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Under ordinary circumstances, July on the island is one of my favorite times. Considering the heat and humidity, many people don't understand this...until they see the golden sea oats of July.

During a few weeks each summer, clusters of seed heads (called panacles) swell, ripen, and wave gracefully atop stalks of sea oats. Starting as the palest shade of gold, they become darker and more burnished with each passing day as we move into fall. In July they glow, but by September they seem so full of sun they are weighted down by the treasure they hold.

It is in July, however, I most appreciate the way they catch the morning and evening sun and shimmer in the breeze like slow moving waves on a bright golden sea. It's one of the most visually-stunning sights you will see on the Gulf Coast.

"Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour...

"Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

~~ Robert Frost (1874 – 1963), "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the Arms of an Angel

I am ever so appreciative to my friend Shelley Johnson who allowed me the privilege of visiting the Pensacola Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center this morning for a media tour of the facility and operations.

This juvenile Northern Gannet in the process of being cleaned was obviously frightened, but the rehabilitation workers worked tirelessly at their task.

Conversation was held to a minimum and in hushed tones to prevent further stress, but as I watched the workers tending the frightened seabird, thinking what it must be going through, sad lyrics and the haunting tune of a song by Sarah McLachlan kept running through my mind...

"...I need some distraction, oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins

They may be empty and weightless,
and maybe I'll find some peace tonight..."

"It don't make no difference, escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness,
oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees..."

"...In the arms of an angel, fly away from here
From this cold dark hotel room and the endlessness that you fear,
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here..."

A couple of Brown pelicans who have made it through the process begin to regain their strength and preen their feathers.

Once they are evaluated to be strong enough, they will be banded/tagged and transported to a safe release area.

We thank the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center's professionals and paraprofessionals -- angels of mercy -- who take such care with the oiled wildlife and work hard to release these beautiful creatures back into a safer environment.