Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going Green

When people think of "going green", I don't think the photos below are what they have in mind. But "going green" we are on the beach as we watch large amounts of June grass (an algae called Cladophora) continue washing ashore even as we reach the doorstep of September.

After almost two weeks of rain, stormy weather, and oft-canceled shifts, BP's cleaning crews were finally able to get back on the beach this morning and these are photos of what greeted them.

In the area where cleaning crews were setting up there was a mix of June grass, sargassum and tarballs, with an assortment of old trash which had washed up for good measure. Quite a mess.

From what I've experienced living here these past few years and what I've gathered from long-time local fishermen, it's very unusual to see June grass (an algae) this late in the season. We all wondered the same thing, if the dispersants used by BP (or the oil itself) have contributed to the proliferation of June grass this year.

You may click on the following link to read an interesting article from Time magazine, "Oil Spill: What's Going On Under the Gulf"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sea turtle nest

I don't think I shared photos of the sea turtle nest I discovered on the 1st of August after it had been properly GPS'd, staked and flagged. You can see what a lovely location it is in at Ft. Pickens near the old observation tower.

If you look closely or enlarge the photo you can see the way we identify nests.

The first three numbers are the date - it was found on 8/01

Next is a number which shows if this was the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc., nest found that day. For example, if I had found more than one nest on August 1, the first would have been numbered 8011, a second nest would be numbered 8012, and a third nest would be 8013.

Last are the initials of the person who discovered the nest. Since this is a nest I discovered, you can see my first and last initials: DZ.

The park will add one more piece of identification (to their records and when they refer to it for nestsitting or relocation purposes) and that is a designator for the section of the island where the nest was found: FP - Fort Pickens; PB - Pensacola Beach; and SR - for Santa Rosa, which is the section of Gulf Islands National Seashore between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.

Hopefully we will see many more sea turtle nests next summer and you may spot one during a walk. If so, you will know just a little more about the date the nest was laid, approximately when it will hatch (55-60 days, generally speaking), and maybe even discover it was one I found!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

At twilight

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow them."

~~ Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Catch and Release

A fisherman was having a great time in Gulf Islands National Seashore this morning, catching and releasing fish one right after the other.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunrise on the island

A heron is silhouetted in the sunrise at the western tip of the island. If you click to enlarge the photo you can see Bob Sikes bridge in the distance which spans Santa Rosa Sound.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sweet swans snack

I couldn't believe it even though I watched as a pair of Mute swans ate right out of the hand of a swimmer next to the dock at Paradise.

Swans at Paradise

A pair of Mute swans were hanging out near the Paradise dock this afternoon. I had heard they were near the three mile bridge a few months ago and didn't realize they had made their way back to the island. Paradise has a fish food dispenser on the dock where you can put in a couple of quarters and buy a handful of pellets to feed the fish. The swans, however, have decided it's actually for them and will even eat out of your hand! Not that I plan to give it a try!

Thanks, Mr. Drees, for bringing out an umbrella to keep me dry while I got a few shots.

Sunrise near Battery Worth

A beautiful sunrise over Santa Rosa Sound between Battery Worth and the old fort. The only thing out of place is the boom which washed up on the shore.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dirty little crab

I have little sympathy for Ghost crabs since they dig into sea turtle nests and will eat either the eggs or the tiny hatchlings themselves! Still, I feel sorry for crabs when I see them oiled. The first crab in the video is actually luckier than some I've seen with completely oiled eye stalks.

Please forgive the shakiness of the video. The weather was bad and I could not take time to get out of my vehicle. The wind was gusting enough to move my camera around when I was trying to capture these two characters on video.

Monday, August 16, 2010

She's Alive!

A crazy work schedule, hot temps, humidity and stormy weather have resulted in a lack of posts on my blog for a few days. Or, as no less than eight people have pointed out, I haven't posted since August 4th! I actually didn't realize it had been that long!

The photo above was taken during my sea turtle patrol at Ft. Pickens yesterday morning. The weather was not good, as you can see, so I didn't stop to take photos, opting instead to shoot a few from my UTV as I drove along. Vibration from the vehicle resulted in less than crisp photos, but I think you can see the water spout in the Gulf as it was either forming or dying. In all the time I've lived here, this is the first I've seen for myself. Being in the middle of nowhere (for cover), I decided it would be best not to linger.

I have another heavy work schedule this week unless bad weather affects us. The remains of Tropical Depression Five have looped back into the Gulf of Mexico and may regenerate later today. This could bring heavy rain to our area again later this evening. If a weather standby/stand-down does not occur, then I will be working approximately 11 - 12 hours overnight shifts Monday through Thursday this week as a Wildlife Observer for one of the clean-up crews on the beach. I generally arrive home each morning after these shifts around 6:30 a.m. whereupon I immediately grab a cool shower {{{ahhhhhh}}}, then type up a shift report. At last, 'bedtime' -- or at least nap time.

I can't complain because I have other sea turtle patrol friends - Melanie Waite, and Cathy and Jim Holmes who are working even more hours than I do or in combination with other jobs. I don't know how they do it. For example, last week my friend Melanie not only worked four nights (which means up to a 48 hour week), but also did her own sea turtle patrol and subbed for two other people that week! It is a crazy time for us.

I have to add that Ft. Pickens did not look good yesterday morning. The beach was littered with sargassum, June grass, and some other type of long grass I am unfamiliar with. There also appeared to be a lot more weathered oil washed ashore, but can't confirm it was oil since I didn't stop to examine it more closely.

I have a little gadget ordered which should arrive this week which will allow me to verify the presence/absence of oil when I check...on my own time, of course. I'm hoping to share photos with you at some point, but I cannot take my camera to the beach under the conditions we've been dealing with lately: high humidity, heat, occasionally high winds and heavy rain. It has been difficult to work around.

Is anyone ready for fall????

Please be forgiving of my posts until my schedule returns to normal. Not just the frequency, but the quality of photos and the grammar/typos you may see. At the end of a busy week, or even a long shift, I find myself scattered and unable to keep my train of thought on anything other than looking for sea turtle tracks and other wildlife...and a power nap!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Black Skimmers with chick video

Here is a one-minute video clip of two adult Black Skimmers and their chick which I took this morning. Hmmmm...so which of the adults do you think is the female?

Santa Rosa Turtle Patrol - 8/4/10

I enjoy opportunities to sub for other sea turtle patrollers in the Santa Rosa Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore because of the Black Skimmer colonies they have there, unlike my regular Ft. Pickens patrol area.

This time of the year I am usually treated to sights of tiny Skimmer chicks like this one. They are adorable - though I admit they are in the category of "so ugly they are cute."

Unlike plover chicks who could probably hold their own racing with a Roadrunner, Skimmer chicks sort of waddle along.

Two protective parents looking after their chick.

An adult Black Skimmer (in the background) feeding along the shoreline with a juvenile.

You can distinguish juvenile Black Skimmers from adults by the checked markings of their wings and the basal side of their bill which has not fully developed its bright orangy-red color.

Cooling off and shaking it out!


Monday, August 02, 2010

FDA News Release - Florida Seafood

Below is the statement released today by Margaret A. Hamburg, Commissioner of Food and Drugs, on the Reopening of Florida State Waters to Commercial Fishing:

We are pleased to be able to support the state of Florida as it reopens state waters off Pensacola to commercial fishing. Through close coordination with our state and federal partners, we are confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from the waters being opened today is safe and that Gulf seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish that will be coming out of this area.

I have heard first-hand from commercial fishermen and seafood processors about not only the importance of getting back to their livelihoods, but also their commitment to protecting the health of their customers and making sure consumers have the most up-to-date and accurate information available.

The fishermen and processors in the Gulf want to know that all of the proper protocols and testing methods were used to ensure that the seafood is safe. FDA is supporting Florida in this reopening as it is clear that all the proper protocol and methods were indeed followed.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners in all of the Gulf states to reopen affected waters as quickly and safely as possible.

Black Terns

During yesterday's turtle patrol at Ft. Pickens, I saw more Least Terns than I've ever seen in a colony before...except I later found out they are NOT Least Terns! In questioning the Park's Biologist, Mark Nicholas, I discovered these are Black Terns which migrate through each year, stay a few days on our beach, then continue across the Gulf of Mexico toward the northern coast of South America.

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There were hundreds of them stretching far in the distance, from the vegetation line all the way to the shoreline. I had to creep along in order not to flush them, but what an amazing sight.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Hot Chicks! Cool Dudes!

Like much of the southeast, we've been having blistering heat in the Panhandle of Florida. After sea turtle patrols we always wash down our UTVs, but yesterday I nearly scalded my feet when I started by hosing the sand off my feet before testing the water temperature. OUCH!

This period of intense heat may come with a silver lining, however, and all my younger blog followers who've been out on the beach with me or correspond with me know this tidbit of sea turtle trivia: The sex of sea turtle hatchlings are determined by the temperature of the sand during incubation. We remember how temperature affects the outcome by the phrase "Hot Chicks/Cool Dudes".

Our nests appear to be hatching at a faster rate due to the heat: i.e. one of our Pensacola Beach nests which was being excavated and relocated to Cape Canaveral/NASA already had hatchlings and pipped eggs at 53 days instead of 60. That may mean our female to male hatchling ratio this season is going to be increased.

Out of seven species of sea turtles, Loggerheads are the only ones listed as threatened and they are what we see the most of in the Panhandle of Florida. Occasionally, however, we have nests of Green sea turtles (endangered) and Kemp's ridleys (critically endangered) To learn more about them and see a photograph of each species, you may click HERE.

Turtle Alert!

Look what a beauty awaited me at Ft. Pickens this morning!

Yes indeed, a female Loggerhead came ashore to nest sometime during the night. On the right side of the photo above you can see the indentation of her body. Her crawl width was 37" wide, so she was fairly large. An adult Loggerhead can weigh 250-300 lbs or more. Behind the indentation of her body, see the fluffy sand piled up? That is the location of the nest which she covered with sand using her flippers. The eggs are approximately 18" below the surface.

Unfortunately, someone on a UTV -- someone obviously not familiar enough to identify a turtle crawl or nest -- ran over her tracks before dawn. Luckily they were not riding higher on the beach or they could have crushed the eggs.

Once I discovered the nest, I called Monica Hardin, the Bio-tech on duty; staked and flagged the nest to prevent any clean-up crews from disturbing the site; completed the remainder of my patrol; and returned to the nest to write up my report and wait for Monica's arrival.

Monica arrived with our new Bio-tech, Toby Stapleton, and is pointing at the outline of the body pit.

See how large the body pit is!!! If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you will also see a couple of ghost crab holes which had already begun digging near the nest. You can also see the crab tracks all over the fluffy sand of the nest itself. Ghost crabs are natural predators of sea turtle eggs and hatchlings.

Monica and Toby begin carefully searching for the exact location of the egg chamber. The stakes will then be precisely placed to identify the location. They will later GPS the nest.

Ah ha! There it is, the entrance to the egg chamber.

Toby begins placing stakes, while Monica fills in the egg chamber again and smooths over the nest area.

Life is good!!!