Monday, June 27, 2011


Sunrises and sunsets are always beautiful at the beach, but they are more dramatic recently due to the wildfires we are currently experiencing near our area.  It's a bit more difficult to appreciate their beauty when you discover it's because sunlight is passing through a light haze of smoke.

For a look at the number of wildfires we are currently experiencing in Florida, click HERE

Drought conditions for our area of the Southeast are at the highest level, D4/Exceptional Drought

Sunday, June 26, 2011

False crawls!

Shortly after sunrise this morning I came across my first false crawl. It was a little west of Marker E...

Less than ten minutes later I came across my second false crawl, almost a condensed version of the first. It was located about a quarter of a mile farther east, on the east side of Marker E...

And less than ten minutes later I came across my THIRD false crawl approximately another quarter of a mile east, which put it between Marker E and D.

I've never found three false crawls during one patrol. And, what made it even more interesting is that when I took measurements of each crawl width, I discovered the crawls were made by three different sea turtles.

One track was 36" wide; one was 37" wide; and one was 38" wide. Also, the track patterns themselves were different. Tracks may have a unique pattern if there has been an injury to a flipper or if barnacles are present on the plastron (belly) of the sea turtle.

Although I did not discover an actual nest today, it's still fun to know they will try again within the next day or so and hopefully be more successful!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Little spouts!

For about an hour this morning, during the earlier portion of my patrol, I watched funnel clouds dropping down here and there from a long line of rain clouds in the Gulf of Mexico.  I was hoping I might be able to capture a photo or video of one as it  made contact with the Gulf and started sucking water up into the funnel, but none progressed to that point.

Dark clouds started on the southwest horizon and crossed the island diagonally to the northeast.  I managed to stay behind the system, but could see heavy downpours in the Gulf.   Waterspouts are intriguing to watch, but can wreak havoc if they come ashore.  Which ever way they head, you should head the other direction!  Remember, simply put, waterspouts are are tornadoes which occur over water.

FP 6191

A Fathers Day gift for all you sea turtle lovers out there!  I found this nest at Ft. Pickens shortly before 6 a.m. this morning near Marker E...hence it is tagged as FP 6191 (Ft. Pickens - June 19 - 1st nest discovered on this day in this area)   My measurements showed it was a good sized Loggerhead with a 38" crawl.  Unfortunately, the nest was too near the water and had to be relocated, during which time we discovered there were 129 eggs! 

My thanks to Bio-techs Toby Singleton and Lauren Quinn for coming out to relocate the nest.

This is the 3th nest I've found this year; the 9th for Ft. Pickens; and the 29th for the entire area from Santa Rosa to Perdido Key!  What an amazing year!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Great Blue Heron and the ray

Sometimes when I get busy, I forget about photos or video I've taken during patrol and wanted to share with you. This short video clip shows the Great Blue Heron I posted about on Sunday, walking around with just a bit too much breakfast to handle.

The biting flies have been out recently.  That generally happens when the wind blows out of the north, so when you see the picture jerk up and down and make a weird noise, it's because the flies were biting my ankles as I crawled nearer to the heron on my elbows and knees. I was trying to scrape/shrug them off of me!

The way I see it, even the Garden of Eden had a snake, so pests are to be expected in our little paradise, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Snowy Plover chicks

Gulf Islands National Seashore is full of these adorable Snowy Plover chicks.  Right out of their nests, they could probably outrun the average person!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Freaky storm

A freaky storm blew up this evening. Unfortunately I felt I had to document it and cranked open the window for a better shot.

Suddenly the wind ripped the window off its hinges and sent it flying into the driveway. Glass is now scattered everywhere.

It took a while for us to get plastic [read: garbage bags] taped into place because the wind and rain kept trying to rip it out of our hands as the rain poured into the dining room.

Now how do we explain this to the insurance agent?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's for breakfast

Looks like this Great Blue Heron will be having a ray for breakfast, but it also looks like it bit off more than it could chew!

Friday, June 10, 2011

King of the Sea

King Poseidon, a/k/a Morrie Drees is also the king of surfing!  Morrie just finished his last day of surf camp and gets a gold star from all his friends, plus all kinds of other goodies from Innerlight who sponsors a surf camp each week during the summer!  

Morrie puts the rest of us to shame when we think we can't do something because of our age.  He will turn 80 this year and has more stamina than those half his age!  Age is only a number!

The Black Skimmer chicks at Santa Rosa are getting bigger and exploring the area around their nest. When I videotaped them yesterday morning, Mom and Dad Skimmer where 'changing shifts'.  One of them needed a break from those cheep-cheep-cheeping youngsters and walked away!  You see the other parent, complete with bed-head, heading toward the nest for their turn after the first one walks away.  The chicks aren't sure which one they want to follow.

Yesterday was the last day I'm scheduled to sub on a Santa Rosa patrol until July, so these little chicks may have fledged and gone when I return.

Ft. Pickens is my regular patrol area. Each section, Ft. Pickens and Santa Rosa, is special in its own way. Santa Rosa has many more Black Skimmer colonies. Ft. Pickens has more Osprey and Great Blue Herons, plus the old fort. I also enjoy watching the charter and fishing boats heading into the Gulf of Mexico through Pensacola Pass when I patrol Ft. Pickens, but no matter where I'm at, it's a beautiful day at the beach!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Keep 'em coming!

I did a happy dance this morning when I discovered my second sea turtle nest of the week. This loggerhead was all business! She came straight up on the beach, nested, and headed straight back into the Gulf.

The body pit, which is very evident in this photo, was 6' 7" across.

To give you some sense of scale, the width of her track was 37" wide.

I immediately called the bio-techs to alert them I'd found another nest. I wasn't sure if it would need to be relocated. Then I posted a sign and then headed off to complete the rest of my patrol just in case there were other nests or false crawls.

By the time I returned to work on the nest (measurements, staking, reporting), bio-techs Rebecca Carruth and Toby Singleton arrived to assess the situation, along with volunteer Emily Kennedy. Rebecca was a welcome sight on Sunday when my Ft. Pickens nest had to be relocated.
Even though the decision was made to leave the nest "in situ" - it's original location - Rebecca digs down to locate the egg chamber itself so that it can be GPS'd. She then replaces the sand and leaves a light hand print for reference when they return with the GPS equipment.

The whole team of Bio-techs and volunteers are thrilled with the number of nests we've had so far this year - and we haven't even gotten into the peak of our season! But we realize there will be a lot of sleepless night in a couple of months when all these nests start hatching!

Measurements taken, nest roped off, reporting completed on SR 6081. Time to head home.

Life is good!

The Turnstone and the Crab

A Ruddy Turnstone and a ghost crab face off over a fish.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Black Skimmers

A tiny Black Skimmer chick ventures to the top of the nest to look around at the rest of the colony which is full of nesting mamas right now.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Turtle Alert!!!

What a fantastic morning! I discovered a sea turtle crawl at Ft. Pickens and the mama turtle appeared to have nested.  We know that it was  a female coming ashore to nest because males never return to land after they have hatched and entered the water.

Unfortunately the nest was laid not far from the water and had to be relocated.  At the time I discovered it, the nest was 20' from the water line, right in the middle of the wrack line.   By the time the nest was excavated, it was 7' from the water line!  Timing is very important when it comes to moving a nest, especially one this low.

The crawl pattern was a bit difficult to dicipher, but I'm leaning toward a loggerhead even though the tracks looked pretty symmetrical.  A loggerhead has an alternating track.  A Green sea turtle has a symmetrical track, but displays a tail drag (unlike what is pictured here).

Another clue is that a loggerhead came ashore to nest on on May 19th, two and a half weeks ago.  Sea turtles skip years to nest, but in the year they are active they will come ashore every couple of weeks to lay a new nest. Consequently this could possibly be the same turtle that nested on May 19th!

Since sea turtles are a threatened or endangered species, volunteers may now only assist to a certain degree when it comes to an excavation and relocation. Bio-tech Rebecca Carruth came straight from her own patrol at Santa Rosa to help me and began to assess the situation.

We carefully dug down through the sand until we reached the eggs (Rebecca was right on the money when guessing where the eggs were deposited!). Sand from the nest was added to the bottom of our container and the eggs were gently lifted from the nest with as little movement as possible, taking care to avoid any rotation of the egg itself.

A close up of sea turtle eggs. They look exactly like ping-pong balls, don't they? And they appeared to be about the same size.

Rebecca lays the eggs in rows of 10, careful to keep them in order. The eggs will be placed in their new nest, created by Rebecca, about 150 feet north of the current location. They will also be placed in the nest in the exact same order they were removed from the original nest so that the bottom eggs will still be on the bottom and the top eggs will remain on top.

Approximately 60 days from now we should have ninety-nine tiny hatchlings emerge from this nest. We will be there to help them into the Gulf of Mexico and try to increase their rate of survival in the meantime by carefully monitoring the nest each day for any signs of predation, such as ghost crabs or other island critters such as raccoons, fox, opposum, and coyotes.

Life is good!!!

Quit hangin' 'round with me

The terns have had just about enough of this crab near their nest!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Black Skimmer with chicks

This photo was taken on June 1 within the Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore.  If you click to enlarge the photo, you may be able to see the tiny beak and eyes peering out from under mama Skimmer's wing (to your right).
Just three days later I captured photos of the same nest with the chicks venturing out.  The daddy Skimmer guards his family and warns other birds to stay clear.

Black Skimmer chicks almost look cartoonish when they start toddling around.  Their body looks a little out of proportion to their head.

But they are such beautiful, graceful birds as adults, especially when you observe them feeding along the water's edge.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Paddleboarding is becoming very popular in our area and even if you aren't a participant, it is very enjoyable just to observe.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Those Tootling Terns

Needless to say, I love watching the tiny Least Tern chicks run around the beach and this is the music I hear in my head as they go tootling along.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Baby, baby!!!

I barely had time to get my camera out and capture a few frames of video before this little Least Tern chick outran me. Isn't it adorable?

This is a wondrous time of the year within Gulf Islands National Seashore with all the nests, chicks and fledglings.  And I'll be sharing as much as possible of the special discoveries on my patrol with my blog followers!