As part of the #7Days4SeaTurtles focus this week, we’re following DNR sea turtle technicians Sarah Martin, Kyle Coleman and Jack Brzoza as they work their turtle beaches – Sarah on Little St. Simons and Kyle and Jack on Ossabaw Island. Here’s what Kyle and Sarah found today.
Kyle, here. By 7 a.m., I was positive that today was going to be one of those days you just have to grit your teeth and get through.
Initially, when I saw the turtle tracks in the early morning twilight, I was excited. It’s always great to have the potential to find a new nest, and this morning was especially exciting because I was on the southern-most beach, where the frequency of new nests has dropped off a little recently.
I pulled up to the tracks and was able to identify the distinct alternating flipper marks left by a nesting loggerhead sea turtle – the most common nesting turtle we have here in Georgia. I followed the track to the body pit, which is the place in the sand where the turtle has chosen to lay her eggs. The body pit is typically obvious because it’s where she sort of does a “sand-angel” and clears an area suitable for her nesting needs.
This particular turtle left a textbook example of a body pit, and I began searching the sand with my probe stick, which I use to find the egg chamber so I don’t have to dig up the entire pit to find the eggs.
However, after probing and probing, and probing some more, I realized this was no longer a “textbook” body pit. This was why we take shovels to the beach.
I began digging up the body pit, because if you clear enough loose sand off the top, you can usually find the egg chamber much easier. Most times. I’ll save you the frustrating details, but after digging the entire body pit to no avail (photo above) I was dripping sweat, and the sun had hardly risen behind the low clouds on the horizon. Was I looking in the right place? Did she not nest? Did she do all this and lay no eggs? Possibly; it happens.
I decided to take a breather. I walked to check some nearby nests for any signs of predation and to clear sand off the predator screens like I do every day. That’s when I saw them. Dozens of tiny loggerhead turtle tracks pouring out from one of our marked nests.
I was in awe. I’ve never worked with sea turtles before so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when a nest hatches. It doesn’t matter, though, because nothing I could have imagined would have been as rewarding as seeing all those tracks go straight toward the ocean.
Working day in and day out doing any type of job allows for the possibility to lose perspective and forget how important your work is. Today started out as one of those days, with feelings of frustration and defeat. Thankfully, nature has a way of nudging us with the timeliest reminders that shift our perspective and provide a much-needed breath of new life.
P.S. I never found that nest. However, an army of laughing gulls and royal terns escorted me off the beach, flying directly over the Mule. And they didn’t hit me with any “gifts.” I’ll take that as a win.
Watching, Waiting on Little St. Simons
Today was a pretty low-key day, with only one nest on Little St. Simons. We had a four-nest day on Sunday, so we are waiting for the next wave of nesting ladies.
Currently, we have 97 nests and I am hoping we will hit the big 100 by the end of the week!
When I left this morning, it was an especially beautiful ride out on our beach road. There were painted buntings, various egrets and marsh rabbits in the morning light.
The fun track of the day was an adult American alligator that came out of one of our nearby ponds and paid a visit to the shore.
But I am going stir crazy at the moment. I’m ready for nests to hatch. Nests numbers one through 13 have hit the 50-day mark and I am thoroughly checking them for signs of hatchlings.
I’m looking for what looks like a dip in the sand underneath our predator screen. When the turtles are ready to “boil” or come out, the sand will start to sink.
I am also looking for signs of hatchling tracks near the nest or on the beach. These tracks look like mini versions of the adults. I have been fooled by the ghost crab tracks a few times; they are very convincing at a distance!
However, it is safe to say that inventory season is right around the corner!
The turtle techs will be providing updates through Sunday, July 16. Check out other #7Days4SeaTurtles posts this week, including photos and videos, on the Wildlife Resources Division’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr pages.