Sunday, 6 August 2017

Take me out to the Ballgame . . .

Mini me is not known to be a sports fan, but who could resist a night at Tropicana Field gratis as an appreciation for some volunteering work? Tampa Bay Rays vs Milwaukee Brewers. Tampa Bay lost 0-2, but that didn't spoil the fun!

The field is covered and air conditioned so perfectly pleasant temperature . . .

I recognize some of the music from my childhood. It was baseball at its finest - pure entertainment!

Tampa Bay Rays mascot
guess it is hard to wear a stingray costume!

Pepsi can races
smoothing the grit on the field

The private suite which comes with food!
The utility pole out front of our condo caught fire last Sunday, creating a 2 hour power outage and necessitating attendance by a firetruck, 2 police vehicles and 3 Duke Energy utility repair vehicles. The pole is now a temporary repair.  Since several friends asked for pictures, here they are.

My life is now dominated by sea turtles - loggerheads - to be specific, and here I am making neck coolers for the Sea Turtle Trackers to sell at the August St Pete Beach street fair named Shellebration. Soak one in water and wear around neck for cooling effect.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Hatchling Tracks

Infrequently we see baby turtles, aka hatchlings, during our morning patrol. If you happen across any, please call Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission on 888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell/mobile phone. Do not rescue the hatchlings on your own, you may well just make them fish food!

nest hole from which hatchlings emerge
More often we just see evidence of a nest hatching overnight, like the hole in the picture to the right.

Sometimes the nest hatches whilst a nest sitter was present before midnight, but not always. This year we have had a number of hatches well after midnight when the beach goers have left.

This leaves us detecting what happened with the hatchlings by the marks in the sand the next morning (a bit like finding the momma loggerheads tracks leading us to a nest laid overnight).

disoriented hatchling tracks going everywhere!
hatchling & bird tracks
birds eat hatchlings

close-up of hatchling tracks 
our local Great Blue Heron greeting us on the beach

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Turtle Patrol - Morning After a Nest Hatch

Clean, Flat, Dark is our turtle mantra during nesting season to minimize the impact of humans on nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.  I just had to share our morning patrol and these pictures with you, so that everyone can see why clean, flat, dark is so important.

First Clean and Flat; this picture was taken on  our 24th July  morning patrol  on St Pete Beach.  It is a near text-book crawl, only there is no nest - as it seems she ran into this sandcastle. ie a wasted journey we call a 'false crawl.'  It takes an adult female turtle so much energy to haul 250-350 pounds of body weight up the beach, so false crawls are a problem depleting her energy. Noise, light, movement, obstructions (including beach chairs &  holes in which she can fall and not get out as she doesn't go backwards on land), and possibly even the 'wrong type of sand' all contribute to false crawls.

Here she crawled up overnight and did a full spiral before giving up and going back into the sea.

Dark: pictures below taken on 25th July on Madeira Beach just outside our condo.  The nest hatched overnight 24th/25th with a typical 'drop' in the sand.  Unfortunately, and despite turtle lighting just behind the nest, bright lights from two neighboring condos disoriented the hatchlings and the tracks go everywhere! It appears (from observing the hatchling tracks, bird tracks and fresh ghost crab hole locations) roughly 50 hatchlings made it to the sea, whilst of the approximately 100 eggs in the nest, a number were eaten by laughing gulls and ghost crabs on our beach. See the litter next to the nest chamber?

The state sea turtle permit also requires we inventory nests 3 days after hatching, to count the egg shells and report hatchling numbers to the state of Florida for statistical purposes. This is because the loggerhead is on the endangered and threatened species protection list. Well we know this nest hatched, but oddly we cannot find the egg chamber!  Frustrating and very unusual.

At least we had a laugh finding this sand sculpture nearby . . . do you think the swimmer escaped or ???
this sand builder has a sense of humour!

After consoling ourselves about the disoriented hatchlings we just had to find some cheer. Fortunately we were invited to lunch at the RumFish Grill where the dining room houses a 33,500-gallon aquarium. Said invitation as a result of other volunteering work - there are some perks!

This large tank with underwater viewing is inhabited by large fish indigenous to Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico including Frankie, a four foot green moray eel. Frankie shares the coral ledge, rocks and artificial mangrove tree swimming with a stingray, grouper, snook, redfish, spotted trout and lookdowns amongst others. If desired, you can even snorkel in the tank before your meal; seeing the size of Frankie, mini me declined this adventure.

Another tank showcases lionfish, an invasive species wreaking havoc on the reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and up the Atlantic coast.
Frankie and the stingray

Interesting Side Note: as republished in The Week 21 July 2017:

- average life expectancy at birth was less than 40 before 1800 for all countries in the world, but

- now all countries are above 40!  A thought to ponder . . . The Economist

- and Millennials (75.4 million 18-34 year olds) are now the largest living cohort overtaking their baby boomer parents (74.9 million);

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Thunderstorms, Sunsets and Turtles

The rainy season has arrived and wow do we have thunder and lightening! The noise reverberates between the condo buildings whilst the lightening illuminates our beaches in short bursts.The rain blows in off the Gulf or from the mainland, so we can get it from either direction. See the rain in this picture? It is extremely humid this year too.  The thunder continues to rumble and grumble through most of Sunday.                                                                                 
see indentation after the rain - the 'drop'
Last night we did evening turtle nest checking for a second turtle monitoring group here on our beaches. We checked 'at risk' nests that might be affected by humans and artificial lighting.  We found a "drop" in the sand after our 8:30 pm check, at our 10:45 check, so hoped for hatchlings. They might have already gotten away so we gave up after midnight, having only found one lone straggler further down the beach (which we recsued from some well meaning tourists with white cell phone lights).  I got to bed about 1am. Since we usually create curiosity with our turtle tracker T-shirts at least we got to educate a few beach goers on the do's and don'ts during turtle season. What one will do for a turtle!
With so many storms, mini me awoke at 2:15 am and looked out from her balcony only to see a sheriff patrolling in his SUV complete with search lights (looking for people sleeping on the beach I suspect).  The sheriff inadvertently found a mother turtle, just making her way up the beach under the cover of darkness. Before he knew it he drove right alongside her with his bright headlights illuminating her for me to see. Thrilling, but sadly those same lights appear to have spooked her.  We had a downpour at 4 - 5 am so by morning the tracks are much less distinct - there appears to be no nest, so this is what we call a false crawl (look to left of the tire tracks ... but hard to see!).

Last Friday (21st), on morning patrol we found 3 live hatchlings amongst the nest remains. The State of Florida has us inventory the nests a few days after hatching and every so often we come across hatchlings that didn't make it out for one reason or another. This one was strong enough to be released immediately and you can see it swim into the sea on this video below
quicker, but harder on the
fingers than quilting!
When not turtling, am trying out all sorts of new activities; the jokes about basket making are unfair and all baskets are still handmade! This is a reed basket (vs wicker I did in the UK) and requires constant wetting; not bad on a hot day in Florida.
And just for Annie, it can be lovely after the rain --

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Shell Ambassador/Bird Steward/Florida Master Naturalist!

Just when mini me thought she had done it all on the beach she found more!

Did you know you can be a:
  • Shell Ambassador -  wear ambassador apparel (blue shirts with yellow lettering) to the beach,  enjoy the surf, sun, and shells, and also be available to answer questions and identify shells
  • Bird Steward - watching over the skimmer colony at St Pete Beach. Stewards educate and watch out for unnecessary human interference with these nesting birds
  • Florida Master Naturalist! Adult education to learn more about Florida's environment - 3 modules: coastal, upland and freshwater.

Our 5 day FMN course had us out on field trips for 3 days.  Here's what we did (no cameras on us for fear of getting drenched, but these are good respresentative pictures from the area):

Seining (fishing with a drag net being careful of the seabed!) and dipping for all sorts of critters in Tampa Bay - including very tiny seahorses and shrimp

Canoeing and Kayaking on South Paddling Trail through Mangroves of Weedon Island situated on Tampa Bay

The beach at Fort De Soto in the channel where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. We tracked loggerheads and learned about Black Skimmers before being defeated by thunder, lightening and a heavy downpour. Never stay on the beach when lightening is present!
Dolphin skull;
 FMN Coastal Systems Course
T. Arenholz
For a really cool fish that lives in these swampy waters check out the Mangrove Rivulus marmoratus - it can live out of water for 60 days - read how here.
St Pete Beach Skimmer Colony

We have a nesting colony of skimmers at St Pete Beach - such fun to see them on morning turtle patrol!

Source: Arthur Morris;

Young skimmers wander from the  nest shortly after being born. The warnings signs are particularly important because when the chicks sense danger, they attempt to look inconspicuous by lying flat on the beach, even kicking up sand to make a hollow to lie in; hence they can be hard to see for us humans and those beach rakers.  We have to be especially careful on turtle patrol!

Adult skimmers have an uneven bill so to feed the bird flies low, with the long lower mandible plowing the water, snapping the bill shut when it contacts a fish.

On July 5th, our beach patrol consisted mainly of picking up trash left over from the many, many fireworks of the day before.  Made with seaweed I understand this sentiment, but then how can one go on to leave so many beer bottles and fireworks boxes on the beach?? So all us turtle/bird/shell/master naturalists have plenty to do!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Mother Nature: Double . . .

Look closely in these 2 pictures
 faint 2nd rainbow above the obvious one
Some of my friends may need a little cheering up . . . yesterday morning I looked out my window over the Gulf of Mexico and saw this Double  - it was very vivid and stayed around for a good long time. Unfortunately pictures cannot quite do it justice.
Monday afternoon we had both significance and special weather advisories (don't ask me what the difference is) along with two severe thunderstorm warnings.  That might explain how we get these rainbows.
Started our nest sitting/captaining for the loggerhead  nests last night. We had five (5) nests ready for hatching - BUT NONE DID!

There was a bit of  on the beach so one has to be careful and keep your  peeled. Here's why [taken by Clint Blevins]:

To end on a happy note:
Photo: ROGER FRAMPTON,Beach Beacon July 6 2017; A dolphin tosses a snook into the air June 26 at Jack’s Boat Basin, Madeira Beach. Dolphins occasionally toss fish, for sport and other times to get them aligned with their mouth to eat.