Sunday, September 25, 2011

A not so silent lurker

At this point, we had tracked the hatchlings for almost a week and it was my turn.  I headed out with one of my bosses and a supposed expert on this tracking equipment.  Because the radios are so small and weak and we only could rely on how loud or quiet the infrequent beeps are, it was difficult tracking.  Once you thought you were very near, you would take the antenna off and then play stethoscope with just the wire and receiver.  We successfully found 1 of the hatchlings, but the next one was throwing us for a loop. We would get a very strong signal with the antenna, but once the antenna was removed, we just couldn't get a signal at all.  My boss was about to give up, but I wanted to try across the noisy and swift brook in this patch of weeds. I headed over there and picked up a weak signal sans antenna. We hand searched this patch of weeds but couldn't find it.  We ended up giving up and assuming that it was there but that we just couldn't find it.  We tracked the next one pretty quick and then my boss wanted to take another shot at the one we couldn't get a visual on. I then saw him checking this steep bank next to the river. I headed over there and sure enough the hatchling had successfully crossed the swift and somewhat deep brook and then scaled a 5 foot tall embankment. We saw it booking away from the brook. Very exciting! I called it bruiser because it had been the biggest of the bunch and clearly it was up for challenges. 
We were walking out and heard what at first we thought was a cicada in this very dense grass and tree saplings.  But towards the end of the sound it sounded like a classic baby rattle. It then made the noise again and we were both "That's NOT a cicada".  My boss took my walking stick and started to move the vegetation away.  Sure enough it was exactly what we thought it was and it was NOT a cicada.  The pictures came out horrible because it would move just when we had cleared the vegetation around it. I guess it heard us talking close by and was alarmed.  Otherwise we would have never had found it.
 It's now about half a week away from Hurricane Irene hitting us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Expectant surrogate mommies

Last spring we conducted a nesting survey for these rare turtles. We were able to successfully cover one nest with mesh and rocks to prevent predation. It appears that the predators were able to get to most of the other nests. A little over a month ago we modified the mesh and rocks into basically an upside down brownie pan formation.  That way the hatchlings could dig out of the ground and have a secure area to walk around in.  When it came close to hatching time, we stopped by every other day to see if they had hatched.  One of our visits on a weekend at this park/recreation area my coworker saw someone holding our mesh in their hands and using it to collect crawfish.  He was horrified and reclaimed the mesh and attempted to put it back together.  The person claimed he just found the mesh lying around. Hello liar! Keeo in mind it does take time and effort to remove all the rocks holding it down. Then a large rainstorm came by and the water was dangerous close to drowning the nest. We went back and added some large nails to really secure the mesh to the ground so it was like a fortress.

We got word one morning that there were six hatchlings within the enclosure. So we all scurried up there and numerous phone calls and coordination was all happening at once. We were going to attached radio transmitters to a few of the hatchlings to see where they go. We had 6 hatchlings, one unfertilized egg, and I discovered after we were done excavating the nest that we also had one dead hatchling.  All 6 seemed strong, cute, and perfect.  We fitted a few with radio transmitters and then let them free.

One of them sat stunned in the middle for a bit and then crawled into the nearby vegetation. One made a beeline for the water and proceeded to take a ride downstream to an unknown destination. The others (including all the radio tracked ones) headed into the nearby dense vegetation. Now comes time for the daily or every other day radio tracking.  Mind you Hurricane Irene was just forming in the be continued.