Thursday, September 6, 2018

Raptor Counts, Batumi Georgia August 18th and 19th

Batumi Raptor Count

Our day began with a short but steep hike to watch point one.  It was difficult to find the trail and we asked a local lady for help and she pointed in the general direction we needed to go.  When we arrived at the monitoring station I saw several people standing and looking through binoculars, and there were also about five spotting scopes set up.  The hike to the second watch point was about a half an hour longer than day one and it provided great views of the Black Sea and surrounding areas.


We saw a couple of raptors at a distance but we were about ten days early for the major migration.  The main thing I learned was that each person is assigned a different sector, for example, west 1, west 2, west 3 and  east 1,2,3 and so on.  To make sure they identified the sex and species correctly, an observer would call out the region and species for example, "east 1 honey buzzard adult male."  Then the other observers would check and confirm the identification.


We also learned that the raptors migrate from Russia all the way to Africa without eating.  The area we were in is a "bottleneck" between the Black Sea and Caucus Mountains and in the height of the migration they count tens of thousands of raptors per day.  Please look at the Batumi Raptor Count website to learn more about it. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Harbor Patrols July 21st and 23rd

July 21st

We arrived at Monte Mare, the villa where the Wildlife Sense volunteers stay, and climbed into the van with the rest of the team.  After about 15 minutes on a windy, narrow road, we arrived at Argostoli Harbor

Our job was to observe and record various behaviors of turtles while walking along the harbor's edge.  At first, all we saw were females swimming along, including Phoebe, a harbor resident who was waiting for fishing boats to arrive.  We didn't record this because she was just swimming.  After our first break we saw a male and female biting and chasing each other.  Wildlife Sense wants us to record this information because the turtles act aggressively because they feel like they own their own personal fishing boat.  The fishermen often clean their fish in this area and dump the fish heads in the water.  All of the interactions we saw this morning were in this area. 

Maud and I on harbor patrol.

We can tell male turtles because they have very long tails and large curved claws on their front flippers.  The males have large claws so they can grip on to the females carapace during mating.  Sometimes the males tuck their tales under their shells so it can be difficult to clearly identify the sex.  That is why the form we were using has a category for male, female, and "unknown." 


For a close-up of the form see my Kefalonia section on turtle travels.


Harbor Patrol July 23rd

After meeting the team at Monte Mare and riding in the van for the 15 minute drive, we arrived at Argostoli Harbor.  We were walking around the harbor and saw fisherman in their boats throwing fish parts in the water and feeding turtles.  This attracts tourists to their boats where they are selling fish.  We told our shift leader and took a picture of the boat to be recorded.  The fisherman know they are not supposed to do this, but they do it anyway.  It makes me mad.

We saw many more interactions this time.  Most of them involved the "in situ" turtle swimming along and an intruder coming in to the area.  Some times the in situ turtle would bight and chase the intruder away, and other times the intruder chased the in situ turtle away.  "In situ" means "in the original place in Latin.  This is how the turtle that was there first is recorded on the form.

Notice the large claw on right front flipper; this is a male.
In my blog post for the July 20th tagging event I talked about Jane.  She is a female that has a fractured skull.  In my post from that day, I described how I poured water on a bandage on her head to keep her wound cool and to prevent her from getting sunburned.  She has a giant white spot on her head where her scutes were ripped off by a boat propeller.  The last time I saw her she was being taken away in Chanel's car to get x-rays on her skull.  While we were patrolling, I saw a large female swimming up to an in situ turtle and then I noticed the large white spot on her head which told me that it was Jane.  I was very excited because it showed that Jane was back in the water and doing better.

Notice the white spot on her head were her scutes were ripped off.  It's Jane!




Friday, July 27, 2018

Harbor Sea Turtle Tagging and Health Check July 20th

After my early morning survey on Avithos Beach we drove straight to Argostoli Harbor to take part in a tagging and health check of turtles that are currently residing there.  After meeting the team near the harbor we were asked to go to our assigned sector to help spot turtles.  My job was to spot a turtle and once I did, to raise one arm straight up in the air, and the other arm straight at the turtle.  This way Harry, the diver and turtle capturer, would know where the turtle is.  The first turtle we spotted, Harry was standing next to me on the bulkhead and then he dove straight into the harbor and grabbed the turtle from the sides of its carapace, and then he steered it toward the tagging area by using his own flippers and arms.

Harry guiding the turtle in to the tagging area.

Once the turtles were brought to the tagging area, Chanel and Josh heaved them up out of the water and carried them about six feet to the tarp were they were checked.  We were there for about 4 hours and in that time the team checked about seven turtles.  There were many measurements and other checks taken in the time each turtle was out of the water.

Chanel and Josh heaving a turtle out of the water.
 Some of the measurements that were taken were of the length and width of the carapace.  This was done with both a flexible tape measure and metal calipers.  This was done because the shell bends and the tape measure can reach around the bend to also measure the curve in the shell.  Other measurements we recorded were the tail and plastron length and width.  The plastron is the hole where the eggs come out above the tail.  Chanel had me put my finger inside the plastron of one of the turtles so I would know what it felt like.  There was a lot of pressure on my finger and it felt like it was getting pulled.

Besides the measurements, the team recorded the tag numbers of the turtles that had already been tagged, and they stapled tags on the flippers of the turtles that had not been previously tagged.  I was also asked to scan the microchips of the turtles.  The tags and microchips help keep track of the turtles and to help understand which ones are residents, and which ones are from other places.

The team also monitors the health of the turtles and performs checks.  All of the turtles captured had barnacles on them which can make it harder for them to swim.  The volunteers used special scrapers to get under the barnacles and pry them off.  There was one turtle who had a piece broken off of it's carapace and my dad recorded this by illustrating a diagram to show where the missing piece was.

Prying off barnacles from a turtle.

One turtle named Jane had a large wound on her head where several scutes were missing.  This was caused by a boat propeller.  The team placed a gauze pad on the area and I poured water on it several times to keep it cool and wet while the volunteers took measurements.  Chanel was worried about Jane so she decided to take her to a holding area and get her x-rayed.  It turned out she had a fractured skull.  The team to decided to put her back in the water because confining her in a holding tank could cause more harm to her skull because she was banging into the side.  They are going to continue to monitor her and may possible fly her to Athens if she seems to get worse.

Jane with a bandage on her head.  I poured water on it to keep it cool.

This was a great experience and I learned a lot about how Wildlife Sense uses science to better understand sea turtles in Kefalonia. 

Morning Beach Survey July 20th

We arrived at Avithos Beach at 6:30 and met up with Maud and Ruby, who were just beginning the survey.  While taking the GPS coordinates we saw a local fisherman just sitting on the beach.  That's when we noticed buoys floating in the water close to shore which meant a cast net was in the water.  We took pictures and recorded this in the morning report.

Walking to Megali Petra at the start of the patrol.


As we walked back along Avithos beach we had to knock down lots of sand castles and fill in holes left by tourists.  Hatchlings can be blocked from the water by sand castles, are fall into a hole on their way to the beach and therefore never make it.

Filling in a hole on Avithos 


In Florida, the nest discovery date and number were labeled on the stakes, but here this important information is written in black marker on smooth rocks found on the beach, and then they are buried on the turtle left and turtle right of the nest.  It took about one and a half hours to complete the survey, but little did I know this was just the beginning of my turtle filled morning.

Maud and I checking a nest

Hatching Rescue and Light Pollution Survey July 19th

Tonight was my first shift on light pollution duty.  It is extremely unusual for my parents to let me stay awake until midnight, in fact it may have never happened before.  Because hatchlings emerge from their nests at night, it was necessary for Wildlife Sense to send volunteers to monitor the nests ever hour.

They put a box on the nests so the emerging hatchlings do not go the wrong way, but stay in the nest area.

The first duty I performed was to help Ellie and David dig a trench that was 12 meters long.  The trench is used so the hatchlings get directed straight to the sea.  The trench needs to be 12 meters long because the hatchlings need enough time to calibrate the coordinates in their brains.  Scientists believe that the turtles use the Earth's magnetic field to find their way back to the same nesting site 15 years later! There are no pictures of the nests or trench at night because I could not use flash photography.

Trench for guiding hatchlings to the water.


The light distracts hatchlings and they might not head to the water.  The moon reflecting off the water is hopefully the brightest light they can see.  To help understand how much light is in the area around each beach Wildlife Sense conducts light pollution surveys.  On top of a tripod is a rectangular box that has a built-in GPS and light sensor.  My job was to turn the sensor every 10 degrees while David read the sensor readings.  This was the last time this month they are measuring the luminosity because the moon is now bright enough to guide the hatchlings.   

Beach Profile on Magali Amos July 18th

At 6:00 my mom and I met Ellie and Anna at Magali Amos for a beach profile. First as we were walking along to the end of the beach, a tourist asked us what we were doing and Ellie tried to discourage the tourist when she said the turtles come out at night and they're easily scared. When we reached the end of beach, we took the GPS coordinates and I read them to Ellie. Then we used a tape measure and measured 40 meters along the water line. The tape measure only went to 30 meters so we had to measure 10 extra meters.



The weather was extremely windy and it kept twisting the tape measure up and blowing it down into the water and sand. Every 40 meters we stopped and used metal poles to measure the top of the beach lined up to the horizon. We used two sets of poles; one person, Anna, stood at the highest point on the sand while I held the second pole near the water. Anna and Ellie squatted down and saw where the top of the beach meets the horizon line.



We recorded this number along with the GPS and measured how wide the beach was at these points every 40 meters for the entire length of the 200 meter long beach. This data is used to decide if the beach is suitable for females to nest on or if nests need to be relocated. If there are nests, researchers can decide whether they are at risk for flooding at high tide or during a storm. Even though this shift was a bit boring, I know the data will be very important.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Day 1 with Wildlife Sense, Kefalonia, Greece July 17th

Between July 15th and 25th I am volunteering with Wildlife Sense; a sea turtle research and conservation organization in Kefalonia, Greece. 

Today my dad woke me up at 5:10 AM so we could be ready for our morning beach patrol.  We drove a short five minutes to where the volunteers stay and when we arrived they were standing in their bright green reflective vests with their bikes.  It looked cool in the early dawn sun.

Ready for the ride to my beach survey.

After a few minutes we were assigned our team, which was led by Emily.  We started to ride to our beach location and I saw very bright lights in the sky, and when they came closer I saw it was a Star Alliance A320.  Our beach locations are all right next to the airport!

We rode for about 20 minutes to our first beach.  When we arrived at each beach, the team leader recorded the start time and the GPS coordinates of the starting location.  I read the coordinates from the GPS device to the recorder a few times.  We then walked the beach looking for track marks similar to what we did with CWC in Florida.  When we reached the end of each beach, the GPS coordinates were recorded again. We then returned to the starting point and recorded the end time.

We surveyed a total of four beaches between about 6:10 AM and 7:45.  The most nests any of the beaches had was eight, and the smallest beach had only one nest.  This nest is ready to hatch any day.  The nesting dates and locations are all recorded with Wildlife Sense.

Nest on Eglina Beach.

Tonight at 9:20 I will go out on a light pollution and hatchling rescue patrol.  I am tired but I am excited about going out to possibly see hatchlings emerging from their nests.  Stay tuned...