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...

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Volunteering with Coastal Wildlife Club

Day 1 July 4 2018

My dad and I arrived at Casperson Beach at just about 6:30 AM.  We joined Dianne and Pam from Coastal Wildlife Club and we learned a lot about what they do, and we participated in several important activities.  One of the first questions I asked Dianne was what species of turtle were the nests from, and she said they were mostly Loggerheads and once in a while they have Green Sea turtle nests.

We arrived at the first nest site which was marked by orange tape and stakes.  The stakes had several pieces of information written on them, such as the number of the nest and date the eggs were laid.  Each nest has a number that is recorded in a log book so the progress can be monitored.

Top number is "zone" bottom is nest number.  Below is the date and monitor's initials.
Dianne was digging into a nest and handing me empty egg shells.  The two main types of predators that destroy nests are raccoons and armadillos.  The volunteers know when it is a armadillo because they leave tail marks. I counted the egg shells and we transferred them to a hole that we dug closer to the water.  The eggs will decompose more quickly closer to the water and they will not attract more predators and flies to the nests that still have "live eggs" in them.

The tail marks clearly indicate an armadillo was the predator.  

We saw two "false crawls" which is when the females crawl onto the beach and partially digs a hole but do not lay eggs.  Di
Anne asked me to draw a big "X" through the track marks so future monitors will know it has been counted.

Day 2 July 6 2018

This morning my mom came out with me. We arrived and we headed down the beach.  We thought we saw the turtle patrol from Coastal Wildlife Club but it was just shark tooth hunters.  We eventually found Dan and Cliff from CWC and over the next hour and a half with them we learned three new facts.

Dan recording the nest in the log book.

The first thing I learned was that Loggerheads use alternating flippers to crawl up the beach and their marks are comma shaped.  The Green Sea turtles use their flippers simultaneously and their marks are in a straight line and not curved like the Loggerheads.  If you know this when you look at the crawl marks, you can identify which species laid it's eggs in that location.

The second thing I learned is how big of an area the volunteers know how to mark off.  The first stake is placed at the edge of the body pit, and the eggs are approximately three feet out from there.  They place the stakes in a triangular area around the body pit.  The body pit is the place where the females lay down and start to rearrange the sand to lay her eggs in the hole she digs.

The last fact I learned is that Loggerheads used to be on the endangered list but are now listed as threatened.  This means the volunteers only dig up every 20 nests and not every single one.

On July 9th my dad and I will be going out again with Dianne and Pam and hopefully I will learn even more on the next trip out.

Day 3 July 9th 2018

Today we patrolled with Dianne and Dawn and mostly observed new nests.  We found two new nests as well as one false crawls.  An interesting fact we learned today is that monitors use an app on their phones to get the latitude and longitude of the nests.  These coordinates are recorded in the log book.

There were also several nest destructions.  Some were total destruction (TD) and others were only Partially destroyed (PD).   When we finished monitoring I had chance to observe a Gopher Tortoise in her burrow.  The monitors decided to name her Sammy.

Day 4 July 11th 2018

Today was our last beach patrol and we saw something upsetting.  About twenty unhatched baby turtles were killed by an armadillo.  Armadillos do not even eat the turtles, they just dig up the nests, and crack the eggs and suck out the yokes.  Armadillos are horrid invasive animals that are trespassers on the beach.  They should be trapped and removed, but CWC has not been able to get the state of Florida to cooperate so far.

There are no pictures of this because I did not want my mom to take any because I did not want to see it again. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Scrub Walk, Venice Florida July 8th

We met my cousins, who are from Florida, at Oscar Scherer State Park for a guided "scrub walk."  The guide taught us a lot about the "scrubby flat-wood" habitat.  The main feature of this habitat is that it does not have a lot of trees, but instead has mostly "scrub" or low-lying bushes.  There were Pine trees, but not as many as there were in the surrounding areas.  In order to maintain the health of this habitat the Florida Forest Service sets "controlled fires."  These fires are set so the habitat remains low-lying scrub and does not become overly treed.  Also fire helps restore nutrients to the soil so the scrub habitat stays strong and healthy.

Scrub Habitat with perching Florida Scrub Jay

This habitat is especially important because it is the only place the endangered Florida Scrub Jay lives.  Preserving the scrub habitat is very important because the Scrub Jays are very picky about where they live.  They do not nest in forests or places with trees because these places contain predators.  They prefer their scrub habitat to be 20 to 30% sand so they can easily spot snakes and other ground predators.  They live in families from five to seven birds, and they group together.  They are very curious, and they always make sure there is a sentinel on duty.  This means one bird is always on the lookout for predators, and they even have special calls to identify if the danger is on ground or in the air.

Florida Scrub Jay on lookout duty

It is important to stay aware of development issues and raise awareness so this rare Jay can have a better chance of survival.  We also learned that Scrub Jays do not fly very far; they only fly about 2 to 3 miles, so it is very unlikely they will ever leave their habitat in Oscar Scherer or elsewhere, in order to find a new home.  They will just disappear.

A good look at the blue patches on the breast.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Roller Counts for Birdlife Cyprus

Roller Count Day 1

The Roller count had very specific information we needed to report to BLC.  The protocol was to drive no more than 20 kilometers per hour and to stop every two kilometers for 5 minutes.  I scanned with my binoculars while my dad drove and my mom also helped me search.  BLC also wanted us to fill out information about the weather.  We needed to report if the cloud cover was a "one" "two" or "three."  We decided that there was about 30 percent clouds which meant it was a two.  There was a little breeze so that meant it was a "two" for windiness.  There was no rain so it was a zero.  

Our first Roller count took place on a 10 kilometer "track" near Everetou Dam.  It was not really even a road.  It was very hilly and windy and in places there were huge rocks that looked like they could pop our tires.  The survey was supposed to take one hour but it took over two hours because we had to drive so slow.  The geography was rolling farm land with many orchards, and was very pretty.  After a long sometimes scary drive, we saw NO Rollers!

Near the end of our first Roller Count near Everetou Dam

Roller Count Day 2:

Before we started our second Roller Count in Pachna we needed to record the wind and weather.  There were fewer clouds than the first day, so we recorded a one. There was a bit of a breeze, so we recorded a two. Also a two for the “warm” weather.

After recording this information, we were ready to begin our count.  I felt excited and knew we were going to see some awesome birds, but I wasn't sure if we would see any Rollers.  We stopped and scanned for five minutes at our first stop but there was nothing.  We began driving again, and looking closely out of the window.  We were driving as slow as tortoise when my dad began shouting "Roller Roller Roller!"  I saw a streak of blue fly across the country road in front of us.  Then we got out of the car and began walking quickly through an orchard toward a stone wall.  We thought we heard his call nearby but it could have been a Magpie (Pica Pica).  Listening carefully and scanning with our eyes, we waited.  Then we heard him and knew he was in the orchard behind us.  Suddenly, the Roller flew up out of the dense trees that were not neatly organized in rows.  He flew up and disappeared across the road.  We were all very excited because we knew we might see more, and also because it felt good to be able to record that we saw one on our official survey.

Roller from the day before in Akamas - no pictures of the Rollers during the survery

It was on our way to the third stop then my mom saw one fly across the road in front of the car and I saw it disappear into a distant tree.  We got out of the car and looked around and in the tree to get a picture, but we never saw it again.  But on our way back to the car we saw another one flying toward us from the other direction.  The rules of the Roller count say that if the recorder is unsure if it is the same Roller that has already been recorded, to not count it.  So we knew for sure this one was a different Roller because it came from the opposite direction.

It felt good to help BLC conduct a meaningful survey so they could have more information about where the Rollers live in Cyprus, and where they don't.  I hope to get another opportunity to participate in another Roller count, or another scientific project in Cyprus soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Day 2 with Victor

We travelled in the car for about 20 kilometers from the spot where my dad and I got in the car with Victor.  We slowed down and were looking out of the window when Victor spotted a European Roller on a low shrub like bush about eye level with where we were.  My camera was already out and I started taking pictures, and suddenly a Roller who was lower on the bush flew up and that's when I snapped this picture.

European Rollers

We arrived at a clearing where we got out of the car.  This is where Victor stays for five hours to monitor the Griffon Vultures on behalf of BLC.  We looked around for about 30 minutes over the valley and over the "feeding station."  This is used by BLC to help monitor the vulture's behavior.  When there is an injured vulture they capture it and keep it there until it is able to go back to the wild.

This was also the location for the pictures below.  I raised 200 dollars for BLC by using the USB port on my keyboard and recording Christmas songs.  I asked my family back in America to purchase them for 10 dollars, but most people gave me 20.  Bird Life Cyprus uses this money to help monitor bird populations and to help protect nature.  For example, Victor was hired by the Ministry of the Environment in Cyprus to conduct a survey of birds in an area where developers wanted to build a golf course.  Because of the work Victor did with counting the birds in the area, he helped convince the government not to allow the golf course to be built.  He said it was stupid to build a golf course there because there were so many birds and it was such a green natural space.

Me giving the money to Victor and him giving me a gift bag.

The gift bag had a really nice shirt from BLC

On the way back we saw the rare Turtle Dove and the Red Rumped Swallow.  We stopped at a dam on the way back and had some home made banana bread with chocolate chips that was made by Victor's girlfriend.  It was a great trip.

Stay tuned for my next post about my first and second days of the Roller Count!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

This is the first of my blog posts from Cyprus.  We arrived yesterday, and today we woke up, had breakfast and drove to Akrotiri

When we arrived, our guide for the day, Victor Tjernberg from Birdlife Cyprus, was already there with his scope set up.  As soon as I looked through the scope I knew in a second it was a European Roller! I knew then that our day was off to a good start.  My dad and sister left to go to the beach and my mom and I stayed for our five hour birding tour!

 We walked out onto a dry marsh trail lined with low lying shrubs on one side, with tall reeds on the other.  We spotted several Hooded Crows, but then we heard the elusive Black Francolin that Victor said was common to hear but as soon as you look, it is gone.  But no more than ten minutes later, who do you think we saw fly out of the sky and land right in front of us? It was a male and female Black Francolin! As soon as we got the camera focused, they were gone!

Our next stop was a pond that the farmers used for irrigation, and the pond was surrounded by farmland.  Next to the pond was tall tree, that half way up on one of the branches was a Little Egret Nest.  We saw the female sitting on the nest with the male perched next to her.  In the pond below was a family of ten Little Grebes.  

We drove for a little while longer and walked for about 100 meters on a dirt road with lots of salt crystals.  We came to a clearing and saw a flamingo wading in the salty shallows and he was using his feet to stir up cray fish at the bottom.  He looked like he was dancing, he never stopped shuffling his feet, even when he caught one and ate it.

We drove for about ten minutes and finally got to a cliff edge, and looked down with the ocean far below us with pools surrounded by rocks.  The pools were remains of an old quarry. There were about five pools, and Victor said he could see outlines of turtles on the fifth pool.  In the distance was the British Military Base with power poles and when I looked through the binoculars I saw two circling Griffon Vultures.

This was our first birding trip in Cyprus, and we have thee more ahead of us.  My next post will describe our experience with our first European Roller count for Birdlife Cyprus.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ringing in Jubail on February 23rd

The birds we encountered were a mix of some old and new friends.  Some familiar birds included Blue Throats, King Fishers, Clamorous Reed Warblers, and a Desert Wheatear.  

Desert Wheatear I photographed at then end of the morning.
I got another chance to go to the nets with Jem and Nicole because I had my waders.  It was a good thing too, because there was A LOT of water.  
Returning from the nets with mostly Blue Throats ready to be ringed.

Some friends we met for the first time were the Little Crake and the Spanish Sparrow.  The Little Crake is so rare that when we tried to register it on ebird, it did not let us!  Because of the close identification, and Jem's expertise, we knew we had the right ID.

Rarely seen Little Crake
Spanish Sparrow
I cannot wait for my next ringing adventure!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is my most recent blog post from our latest trip to Jubail with Jem and Nicole.  We only caught about 50% of the birds we would usually capture because it was very cold.  The birds were staying in the reeds because they were trying to conserve their energy.

Nicole and I coming back from the water

One difference about this trip was that I could finally go into the water with Nicole to see her take the birds out of the mist nets because I had waders that let me walk in the water.  I got them from my mom and dad for Christmas.  My mom and dad could not follow me because they do not have waders.

We ringed a few of the same species that we have in the past and we also caught some individuals that were ringed on previous trips.  We even caught a Graceful Prinia twice in the same day.  We also ringed several species for the first time, including a Daurian Shrike, Water Pipet, and White Eared Bulbol.  When we were driving down the twisting, bumpy road, my mom spotted 50 or more Greater Flamingos in the distance.  When my dad pulled over, I got the camera and snapped some shots.  I hope you enjoyed my blog post, and I can't wait for my next birding adventure.

A Blue Throat about to fly away

Great look at the orange upper tail coverts of the Blue Throat in flight

Monday, January 8, 2018

We spent two weeks in Washington State over the Christmas holiday. We did a lot of backyard birding at both of my grandpas' houses where I took lots of pictures of mostly Stellar's Jays. We also visited nearby Wiley Slough and Padilla Bay in Skagit County, where we saw a rare Black Phoebe, as well as a Red Naped Sap Sucker and a Northern Shrike!

It was freezing much of the time but I was tempted to stay outside to get many great photos of hungry Steller's Jays.  I can't wait to see them again.