Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling Emergence!

Posted 4 CommentsPosted in Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes you are lucky enough to be in the right place at just the right time to see one of Nature’s miracles. Like on July 4, when Rich and I were out for a turtle walk at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. We had considered our walk a good one when we found a few hatchlings and a nesting mother. But the best part of the morning was yet to come. We saw a turtle nest nest emerge! Suddenly dozens of hatchlings burst from the sand and made their way to the water.

We saw the nest at the base of the stairs leading to the parking lot. We were hot and ready for some air conditioning. But all thoughts of leaving abandoned us when we spotted two little heads sticking out of the sand. At first we thought the babies were the weaklings that hadn’t made it. But as we watched, the first little guy wiggled himself free.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

It’s against the law to touch the tiny turtles. But that race from the dunes to the water’s edge is dangerous. A bird can swoop down and grab the baby. Dozens of crabs stand between the nest and the water. Not to mention the dogs, raccoons, and potential to be stepped on by people on the beach. So Rich and I followed at a respectful distance. When we saw the hatchling get stuck in a deep footprint, Rich started smoothing out the sand to give the little guy an easier path.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

The incubation time for turtle eggs is around two months. The turtle mom lays her eggs and returns to the ocean, leaving her babies to hatch and grow up alone. The little babies have a special tooth that helps them break free from the egg. The babies can stay under the sand for up to several days as they await a good time to emerge. Usually they emerge at night, when they are less visible to predators. We were lucky to see this nest emerge in the early morning.

Even though the turtle had just emerged from the sand, he knew just what to do. He headed straight for the waves and entered them…

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

I can only image how vast the giant ocean must seem to the tiny turtle. Diving into the waves isn’t as easy as jumping into a swimming pool, either. The waves often catch the hatchlings and sweep them back onto the sand. Sometimes they even land upside down and have to wiggle themselves off their backs before they can try again to enter the water.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

After escorting the first hatchling to the water, Rich and I walked back up to the nest. A second hatchling had his head out of the sand. This time we shared the amazement with another couple that had just stepped onto the beach. “It’s our first baby turtle!” they said. Watching that hatchling victoriously enter the water was a triumph as we all remembered the number of nests lost to Hurricane Irma two years ago.

The next time Rich and I looked at the nest, several heads and flippers were coming out of the sand. The hatchlings were so cute as they wiggled their flippers and tried to break free of the sand.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

Suddenly the sand under the turtles seemed to shift. It freed all the turtles who were half-buried. Then ground opened and hatchlings started to flow out. They were covered in sand and disoriented as they climbed over each other, fighting to get to the surface. Instinctively they knew which way to turn to head to the ocean. “Holy cow!” said Rich.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

Sill images are great, but a video is the best way to tell the story of the emergence. Both Rich and I switched into video mode, Rich using his iPhone and me with my DSLR. I stitched our shots together to create this video…

The smiles on our faces were huge as we watched the babies enter the water. One after one they made the mad dash down the slope of the beach to enter the water. It was a turtle fanatic’s dream come true. I think I filled up 2 cards that morning.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling

When I got home, I stitched some of my favorite images together into a collage for Rich. My turtle-loving husband never dreamed that he’d get to see a nest hatch like this. It’s going to take a long time to wipe the smile off his face!! :)

Turtle-Emergence-Collage
Turtle-Emergence-Collage

Independence Day Turtle Walk

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge

Rich and I arrived at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge about 45 minutes before sunrise on July 4. It was an incredible morning. As soon as we stepped onto the sand, Rich said, “hey! Babies!!” The day just got better from there…

It’s pretty dark 45 minutes before sunrise. The dawn was pink on the horizon. There were 5-10 babies moving silently through the sand on their way to the ocean. We had to be very careful not to step on them. It was so dark that it was almost impossible to take pictures (you can’t use flash around turtles as the light disorients them). I dialed up the ISO to the maximum value and laid down at the edge of the waves, trying to capture the hatchling’s first introduction to the great ocean.

Turtle Hatchling at Sunrise
Turtle Hatchling at Sunrise

After seeing the last hatchling enter the water safely, we did a happy dance and started our walk down the beach. We only walked a little way before we saw sand being tossed in the dunes. A Green Sea turtle mom was nesting. We stood waiting for her to finish — Rich later dubbed her “Slowpoke Turtle” — but it was well worth the wait. Why? We found more babies! Several more hatchlings crept down the beach, and this time, there was enough light to photograph them.

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling

One of the hatchlings moved in the tracks that the nesting mother had made as she moved up the beach. The baby turtles will never meet their own mom. They make their way to the sea and then seek refuge in the sargassum as they grow up. Eventually the females will make their way back to the same beach where they themselves were born. Pretty cool, huh?

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling Walking in Adult Turtle Tracks

Finally Slowpoke Turtle finished covering her nest and started the slow crawl back to the ocean. I got a few close-ups and a short video. Still pictures just don’t capture the labor of the heavy turtle as she drags herself along the beach.

Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting
Green Sea Turtle Nesting Mother
Green Sea Turtle Crawls back to Ocean

I moved to the waves to capture her entrance to the water. The tide was coming in and the waves pounded on the back of my legs. I imagined that the the cool water felt amazing to the tired turtle. I was careful to stay out of her way, not wanting to make her go out of her way to avoid the photographer.

Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting
Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting

It was an incredible morning. We resumed our walk on the beach, finding another hatchling. But the best part was yet to come. More on that in the next post! :)

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling

Least Bitterns and Growing Babies at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Lake Apopka

A partly cloudy morning in late June was a perfect day to find Least Bitterns at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. Everywhere I looked, I found one of these secretive birds. Plus a few other bird along the drive…

Lake Apopka is a great place to go to photograph these small Least Bitterns, who generally stick to the reeds and don’t show themselves much in the wetlands. At Lake Apopka, the birds venture out onto sticks sticking up from the water. They use the sticks to perch and watch for fish to catch for breakfast. This little guy didn’t care that my car was just a few feet away. I had to remove my teleconverter to fit him in the frame…

Least Bittern
Least Bittern

…and then I put the teleconverter back on to photograph another Least Bittern. This one was posed a little farther away, and his feathers glowed in the beautiful golden morning light.

Least Bittern
Least Bittern

Common Gallinules are growing up all over the wildlife drive. The first generation of juveniles is all over the marsh. The parents are working on their next broods. Common Gallinules are one of the few species of birds where the older kids help to take care of the younger kids. On this particular morning, the parents were ensuring the surival of the species…

Mating Common Gallinules
Mating Common Gallinules

Purple Gallinules are also active along the drive these days. You have to be careful as both types of gallinules will dart out in front of you at a moment’s notice. This visit was the first time I’d seen Purple Gallinule babies this year. They look nothing like the parents, and they are so cute with their black feathers and orange beaks!

Purple Gallinule Mother and Baby
Purple Gallinule Mother and Baby

There’s always a branch in the way! And have you ever seen such big feet? ;-)

Baby Purple Gallinule
Baby Purple Gallinule

The Black-necked Stilt chicks have grown up and turned into slightly smaller versions of their parents. They were fairly self-sufficient as they wandered in the marsh, but their parents were still close nearby. Soon they will migrate to their wintering grounds. It’s sometimes hard to believe how fast birds grow up!

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt
Juvenile Black-necked Stilt

Nearby, a pair of Black-bellied Whisting-ducks was hanging out close to the trail. I see Fulvous Whistling-ducks on the drive all the time, but it’s not every day that I get close-ups of the Black-bellieds. The only thing better would have been some yellow-and-black babies!

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks
Black-bellied Whistling-ducks

The Barn Swallows were active near their nesting site. A line of three juveniles waited on a branch, hoping that Mom would fly by with food. A different juvenile sat on a branch and sang. It was the first time I’d seen a juvie singing. After getting some still shots of the bird with its mouth open, I switched into video mode to capture the song. It was a great way to end my visit!

Juvenile Barn Swallow
Juvenile Barn Swallow