Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Week 3- Cape Hatteras

My week started off with something new. I spent half the day in the Off-Road Vehicle office giving a helping hand. I learned all about the new permits and luckily did not have any upset customers that morning. The big holiday weekend that passed resulted in a mass amount of newly purchased permits. The high demand for permits also meant a backlog of paper copies that needed to be entered into the computer. I logged a ton of the new paper copies into the computer, but barely made a dent in the pile. The second half of the day was spent at Frisco Campground. With Memorial Day finished, the full campground was quickly vacated lot by lot as individuals went back to their daily lives. I went around the campground and checked on all the newly vacated lots to make sure no trash or random items were left behind for the next campers.

Least Tern Egg
Piping Plover Nest
After this, I spent the remainder of the week with the Resource division here at Cape Hatteras. I had such a wonderful experience! It is the goal of the National Park Service to protect both federally acclaimed and state mandated endangered species. The most common dealt with here at CAHA are Sea Turtles, American Oyster Catchers, and Piping Plovers. Sea Turtles are a federally endangered species, Piping Plover birds are federally threatened on the Atlantic Coast, and the American Oyster Catcher bird is a state species of concern. The new Off-Road Vehicle management plan states there should be a certain size buffer zone for nests found. The size of the buffer zones vary based on the species of the animal. Additionally, if more nest activity is discovered near the edge of the buffer zone, then the zone is expanded. All the visual and GPS coordinates are logged into an underway GIS database where it will store the information and can be used to find trends of areas that the species repeatedly show activity at each year. These GPS Waypoints are also going to be used for the adapted ORV plan to determine future buffer zones. For example, the Piping Plover chicks use and need the entire 1000 meter recommended buffer zone. Therefore, once Piping Plover chicks hatch then 1000 meters of the beach his automatically shut down to vehicles and pedestrians. The GPS Waypoints keep a note on how far the chicks travel and how much space they are utilizing so the park can determine if it is going to be necessary to close off the entire 1000 meters of beach.

Salt Pond Drainage
I spent a lot of time up at Cape Point. It is currently closed off completely to the public. There were so many different type of birds there and it was such a nice, intriguing, and relaxing sight to observe the birds in their natural habitat. Each day we checked on both the breading birds and the non-breading birds using their last known Waypoint location then documented their activity. I had the chance to check up on American Oyster chicks approximately 25 days old. We also checked up on maturing Piping Plover chicks and waited to see if there was any sign of attempted flight yet. Once the chicks can fly, then the closure can be prepared to be removed.

American Oyster Catchers & Chicks
In order to identify the American Oyster Catchers, the chicks are banded by color, letters, and numbers. Each color represents the state the bird was banded in. Green is the state color for North Carolina. The letters and numbers are used as identification of the bird. The most I saw all together were 8 American Oyster Catchers 2 banded and 6 unbanded. Overall, during my week with Resource, I checked on nests, observed birds loafing, forging, scraping, copulating, incubating, and acting territorial. I spent the week learning each birds' individuality, listening to their bird calls and simply observing them in their natural habitats.

Sea Turtle Nest Enclosure
I  got up at the break of dawn and worked the early morning turtle patrol shift. I did three turtle patrol shifts. One on the north end of the beach and two on the south end. We looked for any signs of turtle activity that could have occurred overnight. Sea turtles come to the shore during nesting season to lay their eggs on the beach. The turtle's trail leads us straight to their nest where we can log its location and protect the area from visitors. There are approximately 25 sea turtles nests discovered so far. In each nest there are approximately 80-120 eggs. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to discover a new nest during my turtle patrols yet. It just so happened that the mornings I was on the north end, a nest was found on the south end that day, and vice versa. I have been invited to ride along anytime for the rest of the summer. I certainly would like to, even if on my free time, and I definitely want to do volunteer night watch when the sea turtles are close to hatching.

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