Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Week 5

Hello all,

Throughout the past week I have been working with Cape Hatteras's Natural Resources Division. Natural Resources primary duties here at Cape Hatteras are watching for sea turtle nests, searching for sea bird nesting sites, and protecting and observing the animals once they hatch. The Natural Resources staff has to carefully monitor sea animal nesting areas and close sections of beach where the nests are located. Each species has its own buffer area, which is required to keep the species safe and protect them from human interaction.

Sea Turtle tracks, leading to and from the ocean. This was a Loggerhead Turtle.
On my first day with Natural Resources (Tuesday), I was assigned to the "North Run" turtle patrol. The North Run covers the northern area of the parks beaches, where several sea turtles have already nested. Turtle patrols are conducted every morning, before the park visitors arrive at the beaches. The Natural Resources Rangers use UTV's (Utility Vehicles) in order to drive the beaches and spot the tracks of a nesting sea turtle. When the turtles enter the beach to nest, they leave behind distinctive tracks. These tracks lead to the nest site, where the female turtle can lay as many as 200 eggs.

On this day, the Natural Resources Ranger and I discovered one turtle nest. Once we found the nest, we began to hand-dig the sand in order to uncover the eggs. We removed the top egg for testing, and left the remainder of the eggs untouched. Before covering the nest, we took measurements of the egg depth, and took photos. Then, we set up a perimeter around the nest, which will keep curious visitors from disturbing the area. Next, we marked the immediate area with "washover" markers, that will allow Rangers to locate the nest in case of a washover.

Turtle Nest enclosure. 
After our turtle patrol, we returned to the office to enter data and record our findings. This included the data and location of the turtle nest, as well as observations that we made about sea birds during our patrol. On this day, we watched the American Oystercatcher and observed the behavior of its nesting pairs. Once our data was completed, we finished cleaning up the UTV, and restocked our supplies for the following day. I took advantage of some extra time to complete my QuickTime (Payroll Program) training and begin my yearly fire refresher.

On my second and third days with Natural Resources, I had the opportunity to work with the park trapper, Troy. On these days, we made the drive to nearby Bodie Island in order to check predator traps and install a predator fence on the Bodie Island Spit. The predator fencing will help keep nesting birds safe from animals such as coyote and fox, and will allow the Natural Resources crew to better understand predatory animal movements. During my two days at Bodie Island, we constructed over 800 feet of fencing. This was quite a task, because all of the material had to be carried in over the dunes and to the fence location. Fortunately, there was only a limited amount of brush in the area, lessening the time spent clearing a fence line and installing fence posts.
Bodie Island Fencing.

After we finished constructing the fence, we returned to the Hatteras Island office. There, Troy showed me various traps and trapping techniques and taught me how to set the traps. We also repaired a few broken traps, and prepared traps for painting. I concluded my time with Troy by taking inventory of the parks traps.

Repairing trapping equipment. 
On my final two days with Natural Resources I was assigned back to turtle patrol. On Friday, I joined another Natural Resources Ranger on the "South Run" patrol. On this day, adverse weather conditions forced us to patrol in one of the parks four-wheel-drive vehicles. Despite the harsh weather, we were able to locate 2 sea turtle nests and 2 "False Crawls". A false crawl is when a sea turtle enters the beach, but decides not to lay her eggs and instead returns to the sea. One of these false crawls was witnessed by an early morning jogger, who called the park to advise us of the occurrence. Unfortunately, the turtle quickly returned to the water before we could witness the event.

On Saturday, I conducted another turtle patrol with the Natural Resources staff. We patrolled the Buxton area beaches, which also includes watching for recently hatched Piping Plover chicks and American Oystercatcher birds. We did not find any turtle nesting activity in the Buxton route, however, we were called to assist with a possible turtle nest near the Cape Point area. Upon arriving at the nest, we began to hand-dig the area and search for any signs of sea turtle eggs. After nearly 45 minutes of excavation, we were unable to locate any eggs. Therefore, the nest will be designated as a "False Crawl".

The Saturday turtle patrol concluded my time with the Cape Hatteras Natural Resources Division. It was a great experience to be able to observe the sea turtle nests as well as the rare sea birds that are found at Cape Hatteras. Without the work of the Natural Resources Rangers, these species would have a very difficult time surviving in a visitor populated environment.

Next week I will be returning to the Law Enforcement Division. I hope you all have a happy Fourth of July!

Thank you for reading!

Jay Copper

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