News

July, 2017

World’s smallest hatchling?

This little guy was found by volunteer Jim Olsen on July 23.  He/she may be the result of a half-size egg Jim found in May or of stunted development from the movement of the eggs caused by the mole invasion.  In any case, the baby is quite alert and doing fine in spite of it’s tiny size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mole defying hatchling

We weren’t sure that any of the 291 eggs that had been moved about by moles when they invaded the large nesting box at #3 Plantation would be able to mature, but at least one has. This little guy emerged from one of the relocated nests on July 17.  We hope there will be many more to follow!

 

 

 

First hatchlings of 2017?

Volunteer Pattye Field had a surprise when checking the bunkers on #3 Plantation for nesting turtles.  She saw 2 sets of small tracks coming from a tiny hole in the top lip of one of the bunkers.  One track led to grass and the other to the middle of bunker.  She found one little guy covered in sand and motionless in the bunker, but he soon came alive when she picked him up.  She saw another baby at the hole and tried to wait for him to emerge. Golfers were coming non-stop, however, so when the green cleared she dug the nest for the safety of the babies.  Seven eager hatchlings later were on their way to a new life in the marsh.   We hope the one whose tracks led to the grass made a successful journey to the marsh as well!

 

 

 

 

June, 2017:  The Mole Invasion!

Our Diamondback Terrapin nesting season was progressing swimmingly when we suffered a minor setback.  We had re-nested 398 turtle eggs in the large nesting box at Plantation hole #3.  While digging in the box to transfer some eggs we noticed small tunnels in the sand.  Upon further investigation we discovered that almost every nest in the box had been disturbed and we were missing 107 eggs. After consulting with John Crawford and Dr. John Maerz, both with UGA Marine Science Dept., we were informed that the culprits were moles!  Apparently this is a common problem with turtle eggs. These are very well fed moles and they have a storehouse of food to last them through 2017!  Unfortunately, as he/she or they combed through the nests, they scattered the remaining terrapin eggs – if the eggs are turned or tumbled, as in this case, there is a strong possibility that the eggs will not mature.  We did remove the 291 remaining eggs and transplanted them into the small nesting box.  We will wait to see how many of these eggs will actually produce hatchlings.  Now, how to correct the problem….

With the help of Chris Steigelman’s crew, all the sand was removed from the nesting box.  Jim Olson, Dawn Cordo, Vince Cordo and I stapled ¼” hardware cloth to the bottom of the box, placed our weed control barrier on top and refilled the box. The moles will need teeth of steel to chew through the hardware cloth!   In the seven years that we have been using our nesting boxes, this has been our first encounter with a predator gaining access to the boxes. Thankfully we discovered the problem before another four or five hundred eggs had been re-nested in the box.

This year, to increase our projects value to the scientific community, we inserted into each nesting box a temperature data recorder. Thank goodness the moles did not ingest or wander off with one of these!  The temperature of the nest, at about a third of the way through the gestation period, will determine if the hatchling is a male or a female. For the last six years the only clue we have had about our hatchlings is that we are releasing quite a few females since the number of females coming ashore to lay eggs has increased each year.  The terrapin must be about six years old to reproduce and since this project has been ongoing for fifteen years we are certain that we have released a good number of females. Now we should have scientific data to support our supposition.

We are asking your help in getting us back on track. When you are playing or walking the Plantation course and spot a turtle, please call one of the numbers posted at the marsh front holes (#3, 8, 9, 10 &15). Nearby, you will find a wooden stand with a wire basket and the sign with two cell numbers. If the turtle has finished nesting, you can place the basket over the nest and we will retrieve. If you see tracks in the bunkers try not to rake over them as these tracks lead us to the nest.   We sincerely appreciate your patience and awareness as we cruise around the course at high tides in pursuit of the elusive terrapins. If you have a bad shot at one of the holes you can blame it on those darn turtle volunteers who distracted you!

Our hatchlings should start appearing at the end of July.  We have scheduled our “Hatchling Happenings” on Thursday evenings at 6:00PM at hole #3 of the Plantation course beginning on August 3rd and going through September 14th.  If you happen to have a child or grandchildren visiting and these dates do not work into their schedule, please call Pattye (912-660-5141) or Carolyn (912-507-3700) and we can let you know if we have any hatchlings ready to be released.  If you would like to learn more about Diamondback Terrapins, please visit our interpretive sign located in Sunset Park or access our website at  www.skidawayaudubon.org .   Thank you all for your support of the Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project!

Pattye Field                                      Jim Olson                              Carolyn McInerney

Peggy Miller                                     Marji Schwickrath

Dawn Cordo                                     Liz Munro

 

April, 2017:  Who said turtling was boring??

In early April Dr. John Maerz from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at UGA came to visit our Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Project.  John spent four hours with us, ‘talking turtles’.  He imparted ideas of how to enhance our program to provide more valuable information to the scientific community that focuses on the preservation of the Diamondback Terrapins.

For a number of years, Dr. Maerz has led a team of his students and staff to seine for Diamondbacks in the creeks adjacent to the Jekyll Island Causeway.  This excursion allows him to analyze the ecological balance and diversity of the inhabitants of the marsh as well as the overall health of the habitat. The terrapins that are caught in the seining nets are marked, recorded and released so that each year the growth or depletion of the terrapin population can be documented.

During John’s visit with us, he invited us to join his students for an afternoon of seining in late April. Needless to say, we could not pass up this opportunity!  Even after receiving a long letter from John explaining the attire for the occasion and what to expect……to be waist deep in water and at least knee deep in mud most of the trip;  wear old tennis shoes that can be tied tightly to protect feet from oyster shells and not lose them as feet got sucked into the mud; wear long socks & shin guards, if we had them, to protect legs from oyster shells when we have to crawl through the mud; wear masonry gloves to protect hands and bring sunscreen to cover whatever parts of your body are not covered by clothing and or mud! We were getting the impression that this might not be a leisurely stroll down a creek looking for a few turtles to pop their heads up.

Five of us wary souls, Pattye Field, Peggy Miller, Marji Schwickrath, Jim Olsen and myself decided to make the drive to Jekyll and just observe the proceedings….but we packed all the necessary gear just in case we decided to get adventurous.  We met up with Dr. Maerz and his band of enthusiastic students at the Jekyll Island Welcome Center.  After meeting everyone and experiencing their excitement and anticipation of the adventure, four of us decided to join the group. Peggy was smart and didn’t bring a change of clothes so she became the official photographer and managed to stay clean and dry!

 

The group was divided into two – one to seine the south creek and one to seine the north creek.  Brian (our leader) drew the short straw and was given the duty of marshalling us four ‘old folks’ along with his team to do the north creek.  And so the adventure began! We arrived at the creek and joyously joined the young’uns as they slipped, slid and slurped down the embankment and into the brown muddied waters.  We immediately were up to our knees in what felt like quicksand. The nets were set up and by this time we have been sucked into the mud another foot….soon to be seen no longer! We set out with Jim Olson taking control of one side of a net, I was in charge of the plastic tub that would eventually hold the terrapins that we would catch and Pattye and Marji brought up the rear laughing hysterically as they pulled and pried each other out of the mud.  The team spent two hours plodding along the north creek dragging two large nets, swimming at times when all of a sudden you went from waist deep to eight feet of water, helping each other when we got seriously stuck in the mud…   and we only caught three terrapins!  The south creek team caught over 50 terrapins, some cool fish, a few sharks and saw a pod of dolphins! I felt bad for Brian and his team – I am sure we brought them bad luck….but I do think IF we are invited next year, we will go back to do the south creek!

 

 

March, 2017:  2000th Hatchling!

March 1 brought the emergence of two more ‘sleepover’ hatchlings from the 2016 season.  This brings the total so far to 2000 babies – 222 more than our previous best year!  Click here to see the baby heading to the marsh.

 

 

 

 

 

February, 2017:  More 2016 hatchlings and a Turtle Sign

The warm weather in mid-February has caused some of the hatchlings that spent the winter buried deep in the nesting boxes to emerge.  There were 11 in February so far, including the Valentine’s Day baby to the left.

 

 

 

 

Also on Valentine’s day, the long awaited turtle sign was installed at Sunset Park so that it will be accessible to golfers and non-golfer’s alike.

 

 

 

 

 

November, 2016:  Last hatchlings of 2016

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Late in each turtle season — long after the last nests should have hatched out — the volunteers carefully dig through each nesting box to extricate any hatchlings that haven’t emerged from their nests.  The nesting box at #3 was the last one to be dug for this season. The dig on November 6 yielded 11 babies, bringing the total for 2016 to 1975. This is a 91.1% hatch rate – our best year ever!  We still have not accounted for all of the 2016 eggs. Some of the babies bury themselves so deeply in the nesting boxes that the volunteers don’t find them in the digs.  These hatchlings will eventually emerge in the spring.

 

 

 

 

July, 2016:  First babies of 2016!

FirstBabiesOf2016

The first baby turtles of the 2016 season arrived on July 10.  They are shown in one of the ‘catchpots’ that are embedded into each nesting box.  After the babies have hatched and climbed out of their nest they wander around the nesting box trying to get to the marsh.  Eventually, they tumble into one of the two catchpots for safe keeping until one of the volunteers can release them.  Normally the catchpots are covered (you can see the posts that hold up the cover) and the sand is kept moist so the babies will have a shady, cool space to wait.  Volunteers check the catchpots in each nesting box several times every day so the babies don’t have too long to wait until they can get to the marsh.

 

 

 

May, 2016:  It’s Diamondback Time Again!

The 2016 season has begun!  We had our first Terrapin nests on Plantation on April 28th and we’re anticipating another 250+ nests to follow.  The female Diamondbacks will be coming ashore from now through the end of July to nest in the bunkers.  The hatchlings will begin appearing in July and continue hatching through early October. We will be scheduling “Hatchling Happenings” throughout the late summer and will keep you updated on these events through the TWATL and the Audubon web site (www.skidawayaudubon.org). If you are out on the Plantation course and spot a turtle in the bunkers or coming across the fairway, please call us to come retrieve the eggs before the crows or raccoons get to the nest.  There are cell phone numbers on the sign posts where you will also find the wire baskets to cover a nest if you happen to witness the terrapin laying her eggs.

This is also the time of year when all the female Yellow Bellied Sliders make their way out of the lagoons to find nesting areas on shore. I have seen over a dozen destroyed turtles on our roadways and the season has just begun. Please drive carefully – these turtles do not dash across the roads and they are larger and much slower than the squirrels so you should have time to see them and avoid them. If you can safely stop to remove the turtle from the roadway just place her to the side of the road in the direction she was headed. Quite frequently, the sliders get in the roads and cannot escape due to the curbing – your assistance would be appreciated!

This is my 14th year of rescuing Diamondback Terrapin nests and releasing the hatchlings into our marshlands. The program has grown to be the largest rescue effort of its kind and there are many organizations and individuals to thank for the success of the program. It would not be possible without the dedication of our volunteers, the Skidaway Audubon Board that sponsors and funds our conservation and education efforts, The Landings Club, through the dedication of Chris Steigelman and his crew, who set up the nesting boxes each spring…and…Thanks to all the residents who call in turtle sightings and to the families who attend our Terrapin releases. It is gratifying to know that we have neighbors who share our enthusiasm and love of Skidaway’s natural environment.

 

Carolyn McInerney

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