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Amelia SanJon Gallery
Amelia Island Artists Workshop
Sandra Baker-Hinton
218A Ash Street., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
904-491-8040,  904-557-1195 cell

The time I have been anxiously awaiting, the, hatching of our first little Sea Turtles.  My first turtle hatchling experience this year came from a nest #1, which had hatched the day before.  When I checked on it the next morning I saw ants entering the nest.  That is not a good thing.

On further examination I saw the head of one little turtle which appeared to be dead.  I dug it out and found another one beside it, which was also dead.  However underneath these were three more which were still alive.  I pulled them all out as Amy, who calls herself Pinky Beach Junki on Facebook, and a young girl and her mom came by at just the right time, watched.  I had yelled and motioned them over when I saw them because I really love for kids to have a good turtle experience.  Amy, who has become very interested in the Sea Turtles this summer, seldom misses a morning out on the beach in the summer with her chair ready to spend the morning.  She usually has checked the nests before I even get there.  She tells me if she has seen signs of the Fox or anything else she has noticed.

Just so happens it was the young ladies birthday so a great present for her to be able to assist in heading the hatchlings to the water.

The problem these little ones, including the two dead ones, was that in the two months gestation period many roots had grown into the nest.  They had become entangled in them.  The two top ones had become stuck too near the top of the nest and the days heat had probably caused them to die.  However they had in turn protected those underneath from getting too hot and enabled them to survive.  You can see the slightly crooked shell of the one on the left caused by the roots pressure on the semi soft shell.  It should straighten out after a few days.

They were ready to get wet.

A helping hand from birthday girl guides this one through a big mound of sea foam.

The clouds from above reflected into the wet sand as our little ones head out to a life in the sea.

Finally reaching the water and the next of many goals they must reach to survive; reach the Sargassum Sea, safely live for a year or so, then head out again to travel the world, growing, becoming an adult, then come back to your beginnings to either breed with a female or be the female and begin the cycle all over again as you will spend the rest of your life laying eggs and surviving.

Overhead a local new tourist attraction, the ultralight, gives his rider a view of the turtle release from above.  I wonder if they know what they are witnessing...the beginning of a new life in this great world of ours.

Another Horse Conch egg sac but different, not just a round carnation shape but a more elongated shape. The hole in the end tells you that it has already hatched.  What I want to see is how she lays this huge bunch of eggs.

The submarine, flying an American flag heads out with some of the crew above deck, is on the river as I head back to "the barn".  I can't imagine being enclosed in that underwater world for an extended time.

By the boardwalk to the pier are these very sweet wild flowers much like one would receive clutched in the hand of a little boy I once remember handing up to his mom a long, long time ago.  I even did a painting of that very thing which is somewhere, maybe he has it in his home, left to him by his grandmother who kept the painting for many years.  I was a young mom and you a little boy, now you are a man and I am, well, getting old.

Amelia Island's first sea turtle excavation was held just outside the park by Len and Pat Kreger, friends and fellow turtle watch folks.  No live ones found but it gave me the opportunity to announce that we would be having our first excavation also in a day or so.  Their's was the first nest on the island and Fort Clinch hosted the second, and that was to be the order of their hatching.  Around 200 people attended this excavation.

Another calm and glassy morning to enjoy some nice cloud formations.  Oh, for a lens that would wrap it all up in one shot bit I guess that only happens at Disney World.  Beautiful clouds piled up off on the horizon...

...with herring scales type clouds moving in overhead as I head out to our first excavation.

A Gopher Turtle is on the beach as I head back from checking out the rest of the beach front turtle nests before the excavation.  I meant to watch it to see what it was going to do.  However,  I got too busy, especially since I had my biggest crowd ever with about 75 people, and forgot to check to see if it headed for the water like a lot of them are doing these days.   Gopher Tortoises are usually dry land, even arid semi-dessert type environment critters, but they have discovered the nice feeling of the cool water so close by.  Probably it started when so many tourists thought they were "sea turtles" when they saw them on the beach and would put them in the water.  It could have been a life altering experience that they have passed on to their offspring.  Take a swim and you will feel better.  Tourists almost weekly tell me of seeing them head to the water to take a dip then turn around and head back to the dunes.  If they pick them up and try to take them to the dunes before their swim, the tortoise will just turn around and head back to the water.  I think it is a subject worthy of a scientific study for sure.

Only one more little one was left in the nest and he like the others was held in place by a root that had grown into the nest and trapped it in place.  All coated in dried on sand and and a wrinkle left in its shell on the shell on its left shoulder, the effects remaining from the root that had held onto it, and now a new lease on life with time to grow, mature and smooth out that crease.

Now for the swim of its young life...only 45 to 60 miles to go and a safe refuge awaits.

It must be such a relief to get in the water.  Sometimes you will see them take a drink.  They are equipped to handle the salt water of course.  A couple of tries as the waves of water come to meet his efforts and it is gone.

Miss Lacy's girth continues to expand.  I don't think she is in her tree hole nest anymore but has moved to another place.  That seems to be the way.  Maybe that is a defense to keep moving the homestead.

My first glimpse of a Giant Swallowtail was a few days before I finally was able to get a photo.  It was so fast flitting around my Lemon tree , but I was finally able to get a somewhat decent shot.  The underside of their wings is very beautiful.  It was hard to see the top side but it appeared to be mostly back, but patterened.  I need to do more research on this butterfly to learn about them.  I know the Citrus trees are their host so that is the reason for the flitting around one of mine.  Let's hope they are actually able to lay and grow there.  Would love to see the caterpillar which must get pretty large to make a butterfly like this.  What kind of Chrysalis?  So many questions?  So may answers to find.  

I really love when this plant first blooms because besides being pretty it smells soooo nice.  One of the many varieties of the Spider Lily families.

My tepee did work to keep the Fox out of this nest.  The fox got into it twice eating around 25 each time.  The remaining eggs should be fine but it  was also washed over with water and in addition has a Ghost Crab in it inflicting further damage.   Lets hope the next new moon does not inundated it once again as it will be nearing a more critical time.

The last two of the Plover Chicks for the year it seems.  The last nest's eggs were lost probably to Mr. Fox.  These two would survive to almost fledging size but one would disappear around fledging time.  Leaving the mom with only one of her three offspring.

Our yard snake surprised me one morning by almost running underneath my feet on the pathway next to the house.  I was able to grab a camera and get a photo of it.  Looks like from the bulges on its side that it has been doing a good job with eating the local vermin.  I don't think eggs would made that large a bulge.

One of my other creepy crawly little ones, which looks pretty vicious but is actually the caterpillar of the Gulf Fritillarys. I had just brought this fellow outside to my Passion Flower plant.   I have been raising the tiny cats I find on the neighbor's Passion Flower inside my house until they get large enough to survive the wasps outside and then they are taken out to finish their development.  I cut a vine off the plant and put it in water and support it over a stained glass art piece in my kitchen window which substitutes for a trellis.  They will not leave the plant as long as there is something to eat on it.

Nest #2 was visited by the fox before it was due to hatch.  It had eaten 14 of the hatchling filled eggs, scattering them all around the nest, exposing the remaining eggs in the nest.  As I worked to clean up the mess, dispose of the bloody egg shells, and refill the nest to protect the now exposed eggs I found two eggs underneath the pile of sand Mr. Fox had thrown out of the nest.  One was a partially torn out of he egg hatchling.  Another was a whole egg but with holes in the surface of the egg with some egg white leaking out.  I did not want them back in the nest as they might contaminate the other eggs which were not quite due to hatch.  I put them both in a plastic tub with some soft fabric and watched them, checking in periodically all day.  The one partially torn out of the egg did not live, but later in the day, when I checked in on the egg, here is what I found.  A very lively little one with its egg stuck out of the shell saying "don't count me out yet"

I was able to fine clearer tracks of the Fox in the bottom of one of the tidal pools at low tide a few days later.  Mr. Fox had been in there digging up Ghost Crab holes.
 If you notice you will see that the front paw print is slightly larger than the rear.

In this shot of the tracks along with my wedding ring which I put down for size comparison you will see that the tracks are fairly small, ruling out the other possibility of Coyote.

More little ones as my fishing buddy Fran called me with a "fran-tic" call to come to the rescue.  Like the Ghost Buster's van I pulled into the drive way to rescue Caterpillars which I had already determined were Black Swallowtail Caterpillars from her description.  She had found them eating the Parsley in a garden where she was house sitting.  She knew they must be butterfly caterpillars but also knew they were eating her friends garden.  I only had one Fennel plant since Ms. Wabbit had eaten all my parsley.  For the time being I put them on my one and only remaining Fennel plant.  They are very beautiful Caterpillars with yellow polka dots all around their white and black and green stripes.

Our little hatchlings was also doing well as I closely watched for the egg yolk sac to be ready to drop off.  Once that happens I wanted to get it into the water as quickly as possible.  When hatched they have this yellow/orange egg yolk ball attached to their belly button.  The yolk was absorbed by the next afternoon but the sac still was attached.  It had to be dry enough to drop off before release as it was not something it needed to hinder its swimming abilities.  In nature this would already be off when they emerge, losing it in the climb upward through the sand.

The day came when it was time.  I had told several people that we would release our little one that evening in the park near the nest site.  Problem is that the sun was setting.

Being a turtle which is drawn by the light, the little guy would go no way except toward the West and the setting sun.  His directional abilities were already compromised by being kept in an abnormal environment, a Pyrex bowl, had not helped I'm sure.  After several attempts to release which included trying to shield him from the sun's light I finally gave up.

As you can see in this photo the water (East) is not in front of our little guy who is facing due West.  Instead he was still heading back toward the sunset.   I made the call to wait until the next morning and do the release then with the sun in front for our little turtle fellow.  

Next morning I let him walk a bit and  then placed him where he could feel fell the current of a tidal runoff channel.  I wanted to feel he was doing on his own not because I tossed him into the water.  He needed to to regain that instinct that is usually so strong in a new hatchlings.   That instinct to swim toward the Sargassum Sea where it can safely live for a while until the next instinct kicks in to tell it to move out and follow the currents in the Gulf Stream and on to the Azores and beyond.

The number 2 nest had hatched during the evening and some ladies came rushing up carrying a hatchling from that nest.  They had been trying to get it to swim but it kept coming back to shore. I don't think it was a family trait, but that the turtle had a small injury to the back of the head/neck area which you can see in the photo, and the eye on the right side seemed to be injured also.  We do not take young ones this soon out of the nest, to be rehabbed, so my only choice was to try to get it to head out to the sea.  We left the siblings to think about it a while in the tidal runoff area.

Our guy finally begam tp get the hang of it.

He had sat for a while looking around just figuring out what he was to do, then he was ready.  He swam in the channel the tidal runoff had created on his way to the Sargassum Sea.  The other one with a little assistance was also able to swim away on its own.

 It is so much better for them to go through the whole process on their own in a normal way, hatching, absorbing their egg yolk, digging up on their own and then emerging from the nest with their instincts in full swing directing them to the sea, and telling them to swim until they reached a safe portal in the sea.  So many little lives to guide as best we can to becoming an adult .  Their specie's survival depends on it.

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These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)

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