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

Turtle Season officially, for us anyway, goes from May 1 until October 31.  The exceptions are that the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch do their daily beach walks until August 31.  In the park, we do patrol until the last nest hatches, which can be before October 31, or can go beyond the official date of October 31.  The turtles usually don't lay up here until the middle of May.  In the park though with about 8 miles round trip each day there is a lot to keep our minds occupied while we wait on that first turtle to make its first crawl onto our beach.

Not always are the big White Egrets out in the marsh or along the water's edge.  Once in a while I see one strolling along the streets around the gallery.  They like picking off our little lizards and Anoles, which, if its the green ones we don't like to lose them, but if it is some of the invasive Cubans then go for it.

We seem to have had a very good year with out little Wilson's Plovers whose nesting season begins a bit earlier than Sea Turtle season and extends on into the early part of July.  Time is spent documenting nest locations, how many nests, and hatchlings there are each year.  This mom has two very young ones in this photo.  Can you find them?  Usually there are 3 in a nest and the mom and dad are both actively involved parents, trying to ride herd on these speedy little fluffs of fuzz.  Like baby chickens, these chicks also are ready to hit the beach as soon as they are hatched.  No sitting in the nest with a wimpy weak neck for these little ones.

One way to protect her babies is to let the chicks run underneath her white breast feathers and hide.  Of course there is really room for only two under there and probably one of the reasons the family finds it hard to raise all three.

A new tourist activity which looks to be a lot of fun.  It is a guided tour much like you would get on the Amelia River Cruise but more personal as it is only the guide and up to about four of the jet skis on each trip.  They are not your typical jet ski with more like lawn chairs in which to sit rather than a motorcycle seat.

The deer are more visible and seemingly tame, probably because my friend Amy (Beach Junki) spends so much time photographing them.  Poor Amy had a very bad car accident this Spring, just in time for her active beach season, breaking her pelvis in two places.  She can't put weight on it for another couple of months, but being the strong willed person she is she has managed on crutches and one of those walkers with wheels to get out there anyway.  Even on crutches and carrying the walker chair to sit in near her subjects, she can still follow them with her camera.  Where there's a will there's a way.

With birds the focus the first few weeks I am aware of seeing how many of the old timer species are around...the Ruddy Turnstones and the Sanderlings in this case.

It is a familiar but changing scene which takes me from the coolness of the morning Maritime forest to the sunshiny, treeless beach.  Sometimes the air is full of moisture and the rays of the sun are accentuated but today is not one of those days.  Today the Spanish Moss is all aglow.

I believe this to be one of the most active Horseshoe Crab nesting seasons we have had.  Every morning for weeks we would all be busy rescuing the ones who managed to become disoriented, flipped upside down, or stuck in the sand.  These are such a prehistoric species, unchanged since before the dinosaurs.  They are very useful in todays medical world.  Their blood, which is taken from them, but leaving the Crab still alive, is used for testing medicine for impurities.  This one seems to think he is going to give me a run for my money by entering the art market with this pretty interesting sand sculpture.

This couple was caught with the big snowplow like front end and get firmly stuck in the hard sand which becomes extremely hard as the tide takes the water away.  The fellow is still wagging that tail and seeming to not at all be deterred.

Our babies begin to grow into long legged gangly teenagers still living under the watchful eye of their parents.

I invited a new to the island gal, who is from Switzerland, to go with me one morning.  He dad owns the restaurant behind my gallery, Bright Mornings Cafe' and Bistro.  She learned quickly how to handle the Crabs and return them to the water.  She didn't get a chance to find any turtles but it was a full morning anyway.  I am hoping Marischa will find the morning interesting enough to volunteer to do other things in the park.  We are always looking for young enthusiastic volunteers.  (That was not to happen since the powers that be in the immigration system says her visa is up and she must return to Switzerland and will have to wait a long time before she can come back.  She had worked so hard passing all the required GED and other tests to get ready to go to college.  To bad she didn't just go to Mexico and come in that way.  Something wrong when you get punished for following the rules.)

This is an example of one load of Crabs we had rescued.  There were so many we started putting them in the back of the beach buggy and taking them a group at a time to the water's edge.

But for now the only species of turtles on the beach were plastic beach turtles, in this case the rare "Purple" Plastic Turtle.

Our squirrels are very insistent on getting fed both morning and evening as they start waiting at the back door with some willing to take a peanut from your hand.  This especially fat one I call Tilley who is starting to shed her winter coat for a shorter cooler one.

But then a friend called with two baby Marsh Rabbits.  So tiny.  The mother had been killed by her cat and one of these, the largest, had been bitten in the ear by the cat.  I could not see where the bite was, just that it was deep inside the ear and by morning the germs picked up from the cat took its life.

Realizing that I was down to the wire on getting the next 2015 Turtle Trot Painting done as I sat looking at an abstract painting I was working on the thought ran through through my mind that there was a shape in that painting which would work very well as a turtle, so the idea set me off and running in that direction.  What transpired was a very different Turtle Trot painting which I think will make a great T-Shirt.  This is the early stages of making it work.  Remember that I will be selling the T-shirts once again after the race is over.  It is a necessary money maker for the gallery to make up for the August and September doldrums.

And finally it happened, the middle of the month, right on schedule, we get our first nest.  The first of many!!

Our little Plover Chicks continued to hatch and run like little baby roadrunners all over the beach.  Our trips were slowed to a crawl with us constantly on the watch for them.  What a tragedy it would be to run over one of these little ones.

Everyone is running for cover as Mom already has one under her apron and two more looking for cover.

The same is happening in this photo with Mom squatting over one chick and two others heading toward her for cover as protection from our being too close.  We try to avoid them by swinging away from them but it is hard to figure out which way they are going to head sometimes.

Early Spring had the beach filled with birds near the pier but as mating and nesting season came the numbers have dwindled.  Off to follow their primeval urges and reproduce their species

This spider with bright green irridescent markings rode with us almost every morning for a good while, but I think one of the volunteers got tired of trying to figure out where he was going to be and moved him.  A man in the park who seemed to be knowledgeable (not a ranger) told us one day that these spiders were created by man, maybe at UF, and were not a natural species.  He said they produced them as a deterrant for killing bugs, however I have not heard that from anyone else.  He seemed to know a lot about them.  I would be interested to know if anyone else knows about these spiders.  I am very leery of any type of engineered bugs or bringing in species that don't belong in an environment to try to assist in solving some type of problem.  Like Kudsu sometimes these things backfire.  I know that this Spring these spiders were everywhere around the island and my yard.

Nest #2 was one I found and it was the only one I found this year that I was not sure was actually a nest.  When the Momma Turtle crawls up into the dune it is very difficult to tell for sure they laid, and in the park we do not dig into the nests to see if eggs are there, we simply think if it shows the definite signs of being a nest then it is a nest.  There was not a big pile of sand to tell me it was a big "fluffy mound" because it was laid right on the tip top of the dune but there was some sand spray and there were plants pulled up by the roots which is a sure sign.  So I marked it, and this week I was proven to be correct as it just hatched, stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Our little birds are looking more and more like a little awkward teenager, whose legs have suddenly grown too long for its body.

The Horseshoe Crabs were extremely active, more so than I have ever seen them.  I have since changed my ideas on exactly how these guys do their mating activities.  I was under the impression from what I read that they came on the beach, usually at night, and laid their eggs allowing the high tide, with full moon and new moon times, mostly to cover the eggs.  However what I learned was that the mating happens in the edge of the water as it rises and goes out with the tide change.  The reason so many get caught is that the tide moves out from underneath them and while the water still has the sand mushy, and they get their snowplow like front ends stuck.  As the water leaves the sand it becomes very hard.  The other scenario is that the surf itself will upend mostly the male's turning them upside down in a helpless position.  It has been a good season for the Crabs which means a good year for the shorebirds who eat the thousands of eggs the Crabs have laid as one of their main food sources.

Meantime little Suzique was a very sweet distraction, and we became very attached to her.  She seemed to us to be thriving.

A very good example of the many nests we were to accumulate this year.  One of the easier ones to read.  Nest #3 was very near #2 and with my doubts that 2 was actually a nest having a new nest so close by made my doubts even more acute.

After marking nest #3 someone wanted to get me in the photo since I am seldom in them.  I don't remember who took the photo, maybe my sis, Susan, who is my riding partner on Thursdays.  Yesterday I found that my judgment had been right on as the hatchlings came out dead center of the screened area.  Wednesday will be excavation day for this one.  Hard to believe 60 days exactly have passed already.

It is not usual that we see a Turkey Vulture on the beach, especially a Red Headed one.  We have Black and Red Headed ones.  The Black ones seem to be more family oriented sending out scouts to look for food then gathering them back to feast.  The Red Headed Ones seem to be more solitary types.

Bunnies need to chew...

And bunny kisses were especially sweet, as she liked to lick my face.  So very tiny are these rabbits but so very fragile.  I am told they are the hardest of all the wild animals to raise.  This species especially is difficult.  They are Marsh Rabbits different from Cotton Tails and like the Rabbits I had come visit and stay for a while the past two summers.

On the beach the Ring Billed Gull was enjoying a feast from something left in the tidal pool.  They are the garbage collectors of the beach.  Someone else has called them the rats of the beach.

Little Spot/Patty is growing at a good pace.  Things I have read about the Stink Pot Turtles say that after 6 months you should only feed them only every couple of days.  This little Stink Pot runs out to collect his food sticks twice a day at least.  It would be very hard to turn down his request for food.  He seems to be growing OK with no mishapped shell as can be a problem if they eat too much and also I take him out into the sun so he can get some Vitamin D.

A nice portrait of our little Plover family.

Susique was never good at taking her milk from a syringe as bunnies like to lick and chew more than suck.  She mostly licked the end of the syringe as the milk came out.  They don't overeat as squirrels tend to do if left to their own to stop eating.  Bruce made a feeding tray where she could lap her milk out of a lid rather than take a chance on her swallowing some of the plastic she was chewing off the end of the syringe.  She seemed to adapt well.

This was a small pet carrier so it kind of gives you an idea of her size.

The tracks from a new nest as they came more and faster than we thought they would or else everyone else.  I have been telling everyone to wait for this year that all those turtles we had 3 years ago were going to come back in 3 years and have they ever!!

On a trip down to B.E.A.K.S., our bird rescue place, to drop of a woodpecker chick, I saw this big Gopher Tortoise crossing the dirt road.  Such funny gentle tortoises.  They look like a big tank with their big hard shell and their tough strong legs.  They can't completely go inside their shell like a Box Turtle but pull their legs up tight against the shell and tuck their head in until only their noses are exposed between their two drawn up front legs.  They don't bite but will hiss at you.

Trouble came suddenly to our precious little baby.  It was according to the material on raising wild baby rabbits the most dangerous time for a rabbit is when thy start to eat solid food.  Susique had been eating oats since Sunday and liked them and I had bought Timothy Hay to put in the cage.  She seemed to be doing so well that I gave her some grass from the yard.  She liked it and didn't want her oats anymore.  But on Thursday the day after she had started on grass she seemed to be getting spoiled.  She seemed to want me to hold her.  Bruce stopped by the gallery and said you're not going to get much done with one hand today.  She had drank lots of her milk that morning but evidently by mid morning she wasn't feeling well, but I didn't catch it until I noticed that her stool was loosening.  I had read that once they get diarreaha they will not usually survive.  I closed the gallery and ran to get her some pediolyte.  She took it, but in a matter of an hour she was dead.  So quickly was my heart broken, and I continue to ask myself why? I should have been more careful and introduced the food more slowly, and why I didn't do this, and why didn't I do that.  But hindsight is always 20/20.  Like the first squirrel I had and lost I longed for a second chance but it is doubtful that will ever happen again.  But she was loved and I was with her loving and comforting her until the end.

The painting was finished and the turtle season is going to be a really great one and life goes on.  Amy just sent me a message that there are six tame rabbits in the park today that someone has let go.  They will die if we don't catch them, so maybe that will be my redemption.  However I don't want a pet to have to feed and care for forever, I like to let the wild animals go to live their lives in the wild as only wild animals with the instincts they are born with to help them live, but who will still give me a sign of recognition to show they do still know who I was in their lives.  But in the morning we will set off on a new adventure, rabbit trapping.

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