Apart from night patrols, I do morning track and nest surveys to determine the nest density at Tortuguero. STC only covers the first 5 miles of the 18 miles long beach. The field station is located at mile 2 4/8 which divides the beach to two parts – Boca (mile 0 – 2 4/8) and Parque (mile 2 4/8 – 5). Two RAs cover each part every morning, from 6am or earlier. If there is no nest excavation, it is possible to get back before 9am but my longest record was 6 hours on the beach due to the time spent on nest excavation and hatchlings release. The good thing about Boca is I can take a boat ride to mile 0 and start walking back to the station. However, for Parque, I will have to walk until mile 5 and walk back.
I like morning surveys as I get to see many bird species, grasshoppers…etc. Depending on the weather, it can be very hot or windy and rainy! I got tan and slight burn on my first track survey as I was walking under hot sun for 5 hours! Ever since, I try to remember to put on the sun screen. This morning it had rained a bit. I could see the dark cloudes coming towards us from the horizon! It got quite windy. Luckily, Ani and I managed to reach the station before any heavy downpour.
During the survey, one of us will count for the number of up and down tracks. This gives us an estimate of the number of turtles that came ashore the previous night to lay eggs. It is common to encounter half moon (media lunar) where the turtle climbed ashore, made a u-turn and return to the sea. Other than turtle tracks, there are also tracks from dogs, human, racoon, sloth, birds…etc.
While one person is doing the tracks count, the other one will look for possible nest site and check for marked nests. In the beginning, it was quite hard to distinguish the old and new nests but with practise, it became easier.
Nest excavation is also done during this survey to record Sometimes there will be one or more live hatchling(s) that did not make it out of the hole. All hatchlings are released into the sea. I did nest exvacation with Ani once and instead of finding just one, we found approximately 40 hatchlings. They just started rushed into the sea but unfortunately the weather was burning hot, most didn’t make it to the sea but died half way on the beach. We both quickly picked them up and put them into the sea, hoping at least some would survive. They looked really vulnerable.
The best part of the morning survey is knowing that breakfast will be ready when I get back to the station! So after breakfast and having a warm shower, it is best to go to bed and get some rest! Life is good!