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I admit to being mesmerized by the life of sea turtles--their nesting habits in particular, and primarily the Loggerhead turtles who return every year to our beaches here in southwest Florida, along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Nesting began mid-May, and the last nest was logged on my stretch of the beach on July 31st. There had been some concern as to how Hurricane Ian of last fall might have altered the nesting habits, but this was actually something of a record year with something over 325 nests on the 5-mile stretch of beach where I walk. Pictured below is the typical cage, which extends approximately 18 inches into the ground to prevent predators--especially armadillos--from getting to the eggs. Aside from the tracks leading up to the nest, the nest is identified by the slight mounding that occurs in the center of the nest from the mother's kick-back of sand to cover the nest. But before the cage is placed, the staff actually digs down into the suspected area to be sure there actually is a nest.

It can be quite a trek for the mother turtle to get to her nest, and while sometimes not far from the water, it is more likely up from the shore and near the line of vegetation. Below can be seen the distance from the water to one nest and then back down again. The mother usually weighs some 250 to 300 pounds, so it's work! During nesting season, a female will generally return to the beach where she herself was hatched (the natal beach) and she may return every 2 to 3 weeks, several times during the season to lay additional eggs. Of interest: she's not always successful, some having what's called a "false crawl", as seen below, the path just rounding the tree and then back down to the water. (I'm not, as you can see, an experienced photographer!)

Monitoring these nests became a problem, however, with Hurricane Idalia last month. While we didn't experience the violence of those situated further north in Florida, we did have the storm surge, which wiped out all the cages and markers of all those remaining nests, except the ones closest to the vegetation and highest on the shore. There is no good way to determine the location of those remaining nests, as even when general locations are recorded, and even with GPS, it's not precise. It is generally possible, however, to see when a nest has hatched as the sand will be disturbed, with a rain-like pattern appearing on the sand. However, the nest is not excavated until 3 days later, allowing time for any possibly remaining eggs to hatch.

Hatching begins approximately 60 days from the date that the nest is laid, but they are seldom witnessed here. It usually occurs during the night but apparently isn't related to light as much as to the air temperature being cooler. When looking at the distance of some nests from the water, it's amazing to see how far the hatchlings have to go. While hatchings are generally not witnessed, the nests are patrolled early in the morning on a daily basis by a county team, during the season, but, as mentioned, the nest of a presumed hatching won't be examined until another 3 days have elapsed. The staff will then carefully dig down into the nest and count the eggs, recording the number hatched and those that didn't hatch. The number of nest eggs here will usually range somewhere between 80 and 100, and the majority do hatch. The egg shells are rubbery and resemble a collapsed ping pong ball. The pictures below show the depth of the nest (usually about 18-24 inches) and the staff counting the shells.

So, with the end of July having been the last new nesting, hatchings into October could be anticipated, but the few nest sites that have been excavated since the storm surge were found to be water-logged without evidence of the eggs. This is how the beach now looks...pretty empty until next spring.

I have been traveling and haven't heard any news of the turtles since mid-September, except for the unusual siting of Loggerheads further up the North Atlantic coast, presumed secondary to the storms of that month misdirecting the turtles. I'll be looking forward to next spring.

This last month has found me working on research for two books of my own, so I'm not sharing the works of other authors in this newsletter. However, I'm starting something new next month by introducing some authors I admire and they will be introducing themselves and their books to you. Hope you will enjoy this new facet of the newsletter. Stay tuned!

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