...and evenings with Sea Turtles!
My companions and I were driven to the scenic seaside village of Matura, (as the sign reads) "Home of the Leatherback Turtle"! Sometimes in life you never know where hype ends and reality begins, and being a cynic by nature I often enter situations with lower expectations when heading toward a great unknown. It was unknown because I'd done a bunch of research on birds and birding trips in the months prior to the trip, but I hadn't noted much regarding the other wildlife in the region. In addition, I found almost no summer birding reports for the area, so I was hoping we may see a Turtle but again wasn't holding my breath.
As we were just finishing a marvelous picnic meal at the pavillion at the entrance to the beach at Matura. A rainbow arched across the sky falling on the nearshore waters. A pot of gold perhaps?!?... or maybe a Turtle just waiting for darkness to fall.
As I scanned the horizon I saw numerous Vultures and Magnificent Frigatebirds coursing up and down the beaches. Soon I began noticing that one after another these birds passing the trail from left to right (as seen in the rainbowed image above) were all carrying small ovate disks... "Holy hell!" I thought, "...they had baby turtles!" I hollered to the rest of our crew and we hurriedly made our way down the beach to where a large mass of Black Vultures were scrapping of the tiny hatchlings. I know nature has to take its course and all, but Vultures aren't endangered and would as surely pick through a garbage dump. Baby Leatherbacks are a rare commodity, plus their babies... we couldn't help but chase the vultures off and then searched the area for survivors.
one of the casualties of a daylight hatch!
Here and there scattered amidst the vultures tracks at the scene of the crime were a few carcasses of those we hadn't been quick enough to help, but within moments additional hatchlings began emerging from the sand.
3 freshly emerged Leatherback Turtle hatchlings spared from the vultures
We stood our ground as the daylight waned, insuring these last few turtles made it at least as far as the surf.
After emerging the long crawl began first came the "downhill slide" where the beach dropped steeply (for a 2" long turtle at least) from the higher dunes to the transitional area of the littoral zone....
Then they worked their way through the hightide line littered with algae and debris like the water bottle above....
Upon finally reaching the water, the exhausted turtlettes would get spun around by the first wave, having to quickly regroup and catch as much of the retreating waters as possible with their (comparatively) large flippers...
Upon catching the 2nd wave though that was typically enough to drag them out of sight into the murky depths of the water now shrouded in darkness.
Biologists were already on the scene and were walking up and down the beaches searching for adult females coming up to lay eggs. I listened intently to the information we were given as we joined them on a patrol up the beach. I was so interested in the life history information and the descriptions of the studies, that it almost didn't register when he said, "Ahh, here's one now..."