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on Mar 6, 2013 in Wildlife Photography

D7100 Stories: The baby Black Sea Turtles




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As we had been doing everyday, we were in the field and shooting to greet the sun. This morning we were in sea kayaks in a croc filled lagoon shooting. Out on the lagoon once the light had gone hard, we had a few moments to paddle around to enjoy the incredible beauty of where we were (I insist on that!). By staying in one place and simply doing a 360 turn of the kayak, I could see three, THREE species of Kingfisher! All new species for me and as a birder, this is nirvana! I simply can’t express verbally or in photographs the immense richness of Costa Rica’s wilderness! We slowly paddled in birding our way back while trying to get out of the increasing heat of the sun (I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life!). I do have to admit, having the croc there watching us as we disembarked from the kayaks was fun, some others in the party didn’t see the humor.

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I had two D7100 bodies with me, one with the 28-300 and the other with the new 70-200VR3 (I really love that lens!), both on straps and both in seabags just in case a croc got me, we could save the cameras. We have priorities! With the kayaks all brought back to shore, covered to protect them from the white wash of the locals, we started to walk down the beach, back to where we parked the Rover. We were walking along and our truly amazing guide Gary (this kid really impressed me!) pointed to a pile of white, what look like deflated balloons in the disturbed bowl of sand. We were quite a distance from the surf and on the edge of the vegetation. Gary said, “This is a Black Sea Turtle nest and it looks like it just hatched last night.”

Just then Gary dropped to his knees and started digging like a dog going after a long, lost bone. The sand was flying and before we knew it he was down to his shoulder in the pit he had dug out with his hand. Then he said, “Found one!” and he pulled out a “baby” Black Sea Turtle. It had hatched and got stuck behind a root deep in the sand. Lana & Gary explained that this was pretty common which is why Gary started digging. The first, then second, third, fifth, tenth baby sea turtle was placed in our hands as Gary continued to find more and more stuck in the roots. When our hands were full, Lana said to take just a couple of steps and put the turtles on the sand. It was bright, hot in the sun and the water was a longs ways off but the baby turtles have to make the trek themselves to embed the beach in their senses so when it’s time for them to comeback and lay eggs, they can find the beach. Damn, Mother Nature is just so darn cool! How in the hell does this biology start in the first place?

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That long distances in the hot sun though is not what the baby turtles are meant to do. They should have gone in the cool, protective cover of night. Knowing that the odds are that 1 out of 20 survive the first year and Gary had recovered nearly two dozen, we wanted them all to make it to the water. On this big, empty expanse of a beach, don’t think these humans making a fuse didn’t get some attention. Not from other folks as there are none on this deserted, gorgeous beach, but rather from those wanting to make a meal of the turtles. The magnificent Mangrove Black Hawks appeared out of nowhere when the first turtles were put on the sand. So in between bringing water to keep the turtles cool, we stood over them providing aerial assault protection. Now if them baby turtles would have stayed together and all gone at the same pace, things would have gone smoothly. One had a slightly injured front flipper and while it didn’t just go in circles, it didn’t make a straight line either to the water’s edge. Some went fast and some seem to be taking in all the sights and before we knew it, they were scattered about the beach. Then a scream went up as the aerial assault was launched!

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With moves worthy of a Heismen Trophy winner, one of the group made a move foiling the hawk stoop on the baby turtle, ending up with with a talon of sand rather than an easy meal for its attempt. While mother nature is amazing there are times to us, it seems cruel. But that’s why so many eggs are laid, so many hatch because the odds of one turtle making it back are slim. Finally with what seemed like hours past, the turtles started to reach the water and safety. Smaller than the palm of your hand, it seems unbelievable they head out into the big expanse of the Pacific ocean without any hesitation. With our protecting duties comin to an end, I picked up the D7100 and started to shoot. The D7100 instantly grabbed focus, locked on and blasted away. I didn’t have to think about the camera, just the photograph…and protecting the baby turtles! I’d never seen such a thing in my life, doubt I will again and I was going to have at least one click of this miracle of life. To Lana and Gary from Luna Lodge, it’s just what they do because of their fulltime involvement with the environment and protecting of the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica. For our little posse though, this was a very special event, a wonder of nature none of us will ever forget!