Friday, May 11, 2012

Funny Field Work Follies (and the letter F goes wild!)

Field work, just like life, can be spectacular, routine, drab, infuriating or just plain silly. Sometimes when you're on point and luck is rolling the dice with you, I've seen things that have gave me goosebumps. Witnessed events that have caused me to yell out joyful curse words and pump my fist, Arsenio Hall style. A few weeks before we departed I was lucky enough, after following her for 1.5 hours, to watch a Gila monster we were radio tracking dig out a juvenile Cottontail rabbit nest and scarf down some furry youngsters. Incredible. I was on cloud nine for the entire ordeal. That's about as amazing a day you can have in the field.
The female Gila on her way to finding a Cottontail rabbit nest. This is one healthy lizard.

But then there's days where all you do is sweat and are exhausted, you forget to take a specific data point, leave all the vital gear you need at home or totally just blow it. The key to it all: laughing at yourself when you mess up. A lot. And then making sure you don't do the same idiotic thing twice. I once dropped my keys out of my backpack while tracking a Gila monster at night by myself. Over 3 hours later I found them. Never again have I pulled that move.

Charlie (face bomb!) cruising the boat to Munjur beach at the sun sets on Tioman. Juara Bay is in the background.

That being said, Charlie and I recently spent two nights in a row camping (err, maybe being on a stakeout is a more appropriate term) on Munjur beach in anticipation of a re-nesting Green sea turtle. Hmmmm, I just didn't do any foreshadowing about how this endeavor worked out. Munjur is one of two uninhabited beaches we monitor that are directly south of Juara Bay here. It's probably about a 15 minute boat ride. So let's see: camping near the beach in hope of finding a nesting Green turtle so we can measure the mama and tag her plus get a nest for our hatchery, yup I can get to that. Cue Ziggy Stardust lyrics though: it ain't (that) easy!
Will Smith bearing down on Munjur Beach, one of the 3 sea turtle nesting beaches we monitor daily.

The first night started off with a solid sign: two turtles were mating near the beach as we rode in. For the record: JTP's boat is named Will Smith. I would have gone with Jeff Goldblum, but that's another story. We then walked in with our gear and started looking for a place to camp. We chose some ground on the north end of the beach between the high tide line and end of the jungle. More sweet news: an Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina, AHPR) greeted us in the leaves. It's a graceful snake that moves through trees and other vegetation while looking for lizards and frogs to munch on. First time I've seen this one. Only bummer news is I forgot my camera. So all the photos on this blog are from the second night.
A gorgeous underneath view of the Oriental Whipsnake (Ahaetulla  prasina, AHPR).  These guys can be a variety of colors, but this one was like Laffy Taffy green.
Overhead view. Sweet view of its wrapped around the branch and leaves.

Well, hammocks got set up, a small, hidden fire burned, and then Mega-moon came out around 22:30 hours. Talk about bright! The beach was lit up for real, for real. To miss a turtle on this beach would be tough, but alas, we did. As high tide rolled in we got sleepy. Charlie dozed off and I fell asleep for about 10 minutes. After waking up I had a weird feeling of panic that maybe we missed her. So I scampered down the rocks and started walking the sand. The strech in front of us was track free but as I walked up to the southern end of the beach, which of course turtles don't visit too often and you can't see from our makeshift campsite, two sets of turtle tracks were there! One for the way in, the other on the way out. No turtle. No nest. She came up, just like the day before, moseyed around and then headed back to the ocean. I woke up Charlie, we checked out the scene some more, hung our heads in despair as sand flies bit us on the beach, and then decided it's a wrap. We swam out to the boat and got back to JTP around 2am.
North end of Munjur at sunset.

Not to be defeated, we were very sure that after coming ashore two nights in a row this mother turtle was ready to drop a clutch on the third night. Back to the camping spot. More jolly times at Munjur! This time I remembered my camera (and binos!), but forgot shoes. Walking on wet coral and rock is not a skill I have mastered yet out here. It took awhile for me to even walk in with our gear. Looking at the photo of low tide you can understand why. Back to the same spot. I had a warm and fuzzy feeling the turtle was gonna show. I searched for more snakes after the sun went down, finding another AHPR in the trees. Then we scarfed some take-out noodles, shot the shit and waited on the tide. The moon came out. No turtle seen. I had a feeling again I needed to get down to the beach. With no red light on (we were being extra careful to not spook the turtle) I made my way and in the first minute I saw tracks on the stretch of beach in front of us. One set. Then noise. Tossed sand and the movement of a flipper. She must be starting to dig her nest! It's always feels glorious when you find what you set out for.
Low tide, slippery rocks, sharp coral and an uncoordinated Brian make for slug-like walking. But I got no open gashes on my legs so that was a plus.

I woke Charlie up and we crept back. She was still flinging sand so after checking out the rest of Munjur we took a seat away from her on the beach. She continued to fling sand. Time passed. Chit-chat here and there. Silence for a little while and then I heard a noise behind us. Holy Toledo that's a turtle heading back to sea. She ran into our cooler we use for the eggs and almost head butted Charlie's backbone. She was on the move and we misjudged her big time! Her nest was layed and she was covering it up when I first saw her. Maybe we should have at least shined some light on her once. We thought about tagging her on the way back, but decided not to. She was ready to get back in the water and make us feel like morons. I couldn't help but laugh. Two nights of camping and no nest collected, no measurements made and no tags placed on her flippers. We laughed a ton and she swam away. I hope she was chuckling too.

Our improvised (and in the end failed) stakeout location. That piece of driftwood  we found made for a lovely bench though. 
Since midnight was on deck and the tide was high we decided to call it, bail on camping and boat back to the JTP. Swimming out to the boat, trying not to slice my foot open in the dark water, I couldn't stop smiling. I knew we'd get the nest in the morning so no worries about that (yeah, Izati brought the eggs back, 98 total). I had to admire how well we succeeded in failing. I think we'll do a few things differently next time. As Will Smith motored back under the night sky I didn't feel too much like he did at the end of Independence Day. Heck, I wasn't even feeling much like Will Smith at all, since he's usually doing everything right and saving the world from imminent demise (ID4, iRobot, Bad Boys, MIB, the list goes on and on). But at least we gave everyone else here something to joke about for awhile.


  1. Ahaha I love this story so much Bratze. If you had named the boat Jeff Goldblum, the experience may have matched the moniker a little better. At least Jeff got his legs chomped by a T-Rex, which of course I am sure is very similar to nearly getting head-butted by a sea turtle in the back-bone?

    1. Hey hey hey they Crystal! I a so glad you a appreciate they story of our silly camping fiasco. Ahhhh, I know, I wish they Jeff Goldblum was they name. I also wish I could do they turtle work with Mr. Goldblum, he woulda known what to do in our time of need at they turtle nesting beach. Or he would somehow get his legs bitten off by a ravenous Green sea turtle and would have to have Will Smith come to the rescue! Abodanza!!!