Hawksbill Turtle Project Offering Volunteer Positions!

The hawksbill is quite rare in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1998, only 38 nests were documented on the Big Island. They need volunteers for the 2009 nesting season, which runs from May to December. You will be monitoring hawksbill nests on remote beaches in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and adjacent lands. They prefer stays of 8-12 weeks, but will consider shorter periods.

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Volunteers camp 3-5 nights a week. Duties include monitoring nesting hawksbills and basking green turtles, rescuing stranded hatchlings, excavating nests, and trapping and euthanizing predators (mongooses, feral cats, and rats). Some nesting beaches can be reached only by hiking a 6.6 mile trail over recent lava flows, but others can be reached by 4-wheel drive truck. The weather is hot and very windy.

Shared dormitory-style housing is provided near Park Headquarters at the summit of Kilauea Volcano (4,000 ft. elevation). A small stipend is provided, so you will need some of your own money.

Contact Will Seitz:

Will_Seitz@contractor.nps.gov

Swamp Stroll Gets Dangerous

It started out lovely, as they all happen to do.  Our camping visit to Congaree National Park in South Carolina began perfectly.  The campground was deserted, the mosquito meter was on low, and the temperature was pleasant.  Little did we know that an innocent hike would become potentially life threatening.

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Both of us have been primitive camping and hiking since before we could walk.  We were well prepared with several layers of clothes, first aid, compass, water bottles, map, flashlight, knife, multi-tool, emergency fire making equipment, water purification, extra batteries, a German shepherd, and a gps.

We decided to do a loop known as the Oakridge trail.  Download a trail map here:Congaree trail Map page.

A simple 5 hour hike through the swamp.

Bad Decision #1

It was in the high 40′s with a bit of chilly wind as we were hiking through behemoth cypress and tupelo trees. When a bit of swamp crossed our path.  No problem, just take off your shoes, cross the water, wipe off your feet, and return shoes to proper location. The crossing was slippery, cold, and wet.  The dog didn’t care.  This was our first bad decision. Thus:

Bad Decision #2

Several miles after the short crossing, something a bit larger got in the way.trailmarkers

The other side could not be seen.  The smart thing would have been to turn around now.  We looked at the map and found we had nearly completed the entire loop.  Turning back now would put us back in camp several hours after dark in near freezing temperatures.  We would also be crossing the water in the dark.

It was decided to continue along this mass of water in hopes that we would find a narrower crossing or the other trail that it should meet up with in a half mile.

Continuing North with the water on our left, we came face to face with the major creek running through the park, Cedar Creek.  Several hundred feet wide and over our head deep.  This became impossible crossing number two.  Even in warm weather I would not brave this as swamp mud can sink you down over your head.  A person could become immobilized under water and dead very soon.

That led me to:

Bad Decision #3: Trusting the GPS

My gps claimed the trail crossed to our side of the water about a mile from where we were stading.  This was easy to believe as we had crossed many bridges throughout the day.  I confidently headed straight ahead with Cedar Creek on my left.

Giant wild boars grunted and dashed through the leaves as the sun sank.  We had nearly completed another loop inside the first one made by the trail and should be back to where we crossed the water earlier in the day.  My husband stopped at a creek stretched in front of us insisting the trail was just on the other side of this very steep banked deep water crossing.  I did not believe him as my gps said the trail was somewhere on THIS side of the water.logacrosscongareeA giant tree had fallen across the water, he wanted to brave it.  A fall in would have left a person drenched and exposed to hypothermia on the hike back.  The map said a large bridge crossing was to our south, if we could just get to that we could see it in the dark easily and get back to camp.

I marked the fallen log on my gps and we continued. We were nearly back to were we crossed the water earlier and would find our trail again when, yes another bit of water was in our way.

Trusting Intuition

We could be weaving our way around fingers of water all night long just to get back to the water crossing to be made in the dark and bitter cold. Once found we would have a two hour hike back to camp. My husband mentioned the log crossing. For the first time that day, I made a good decision.  I trusted him.

We crossed in the dark with our amazing german shepherd between us.  The trail markers were less than 50 feet ahead of us.  We were saved.

What We Didn’t Know

We could have died.  It was 30 degrees that night.  My husband was quickly becoming an expert fire maker with his flint and magnesium.  If the trail was not on the other side of that log, my husband was going to make a fire and we would camp for the night.  Hypothermia can kill at temperatures well above freezing.  With a fire, we could live.

What was it that we didn’t know?  That the swamp was in flood stage from rains days before in the mountains to the northwest.  The spot we were stuck in the night before was underwater by the next day.  Our fire would have been drowned, we would have been soaked, lost, and very possibly dead by morning.

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What We Learned

Gps’s give only a vague idea on where you are.  Do not trust it, but use the information it gives WITH a paper map.  Learn to use a map and a compass.  Note where you are at all times by paying attention to the distance you have walked, your surroundings, the distance you will need to walk back, and reference this with what you see on the map.  As prepared as we were, we were just lucky. Very, very stupid, but very, very lucky.

The Wiki on Hypothermia

 

First Wildlife Rescue of 2009!

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On Wednesday, January 7, Joanne Fugito found a nearly frozen five-lined skink lizard in her driveway. Lucky for the lizard, Joanne knew just what to do since she is a vet tech at Great Falls Animal Hospital – a veterinary clinic that works with Reptiles Alive and other wildlife rehabilitators to save injured wildlife.

After rescuing the skink from the freezing cold driveway, she did some research and set up a temporary enclosure for it inside of her house. She then called Reptiles Alive and brought the lizard right over. It is the first wildlife rescue we have received in 2009.

The skink appeared healthy, but it could not be released into the bitter January cold. So I set up a warm home with plenty of hiding places for it to live until spring, when we will release it back to its home in Joanne’s front yard.

The heavy rains the day before probably washed the skink out of its hibernation burrow. If the temperature had been 55 or above, I would told Joanne to release the lizard, but the cold air paralyzed the reptile and would have killed the lizard very quickly. After being kept indoors for more than 24 hours, the skink would probably not be able to re-acclimate to going back outside in the winter, so we will wait until April to release it.

Wandering about in the Winter Woods

The staff and friends at Reptiles Alive have a great time hiking in the winter.  While many of the warm weather loving reptiles are hidden away, other wonders of the natural world reveal themselves. Last week, while my brother Will Seitz was visiting from his home in Volcano, HI, we went for a hike down Difficult Run to the Potomac River in Great Falls, VA.

You might not think about it, but poison ivy is still around in winter. Poison ivy is deciduous, so it loses all its leaves in winter – but BEWARE – the bare stems and vines still contain the poisonous oil that can cause itchy rashes in many people. This fuzzy looking vine might look fun to touch, but trust me, don’t do it!

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Lichen is a combination of plants and fungi living together. You can find lichens growing on rocks and branches throughout the forest. The gray tree frog is a native frog that has camouflage to look like a lichen. The tree frogs are hibernating now, but lichens are out for you to enjoy.

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There are many native plants that produce berries, but there are also certain landscape plants that have escaped and begun to grow in the wild. Some of these exotic plants can out-compete native plants, which can create problems for native wild animals.

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We had a GREAT time at GREAT Falls! The winter is an awesome time to get outside and take a hike in the woods.

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TESTIMONIALS

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Rachel Karnes, Mom, Potomac Falls VA

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Rachel Karnes, Mom, Potomac Falls VA

"It was fantastic and the whole party was into it. Tony was truly a wonderful educational presenter."

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Patty Coote, Mom, Herndon VA

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Marcie Blackstone, Mom, Clarksburg MD

"Thank you for an incredible birthday party! All of the children had a wonderful experience. Caroline was so easy to work with and Tony did a great job presenting to the kids!"

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Tammy Berkon, Mom, Alexandria VA

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"I loved it so much. They teach you about the animals and you get to touch them! Rachel did a really wonderful job" 

Birthday girl and Mom, Chantilly VA

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Birthday girl and Mom, Chantilly VA

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Elizabeth Poppi, Mom, Reston VA

"I am so glad we hired Reptiles Alive for my son's birthday. CobraCaroline and all her reptiles were a huge hit! All the kids loved it! Even those who seemed a little reluctant were reaching out to pe the animals at the end. Caroline's energy and enthusiasm was contagious and we couldn't have asked for more!"

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Joan L. Mancuso, Director Potomac Nursery School

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