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Daylight sea turtle nester gives crowd rare show

By Jennifer Glenfield

A loggerhead sea turtle makes its way at 8:30 a.m. to its nesting site in Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Courtesy Lee Landers

Black skimmers watch over newly hatched chicks in the 2500 block of Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Courtesy Glenn Wiseman

A small crowd huddled on the beach in Bayfront Park early June 24.

The crowd was watching a rare sight — a loggerhead sea turtle nesting in daylight.

Just after daybreak, Tonya May, volunteering for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, walked her designated section of beach looking for turtle tracks and nests.

She reported there were no signs of nesting activity and no tracks to her AMITW section coordinator, but as it turned out, there soon would be some.

“At about 8:30 I received a call from Suzi (Fox) that a turtle was nesting in Bayfront Park. The sheriff’s office had alerted her,” said AMITW section coordinator Maureen McCormick.

According to McCormick, a jogger had noticed the nesting sea turtle on the beach and continued on her run to city hall to alert authorities.

AMITW executive director Suzi Fox called McCormick, who rushed to the site. May had already arrived home in Bradenton and missed it.

“A small and very respectful crowd joined us to watch her,” said McCormick.

Sea turtles typically come to shore at night to lay their eggs, guided by moonlight and avoiding predators during the laborious process of digging, laying, burying and swimming back to sea.

AMITW volunteers walk the beach just after sunrise to look for signs of nesting activity — repetitive grooves in the sand made by the turtle’s flippers — before they are disturbed by beachgoers. If the tracks lead to a nest, it is recorded and marked.

Sightings of sea turtles, unmarked nests or hatchlings leaving the nest should be reported to Fox by calling 941-778-5638.

First nest hatches on Longboat Key
The first sea turtle nest of 2014 in Manatee and Sarasota counties hatched June 22.

Mote Marine Laboratory, which monitors nesting on Longboat Key southward through Venice, reported the hatchlings on Longboat Key.

Mote scientists say nesting season is going strong and they hope for a healthy number of hatchlings. So far this year, Mote has documented 1,095 nests by loggerheads, the most common sea turtle to nest on the shores of Southwest Florida. Mote also recorded two nests by Kemp’s ridley turtles, the rarest species on local beaches.

Longboat beachgoers should report any sea turtle nesting activity to Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331. Rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtles normally nest during the day, while loggerheads and greens usually nest at night.

Shorebird nesting update
According to Fox, the largest shorebird nesting ground since her group began monitoring for birds sits on the beach in the 2500 block of Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.

“We have a football field of birds out there,” Fox said. “And people are being fabulous, staying clear.”

A few least terns began the nesting site, which soon was surrounded by more and more least terns. As the least terns’ eggs began to hatch in May, a flock of mating black skimmers joined them at the nesting site.

Fox said the least tern chicks are undergoing “flight school” and “fishing school” with their parents.

Meanwhile, the black skimmers’ nests have begun hatching in great numbers. Fox said there now are more than 50 black skimmer chicks.

Beachgoers will be able to view the birds through a telescope and binoculars, guided by Manatee County Audubon Society volunteers over the July 4 weekend.

Audubon volunteers will set up a tent to offer information about the birds, as well as provide scopes to view the chicks up close.

The chapter is looking for volunteers to help with the event. Anyone interested can email Dee Hanny at ynnahda@yahoo.com or call 941-745-1553.

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