It is field trip time, and I’m back to Brownsville, TX. The goal of this trip was to relocate all 16 tortoises and find 2 more tortoises to add to the project.
So let’s test you again. Can you find the tortoise in this picture? Be careful not to get fooled by the yucca trunk.
If I give you a closeup picture does that helps?
Here he is.
Don’t be sad if you did not find, those little tortoises are experts in camouflaging themselves with the vegetation. We are able to find them because we have the radio tag, otherwise, it would be very difficult. Even with the help of the radio transmitters, if the animal is tucked under a prickly pear cactus, a woodrat midden, or in this case under a Spanish Dagger (Yucca treculeana) it can take us 10 to 20 minutes to find it.
Basically, we are playing the hot and cold game with the tortoises. Our prize is the animal, the “hunter” is me with an antenna, and the receiver gives the clues. A louder bip means hot, a lower sound is cold. By going in the direction of the loudest sound, you get closer and closer to the tracked animal. It gets to a point where you know where the tortoise is, even if you are not able to see it yet. On the picture below you can see me listening to the receiver.
The area of this picture is very open, which makes it easier to locate the animals. However it is not always like that, the denser and taller the vegetation the harder it is to maneuver around with the equipment.
In the picture above you can see one of our grueling areas. Unfortunately, it is not just a tight walk around, but the vegetations are literally “grabbing” you as you pass by. Your mind needs to be in an “unagi” state. (This is a Friends reference from Ross. However he uses the word unagi incorrectly, the word he means to use is zanshin, which is a term used in Japanese martial arts. Zanshin means “residual mind.” It refers to a state of relaxed awareness in which a practitioner of martial arts is wary of their surroundings before, during, and after attacks.) After three days in the field, we were able to find all animals and the 2 new ones. Other interesting findings during this trip was two juvenile tortoises, two eggs of Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albiollis), a hog skull, and a Texas indigo snake (Drymarchon melanurus erebennus). There is no picture of the snake because my first instinct was to run for my life. I’m always worried that I will encounter a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, so if I see anything that resembles a snake, I’m running in the opposite direction.
I hope you enjoyed my second trip, see you next time.
After a week in the field, it is time to get back to the office. If you read my last blog post, you know we just did the biannual tortoise monitoring at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL), where I tagged along to deploy the tortoise radio tracking project. However, here at the Gulf Coast Network (GULN) of Inventory and Monitoring Program (I&M) office there are many projects rolling at the same time. The GULN is one of the thirty-two networks part of the Inventory and Monitoring Program of the National Park Service (see picture below). As the name suggests, the networks of the I&M program do inventories of the natural resources. They plan, design, and implement an integrated long-term monitoring program for the park vital signs. Vital signs are a subset of physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of park resources.
Our network, GULN, is responsible for eight national parks: Big Thicket National Preserve, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Natchez Trace Parkway, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Padre Island National Seashore, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and Vicksburg National Military Park (see picture 2). I was able to “visit” all of them through the data entry of one vital sign, water quality. Well, to be very specific, PAAL does not have water quality monitoring, but because I literally just came back from there, I am going to say I visited them all.
Data entry is not the most exciting activity to do, but nevertheless, it is of much importance. All monitoring projects collect data in field sheets, however to be of any use the data needs to be added to the project database. Data entry is the first step for the information collected in the field to be turned into knowledge about the park. It was very interesting to see a snapshot of each park water quality status. I also learned about the differences of the monitoring schedule for our parks; some have every month, some bimonthly, and some quarterly. You can learn more about water quality monitoring for the GULN’s parks at https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/water_quality.cfm
If you want to be precise and/or accurate you need to test, evaluate results, improve, and test again until you are satisfied with the outcome. This is basically what I have been doing the past two weeks. I had been developing a harness for a microGPS unit which will be attached to tortoises. Concurrently to the radio tracking, the GPS project will also study the Texas tortoises (Gopherus berlandieri) of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL). The radio tracking project gives us a once-a-month snapshot of the activities and location of the tracked tortoises. The microGPS will record 5 locations per day at specific times; 7am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm. This increases the temporal information for the selected tortoise.
I started creating the prototypes using play-doh. After I created the desired shape, I realized that it weighed too much and would not work for our small tortoises. (If you missed my other blog posts, the Texas tortoises are the smallest tortoise species in the United States.) Using aluminum foil as the base and the play-doh to protect the microGPS prongs, the envisioned harness prototype was created. Nevertheless, play-doh and aluminum foil are unfit for the desert environment, so I had to upgrade my materials. Ten models later, using aluminum sheet and epoxy the harness was created.
Simultaneously to the development of the harness, we were also testing the accuracy of the GPS. On the first test, we mimicked different environments that the tortoise can be found: open area, under coarse vegetation, and inside of a woodrat midden. Unfortunately our results were very disappointing. After contacting the technical support and changing microGPS settings we got better outcomes. Next week, 2 microGPS units will be deplyed in Brownsville for some field test.
Stay tuned, the next blog post will be about the June field trip to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
Let’s jump right into, a field trip to Brownsville, TX. At Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL), we start our Texas tortoises radio tracking study for summer 2017. The picture above was taken early in the morning of the first day, but before you go to the field, there are many safety actions you need to take. First, you have a safety meeting, there you are informed of the safety equipment you will need, how to use it, the procedures in case of an emergency (snake bite, bees, dehydration, falls), exchange contact information, receive radios, and are informed of how the survey will proceed.
My project, Texas tortoises radio tracking, is tagging along with a bi-annual survey that happens since 2008. The study is to monitor Gopherus berlandieri, the smallest tortoise species in North America. In 1982, Texas Parks and Wildlife raised the species status to threatened. The species’ habitat is limited to the Texas lower plains, and it is very sensitive to environmental changes; this makes it a great ecological indicator, a vital sign, of the well-being of the park. An equip of eight people from the Gulf Coast Network staff, the resource specialist of PAAL, partners such as Trace Tuberville and Kurt Buhlmann, and volunteers are responsible for every six months find, measure, photograph, and mark the tortoises to evaluate the population health condition. For example, on this trip we found many young tortoises, suggesting that environmental conditions are favorable. If you are interested in more information about the regular monitoring of the tortoises and other vital signs of the park visit: https://www.nps.gov/paal/index.htm and https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/texas_tortoise.cfm.
The tracking team was Trace and me, and the others were part of the survey team. When a surveyor encounters a tortoise, there is a procedure it must follow. After it is done the radio transmitter was temporarily attached to suitable individuals (see photo below), then via radio, text message and GPS point, the tracking team was informed of the tortoise number and which transmitter frequency it had. Using an antenna and a receiver, I would scan the field to find the animal so would the radio transmitter could be attached permanently to its carapace.
The product we used to glue the radio transmitters need 15-20 minutes to cure, so during that period was picture time. As you can see, in the picture below, G. berlandieri are super photogenic, and its selfie was way better than mine. In total, we tagged 16 tortoises, which was our goal. During this summer I will return once a month to re-find those animals.
On the second the day of the field trip I participated in the regular survey. It was very different than tracking with the antenna. Using a handheld GPS you confirm you are inside of the search area, then the group leader gives the start, and everyone starts walking around looking at the ground to find the animals. It is not easy to spot the animals; you need to pay attention. Using the snake stick (the region is known for having rattlesnakes) as an extension of your limb you keep walking and looking to find the tortoises.
Try for yourself, locate the tortoise in the picture bellow. I promise you there is one.
Did you find the tortoise?
How about another one?
Let’s see if you are getting good at it.
This cutie is only 58grams; it is one of the smallest animals found in a survey. I was able to hear It moving in the spartana spartanae. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have found it. In total, I was able to find two juveniles and one adult, not bad for a first timer.
I had a great time tracking and doing the survey, as I already had expected it is a harsh environment. My final count of incidents was some thorns on my hand, some on my butt (you definitely need to look before you squat when you are trying to get a better look of a tortoise, lesson learned), and two ticks. Overall it was a great experience, and I’m excited to go back.
Hello blog reader,
Here is Fabiane Barato the intern of last year of Mosaic in Sciences (MIS) for the Gulf Coast Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (GULN), Gulf Island National Seashore project. On that project I had the pleasure of bringing to life more than 1500 35mm photo slides. Those slides were scanned and archived as historical records of the conditions of the barrier islands of Mississippi and Florida during 1980’s.
This summer I’m back at the GULN, for another MIS internship. However, this time I will be tracking Texas tortoises (Gopherus berlandieri) at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, which is located in Brownsville, Texas.
If you did not read my blog last year let me introduce myself. My name is Fabiane Barato, but I usually go by Fabi (Fah-bee). I am originally from Brazil. I’ve been living in Lafayette, LA for seven years and a half. In Brazil, I graduated with an associated degree as an environmental technician, and I was on my third year of a bachelor in science (B.S.) in agronomy when I decide to move to the USA. Here I went to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where I graduate with a B.S. in environmental sciences with a concentration in water and soils and double minor in biology and geology. During my undergrad I also got a certification on geographic information system (GIS), which will be very useful for me in this project. I’m currently doing my master in geology, analyzing the past forty years of water level data for the Chicot Aquifer, and I’m looking to graduate on the fall 2017.
Now you know a little bit about me. I’m excited to be back at the GULN office. I had a great experience last year and I’m sure this summer will be even better because I will be on the field at least once a month “chasing” tortoises. I know it will not be easy, we are talking about hot summer, ticks, cactus, rattle snakes, tortoises poop, and did I mention hot summer?!? But no matter what, I know I will love it. So see you next week for an update on my first field trip.