When it comes to wildlife photography I am a firm believer in paying attention to my surroundings, carefully observing things that are out of the ordinary and listening to the sounds around me for the unusual because I just never know what wonderful subjects I might find.
While I lived in Florida I visited Fort De Soto County Park often and had familiarized myself to know the sounds, behaviors of the birds and the “lay of the land” quite well and because I had done that it offered me a unique and amazing encounter one very early morning in July of 2008. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Usually when I arrived just before dawn at the north beach of Fort De Soto I would hear the rumble of trucks going to each trash can on the beach to empty them and accompanied by that sound would be the cries of Laughing Gulls as they swarmed near the trucks hoping to get an easy tidbit to eat.
That morning as I crossed the footbridge I saw that the light looked better near the tidal lagoon to the south and I planned on making that my first destination. I could hear the sounds of the gulls to the north and smiled thinking I would make my way north after seeing if there were any birds in the lagoon near the concession stand. But the lack of one sound made me very curious, I wasn’t hearing the trash trucks but I was hearing the gull cries. I looked north and saw a group of about 20 gulls flying down into the Mangroves and Sea Oats near the crest of a sand dune, the birds were squawking loudly. I very quickly made my way through the soft sugar sand towards the direction of the gulls and as the sand dune came into view my jaw dropped, my pulse raced and I stood still as I watched a female Loggerhead Turtle just as she finished covering the eggs she had come to the beach to lay.
I was amazed to see this incredible sight because almost all of the time female Loggerheads lay their eggs during the night and the only visible sign of their presence is the disturbed sand up on the dune and the tracks of the turtle coming from and going back into the water.
But there she was, with her big dark eyes, large flippers and barnacle encrusted shell. The reason the gulls were swarming so thick there was because they probably hoped to be able to snatch a turtle egg. Chris Muhrlin; who was the Assistant Park Supervisor at the time, had quickly come over and marked the nest site and covered it with more sand to keep the gulls at bay.
At first I was so stunned that I wasn’t taking any images of the Loggerhead Turtle, I just stood there admiring this temporarily earthbound sea creature. She was so beautiful to me. Then the photographer in me took over again and I started to document her laboriously slow trek back to the Gulf of Mexico.
The sun had not even begun to creep over the horizon but there was just enough pre-dawn light to get these photos without having to use flash. The turtle seemed to pay little attention to me, I suspect she was simply driven by primal instinct to return to the sea.
As the turtle came closer to the water I waded out into the shallows myself so that I could continue photographing this marvelous creature until the water became too deep for me to follow her. Oh, how I wished I could have done just that though.
She dove under the water a few times; surfacing briefly in between, and then with one final lift of her head she sank below the surface and I didn’t see her again.
By the time she left I was feeling a combination of euphoria, amazement, awe and intimacy. I witnessed something marvelous that day with that Loggerhead Turtle and I’ll not soon forget it.
After the disastrous oil spill caused by BP’s Deepwater Horizon in 2010 exploding I wonder if this Loggerhead Turtle survived the oil slick, the toxic water infused with dangerous chemicals and the deaths of the turtle’s prey caused by the negligence of British Petroleum’s CEO’s. Does BP even care that they risked killing not only the creatures in the Gulf of Mexico, that they soiled a natural wonder with oil or that they have permanently changed the lives of so many people?
I sincerely doubt that they did or do now. BP, did you kill her?
I truly hope that this wondrous Loggerhead survived.