Spring Azure Butterfly at Grassi Bog

April 21st, 2014

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon) at Mass. SouthCoast Bog

Mid-afternoon today, April 21st, as we completed our survey of Grassi Bog on Massachusetts SouthCoast, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse spotted a small, bluish butterfly flittering near the wetlands edge.  Yes, we are turtle researchers, herpetologists or perhaps even turtlologists.  But when you spend your life in the field, you make all sorts of discoveries that are not limited by arbitrary boundaries and definitions.  The bounds of Turtle Journal’s interest encompass the entire scope of Nature.  So, yes; we were quite taken by this beautiful and delicate little creature.  (Click on images for enlargement.)

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon)

We snapped pictures of the butterfly as it alit on Don Lewis’ finger with our Pentax Optio W60 underwater camera with a special 1 cm macro lens.  With all the expensive cameras that Turtle Journal lugs around to capture the world of Nature, nothing has served us better for detailed closeup field photography.

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon)

Checking reference books on our return to Turtle Journal headquarters, we identified the critter as a Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina laden). According to Butterflies and Moths of North America, the upper side of males are blue.  Males are most active from mid-afternoon until dusk, the period when we found this specimen.

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon)

The habitat for the Spring Azure Butterfly is described as “openings and edges of deciduous woods, old fields, wooded freshwater marshes and swamps;” a perfect description of the long abandoned and flooded Grassi Bog.  Now that we have met this delicate butterfly, the Turtle Journal team will keep a sharp eye out for more specimens.

Spotted Easter 2014

April 21st, 2014

Sue Wieber Nourse Examines Four Spotted Turtles on Easter

Temperatures dipped below freezing on Easter morning on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  Cold brought quiet to spring activity in local wetlands with a single, lazing garter snake and a pair of spotted turtles our only observations in protected Goldwitz Bog.

Garter Snake at SouthCoast Bog

The young garter snake had sprawled out on the sunny pathway at the abandoned Goldwitz bog and seemed unamused when Turtle Journal’s Don Lewis pulled out his smart phone to snap a few closeups.

Female (Left) and Male (Right) Spotted Turtles

Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse found female Spotted Turtle #53 (on the left) relaxing with male Spotted Turtle #118 (on the right).  Pictured above, they represent perfect gender types:  she with her colorful neck and thin tail; he with his drab neck and thick tail.  Male #118 also exhibits concavity across his plastron’s abdominal scutes, while Female #53 shows off her flat, washboard abs.  They, too, were found in a degraded mating aggregation at Goldwitz bog.

Male Spotted Turtle #120

About a mile away the Turtle Journal team explored the Grassi Bog around noon on Easter as temperatures climbed into the mid-50s.  At this wetlands we discovered spotted turtles in full mating glory.  Seen above is male Spotted Turtle #120.  He hit the scales at 188 grams (6.6 ounces) and his carapace (top shell) measured 11.43 centimeters (4.5 inches).  For our spotted turtles, he’s a very big boy!

Female Spotted Turtle #121

We also netted female Spotted Turtle #121, an 11-year-old that weighed 185 grams (6.5 ounces).  Her shell length measured 10.56 centimeters (4.2 inches).

Female Spotted Turtle #122

Female Spotted Turtle #122 is only nine years old.  She weighed 115 grams (4.1 ounces) and measured 9.61 centimeters (3.8 inches).

Young Five-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle #123

The real sweetheart of the bunch is young Spotted Turtle #123, a five year old female.  She only registered 64 grams (2.3 ounces).  Her carapace (top shell) measured a mere 7.18 centimeters (2.8 inches).

Sue Wieber Nourse Release Spotted Turtles

After we examined the turtles and took scientific measurements, Sue Wieber Nourse released the spotted turtles back into Grassi Bog.

Two-Year-Old Painted Turtle

The Turtle Journal team also found a juvenile (2-year-old) painted turtle basking in some brambles at Grassi Bog.  No Easter bouquet could be complete without a baby painted turtle to add a dash of color to the day.

Eastern American Toad at SouthCoast Bog

April 17th, 2014

American Toad (Bufo [Anaxyrus] americanus)

With the recent cold snap, aquatic and marine turtles have returned to slumber (brumation).  Wetland frogs that had been in riotous clamor have become quiet.  So, we were surprised yesterday when we discovered this American toad in a local bog.  Rufus (the Turtle Dog) found the toad.  She sniffed out the critter hiding in a clump of grass, and pointed her nose at the toad until she caught our attention.  Rufus is quite the research assistant.

American Toad at SouthCoast Grassi Bog

The American toad (Bofu [Anaxyrus] americanus) is one of the more frequently seen amphibians whose habitat ranges throughout the eastern United States and Canada.  They are sometimes called a “hop toad” and can reach a length of more than 4 inches.  Adults are generally plump.


American Toad Call

The American toad has a beautiful trilling call as illustrated in the YouTube video above.

American Toad Dorsal View

As described on the U.R.I. web site, the American toad has a large, wide head, short limbs and rough, warty skin.  A light, narrow mid-dorsal stripe may be present, as illustrated in this photograph.

American Toad Ventral View

The ventral side is cream colored with small dark spots.  Males have dark throats and females are significantly larger than males.  Both factors indicate that this specimen is a female American toad.

Sleet, Snow and Snapper!

April 16th, 2014

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Temperatures on the SouthCoast dropped more than 30 degrees, and morning broke with fierce north winds pelting the ground with sleet and snow.  Not particularly favorable conditions for finding cold-blooded reptiles.  Fortunately, though, massive snappers retain enough heat to weather these cold snaps while maintaining minimal activity levels.  Most aquatic turtles burrow back into the ooze, cover themselves with an extra layer of mud and resume a restful slumber until the situation improves.

Snapping Turtle Netted on Chilly SouthCoast Morning

With those conditions in mind, the Turtle Journal team drove to a local wetlands this morning where we hoped to find a snapper on the move.  As luck would have it, we spotted a young 12-to-15 pounder cruising the shallows just under the surface.  We deftly snaked a net through a tangle of brambles and snared the unsuspecting snapper.  As you can intuit from the photograph above, this snapper was simply “delighted” to meet the Turtle Journal researchers this morning and he offered a mouthful of commentary.

Snapper Chomps Down on Net Rim

As we attempted to release him from the net, the snapper expressed his displeasure by chomping down his jaws with vise grip force and refused to let go.  If you have any doubt about the power of a snapper’s jaws, disabuse such thoughts.

Snapping Turtle Plastron (Bottom Shell)

Snapping turtles are ferocious critters.  They have long necks and use them liberally to snap at anything and anybody who poses a threat.  If you examine a snapper’s bottom, you will note that the plastron (bottom shell) is quite inadequate to protect all of the turtle’s tender spots.  So, it is unsurprising that snappers employ a fierce and aggressive attitude to ensure their survival.  And they are very, very practiced at showy aggression.  In reality, though, they would prefer to avoid an actual confrontation unless cornered.  Should you approach one while snorkeling, the snapper will usually swim away and disappear into the murk.  But I would caution you against pressing a snapper to action.  You may find the outcome very unpleasant.


Nothing Sweeter Than a Snapper’s Smile

Once we freed the snapper from the net, he immediately lunged towards us and flashed a broad, throaty grin.  As any herpetologist knows, a snapper’s smile will melt your heart or rip off your face.  It’s all the same to the snapper who personifies tough love.

Snapping Turtle Carapace (Top Shell)

Having registered his objections to our scientific examination, the snapper determinedly trod back towards the safety of its wetlands.

Snapping Turtle’s Impressive Nails

A log blocked his pathway.  The snapper used his large, powerful claws to grip the obstacle and propel himself over the log and back into the pond.

Snapping Turtle’s Impressive “Prehistoric” Tail

As the snapper thrust himself into the murky wetlands, he displayed his rather impressive “dinosaur” tail.  If we had any doubt that turtles have been on Earth for a long, long time … approaching 300,000,000 years, snappers reteach that valuable lesson with each encounter.

Amazing First Terrapin Capture in Windy Sippican Harbor

April 15th, 2014

8-Year-Old Female Diamondback Terrapin #35

Capturing the first diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) of the season in the Great White North demanded daring, skill and an abundance of luck.  Yet, in the field of research, fortune favors the prepared mind.  Kayaking in 45 mph gusts is foolhardy.  Kayaking in 45 mph gusts with a 10 foot net to catch the wind is crazy scary.  Hoping to see, let alone net, an elusive terrapin in the churned murky chocolate waters of Sippican Harbor defines lunacy.  But fortune smiled on the Turtle Journal team Monday, April 14th, and Terrapin #35 — a young 8-year-old female — became the first capture of the 2014 research season.

30 MPH Southwest Winds with 45 MPH Gusts

We had seen a male and female pair of terrapins cavorting in the Sippican Harbor mating aggregation at noon on Saturday.  On Sunday, Turtle Journal returned with kayaks in a 20-knot southerly breeze to try for the first capture of the year, but conditions proved impossible for turtles and turtlers.  With winds increasing to 30 mph on Monday with 45 mph gusts out of the southwest, we knew that conditions had only gotten worse.  Still, the forecast for Tuesday called for rain, followed by temperatures dipping into the 40s for Wednesday and Thursday.  Despite the odds, things would not improve any time soon.  We packed up the kayaks and off we went to Marion’s town landing.

Sue Wieber Nourse Paddles Sippican Harbor

Conditions were actually worse than we imagined.  Kayaks were tossed by the gusts, and when wind hit the nets at the “right” angle, they became airfoils that lifted our boats like kites.  To call the experience exciting understates the adrenaline rush.  The fresh southwest breeze blowing up the harbor churned the estuary into the color of Navy mess coffee with a couple of hits of espresso for good measure.  Maneuverability: nil.  Visibility: zero.  Control:  none.

Don Lewis Kayaks Head of Harbor Shallows

We know these waters very well.  They comprise the major brumation site and mating aggregation within Sippican Harbor.  The bottom of Head of Harbor is composed of a thick, oozy layer of quick mud.  One gust blew so hard it drove Don Lewis and his kayak into the shallows and grounded the boat in the ooze.  To extricate himself, Don dug his oar into the black slimy mud and painstakingly edged the kayak to open water.  As he placed his left side of the paddle in the ooze, he heard a clink.  Don thought, “There’s no rock here.”  He gently tapped the bottom and discovered that the “rock” had moved about a foot.  Don substituted net for oar and scraped.  He raised the net with about 30 pounds of congealed muck.  Using the net as a sieve, Don carefully sifted the mud like a 49er gold miner, and sure enough, he hit pay dirt:  a very surprised Terrapin #35.

Don Lewis Examines Female Diamondback Terrapin #35

Suppressing shock and surprised, we paddled the mile back to the landing and examined our treasure.  Diamondback Terrapin #35 is a young, mature 8-year-old female.  She was first captured by the Turtle Journal Sue Wieber Nourse on April 29th, 2013.

8-Year-Old Female Diamondback Terrapin #35

She weighed 2 1/3 pounds and her shell measured 7.2 inches long.  In the last year she had grown a 1/3 of an inch in length, and Terrapin #35 looked extremely healthy after a long winter’s slumber.

Sue Wieber Nourse Release Diamondback Terrapin #35

After collecting scientific data and examining her carefully, we immediately released her back into Sippican Harbor to join her invisible cohorts within the Head of Harbor mating aggregation.  Terrapin #35 is a young mature female and we hope this year to discover her nesting location.  As with most diamondback terrapin populations, the paucity of safe upland nesting locations along the developed Sippican coastline forms the greatest threat to their survival.