Archive for the ‘Turtles’ Category

First Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Emerges @ Tabor’s Schaefer Lab Beach

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Sue Wieber Nourse Rescues Exhausted Over-Wintered Hatchling 

While checking for threatened diamondback terrapin nesting at Tabor Academy’s Old Schaefer Lab beach this morning, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse discovered an over-wintered terrapin hatchling meandering in the sand.

Emerged Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Meanders

The Schaefer Lab beach is a documented terrapin nesting site, and hosts the most critical nursery salt marsh habitat for infants and juveniles in the Inner Sippican Harbor.  (See Rare Turtle Nests at Tabor’s Schaefer Lab and Two Rare Terrapin Nests Hatch @ Old Schaefer Oceanology Lab.)

Inaugural Recipient of Jaeger Chair in Marine Studies

Prior to founding Turtle Journal and becoming CEO of Cape Cod Consultants, Sue Wieber Nourse was honored as the inaugural recipient of the endowed Jaeger Chair in Marine Studies at Tabor Academy.  Sue and her advanced marine science students engaged in highly lauded and original scientific research, funded by a prestigious National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant, that confirmed the existence of threatened diamondback terrapins in Marion and documented previously unknown nesting sites for these rare turtles.  Once on the brink of extirpation, their continued survival stems from this successful conservation initiative.

Sue Rescues Exhausted and Dehydrated Hatchling

This little baby hatched early last fall and opted to remain buried upland rather than venturing into the great wild world.  Given the brutal winter Massachusetts suffered, the hatchling may have chosen wisely.  This morning, though, the terrapin baby exhausted itself trying to reach the marsh through concrete obstacles exposed on this sand starved beach.  She had collapsed dehydrated and weak when Sue rescued her.  The hatchling is recovering at Turtle Journal headquarters, receiving appropriate TLC before being returned to the wild.


Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Run Tracks and Completed Nest

With Sue checking Schaefer, East Marion and Wareham nesting beaches, Don Lewis patrolled other SouthCoast nesting sites.  At one Aucoot Cove site, Don found a half dozen diamondback terrapin nesting tracks from the nighttime high tide.  He discovered the clear sign of two completed nests within inches of each other.

Eleven Large, Pink, Freshly Laid Eggs

This first nest contained 11 very large, pink and freshly deposited eggs in a nest chamber four to eight inches under the sand.  Because of their highly vulnerable location, eggs from this site are harvested and relocated in a protected turtle garden.  When hatchlings emerge, they are released back at the site of their natal nest.

Another Freshly Complete Diamondback Terrapin Nest

Within inches of the first nest, Don spotted signs of the second completed nest.

Ten Big, Beautiful Pink Eggs Harvested from Second Nest

This second nest contained ten large, pink and freshly deposited eggs in a nest chamber about three to six inches below the surface.

Third Nest Laid on the Overnight High Tide

A third nest was discovered about ten feet from the first two.  It contained 11 very large and freshly laid eggs in a chamber three to eight inches deep.  In sum, the Turtle Journal team recovered 32 healthy eggs from this site for protecting in our safe turtle garden.

First Diamondback Terrapin Nester of 2015 on SouthCoast of Massachusetts

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

First Diamondback Terrapin Nester of 2015 on SouthCoast

This morning the Turtle Journal team discovered the first diamondback terrapin nester of the 2015 season on an isolated and protected Massachusetts SouthCoast beach.  With the first steamy morning of the year on the SouthCoast, Sue Wieber Nourse, Don Lewis and Rufus the Turtle Dog patrolled a sampling of SouthCoast nesting sites in anticipation of finding the year’s first nester.

Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Run Tracks

We were not disappointed at our first beach.  At least two female terrapins had come ashore on the morning high tide that coincided with daybreak.

Diamondback Terrapin False (Test) Nest

We followed one set of tracks as the turtle meandered along the beach, stopping every fifty feet or so to dip a false (test) nest.  We tracked this female as she crawled into the salt marsh without depositing her eggs.

Diamondback Terrapin Female Rests on Completed Nest

Following a second set of tracks, which also zigzagged up and down the beach, we encountered our first nester of 2015, as she rested atop her completed nest.

First Nesting Terrapin of 2015 on Her Completed Nest

As though posing for scientific documentation, she illustrated precisely what a pristine terrapin beach nest looks like.  A perfect way to indoctrinate a new set of terrapin researchers for the 2015 season.

Nearly Completed False (Test) Nest in Developed Community

After searching the remainder of the beach, we visited a second site in a developed residential community.  Here, too, a female terrapin had come ashore on the morning tide, dug a couple of false (test) nests, and then returned to the nearby creek without depositing her eggs.

The diamondback terrapin nesting season has officially begun on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.

Diamondback Terrapin with Fully Developed Eggs

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Sue Wieber Nourse Examines Female Terrapin #265 

This morning, 29 May, the Turtle Journal team captured a gravid female diamondback terrapin with fully developed eggs in the main Sippican Harbor mating aggregation.  Her condition portends an imminent beginning to the diamondback terrapin nesting season on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.

Sue Wieber Nourse Nets Female Terapin in Sippican Harbor

At low tide this morning we launched kayaks into the principal mating aggregations in Sippican Harbor, an estuary of Buzzards Bay.  The first turtle Sue Wieber Nourse netted proved a unique lass:  Terrapin #265.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #265 (a.k.a. Snakehead)

We have been following this lady for ten years, since her first capture on May 30th, 2005 when she was only ~ nine years old.  She’s a special terrapin because of her unmarked, bluish skin which gives the appearance of a snakehead; very un-terrapin like, but easy to distinguish from all others.

Gravid Female Diamondback Terrapin #265

The most important finding this morning was that Terrapin #265 was palpably gravid with fully developed eggs which had dropped about midway down the canal.  We estimate she’s still a few days shy of nesting, especially since #265 remains in the mating aggregation about 2.5 miles north of her nesting site.

When we first saw #265 in 2005, she weighed 1133 grams and measured 18.7 centimeters straight-line carapace length.  Today, a decade later, she weighs 1435 grams and measures 20.1 centimeters carapace length.  Last May 2014, she had a clouded left eye which seemed completely clear this morning.

Sue Wieber Nourse Releases Terrapin #265

Because of her “condition,” we released her immediately after examination, so that she could “get on with it.”  We hope to see her soon at her nesting site.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #115

In addition to Terrapin #265, Sue netted other terrapins whom we had not seen in adulthood.  Both of these turtles would have been the results of the intensive Buzzards Bay conservation effort for terrapin nests, eggs and hatchlings begun by the Turtle Journal team in 2003.

Female Terrapin #115 proved ~ 9 years old from the 2005 hatchling cohort.  She has now reached maturity and should be nesting in the next few weeks.  She did not show palpable signs of gravidity this morning.

Male Diamondback Terrapin #116

Male Terrapin #116 came from the 2006 hatchling cohort and, as is the case with male terrapins, has been mature for several years.

SouthCoast Painted Turtles Begin Nesting

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Female Painted Turtle 

With bright sunshine and rising temperatures, Tuesday afternoon, May 26th, proved extremely active for painted turtle nesting on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  The Turtle Journal team had found the first SouthCoast nesting turtle, a snapper, in the morning, and we had also observed several painted turtle tracks, but only false nests.

Camouflaged Nesting Female Painted Turtle on Bog Bank

With more favorable conditions, Rufus, the famous turtle dog, found several nesting painted turtles Tuesday afternoon.  No matter how camouflaged the turtles might be, like the one pictured above hiding under dense vegetation on a steep bog bank, Rufus sniffs them out.

Rufus Guards Female Painted Turtle

After the turtle is found, Rufus remains motionless until her colleagues respond.  Rufus has trained the humans very well.

Rufus Points Out Nesting Painted Turtle

As she patrolled the upland pathways surrounding the cranberry bog, Rufus found another nesting painted turtle.  As documented in the photograph above, she patiently stands a comfortable distance from the nesting turtle until she gains our attention.

Nesting Female Painted Turtle

Unlike diamondback terrapins that avoid grass for nesting, painted turtles prefer grassy spots to dig their nests.  Unlike terrapins and snappers, painted turtle nests tend to be fairly shallow, only a couple of inches below the surface.

Seven Rescued Painted Turtle Eggs

Rufus discovered an abandoned nest containing seven perfect painted turtle eggs where the mother had apparently been disturbed before covering the nest.  Thanks to her skills, these eggs (and the future hatchlings they promise) were saved from certain depredation.

With snappers this morning and painted turtles this afternoon, the nesting season is now in full swing on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.

First SouthCoast Turtle Nester of 2015 Season

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Young Female Nesting Snapping Turtle

Tuesday morning, May 26th, dawned with cloudy skies powered by a brisk westerly breeze.  For the last couple of days, the Turtle Journal team observed movement of snappers and painted turtles in the bog channels of the SouthCoast, preparatory to nesting.  We expected to see our first nesters with daybreak this morning and we were not disappointed.

The Turtle Journal team with Rufus the Turtle Dog and Sue Wieber Nourse in the lead discovered the first SouthCoast nester of the 2015 season.

First Nester of 2015 Season — Young Female Snapper

Rufus the Turtle Dog and Sue Wieber Nourse led the search that discovered the first SouthCoast nester of the 2015 season.  A young female snapper, perhaps ten years old, industriously excavated her nest at the crest of a cranberry bog bank.

Young Female Snapping Turtle Nester

She anchored her tail into the muddy soil to give her sound leverage and then scooped vigorously with her rear legs to shape a deep egg chamber to deposit her eggs where they will incubate for the next two to three months.

Rufus Practices Studied Indifference

Rufus, remembering previous close encounters with these living dinosaurs, practiced studied indifference after first alerting us to the nesting snapper.  Clearly, she saw the better part of valor in allowing the humans to approach the feisty snapper.

Young Female Snapper Charges Back to the Reservoir

Once done with her nest, the young snapper chugged like a Sherman tank across the narrow pathway and plunged into the reservoir with a might belly-flop.  KA-SPLASH as water erupted like an exploding volcano.