Archive for the ‘Wild Animals’ Category


Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Returns to SouthCoast Rookery

With paths still covered by 8 inches of icy snow, the Turtle Journal team (Don, Sue and Rufus) trudged through the woods to the local SouthCoast rookery this morning.  We have been checking the site periodically, as weather permitted, since mid-March with no activity to report.

Still Icy Pond in Front of Natural Rookery Nests

Brutal winter conditions had postponed the arrival of our rookery guests, just as they have postponed all other spring emergence on the South Coast.

Nearly All Natural Nests Destroyed by Winter Storms

Pictured about is one of the primary natural rookery nests that has been employed by ospreys and great blue herons over the last decade. This winter, though, the nest was completely destroyed by hurricane force blizzards in January and February.  There will be a lot of recovery work to do this spring.

Great Blue Heron  Sitting Surviving SouthCoast Nest

This morning, though, March 31st, we spotted a beautiful great blue heron occupying the sole surviving waterfront nest at the SouthCoast rookery.  Welcome home!  And let the season begin.

Osprey Pair Returns to Cromesett Neck Nest

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Osprey Pair Return to Cromesett Neck Nest 

This afternoon, 31 March, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse conducted a pre-season research check at Cromesett Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Wareham, MA.  She observed that the osprey pair (Pandion haliaetus)  had returned to their nest on the east side of the tidal creek, perching high above important diamondback terrapin nesting site.

Cromesett Neck Osprey Pair

Conditions at Cromesett Neck still look a bit wintry, although almost all of the snow has disappeared, leaving a thick layer of mud in its place.  With herons at the Marion rookery and ospreys in Wareham, Buzzards Bay is slowly snapping back to life.

Terrapin Crashes Tabor Academy Graduation

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Diamondback Terrapin Crashes Tabor Academy Graduation

A curious diamondback terrapin crashed the Tabor Academy graduation this morning. Although uninvited, she snagged the best seat in the harbor, a rock exposed by the receding tide.  Her rock came with a clear unobstructed view of the festive graduation tent, as well as the Marine Science Center that she helped to build.

 Female Diamondback Terrapin in Sippican Harbor

Turtles rock literally and figuratively, as illustrated by this mature female perched in the middle of Sippican Harbor.  If anything brought together the leadership of town (Marion) and gown (Tabor Academy), it was the unshakeable belief, stentorianly expressed in a voice akin to that of legendary Foghorn J. Leghorn, “There are NO, I say NO, turtles in Sippican Harbor” … any evidence to the contrary not withstanding. That evidence to the contrary was discovered by Jaeger Chair scholar Sue Wieber Nourse and her advanced marine science students at Tabor Academy beginning in the spring of 2003.

Boston Globe Coverage of Tabor Academy Terrapin Research

(Click Each Page to Enlarge)

As reported in the Boston Globe in December 2003, Sue Wieber Nourse’s breakthrough results led to a prestigious National Fish & Wildlife grant to export her hands-on research methodologies nationally.  Her work also formed an illustrative practicum for the National Science Foundation’s COSEE (Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence) initiative.  This signature marine science research program at Tabor Academy enlisted a consortium of SouthCoast and Cape Cod partners that included the NMFS Science Aquarium in Woods Hole, the National Marine Life Center, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Buttonwood Park Zoo and the Lloyd Center for the Environment.

Wieber Nourse’s Tabor Students Locate Endangered Turtle Nesting Site

(Click Article to Enlarge)

Under Sue Wieber Nourse’s guidance, advanced marine science students at Tabor Academy’s Schaefer Oceanology Lab scoured local barrier beaches and salt marsh systems to locate nesting sites and nursery habitat for elusive diamondback terrapins.  None had ever been discovered on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  Her students soon identified a major nesting site off Buzzards Bay, and documented its presence and importance with Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). Going through this formal research and documentation process ensures that vulnerable habitat is preserved, while at the same time, teaching students through personal hands-on actions what is required to effectively save endangered species and fragile habitat.

Tabor Students Involved in University-Level Research

(Click Article to Enlarge)

While Sue Wieber Nourse held the Jaeger Chair, Tabor Academy remained the only secondary school in the nation engaged in such high level field research, analogous to ongoing studies at Hofstra University, University of Georgia, Davidson College, University of Texas, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and several other colleges and universities on the Atlantic Coast. This celebrated marine science research breathed life into Tabor Academy’s slogan as the School by the Sea.

New Bedford Standard Times Front and Back Page Coverage

(Click on Each Page to Enlarge)

By the Fall Semester 2004, the terrapin research program began to reap conservation dividends.  Nests that students discovered in the Spring Semester were covered with predator excluders, and the turtle eggs had incubated in warm sand through the long, hot summer days.  In September, Sue Wieber Nourse’s new marine science students savored the unique experience of watching baby terrapins hatch, putting an exclamation point on the success of this powerful and innovative research program.  An exciting educational discovery transforms into a significant conservation event through the magic of hands-on learning.

Marine Science Center Opened in Fall 2005

Entering its third research season with a now well established national reputation, the diamondback terrapin research program transitioned from the old Schaefer Oceanology Lab to the newly opened marine science center, dubbed by Tabor Academy as the Center for Marine and Nautical Sciences. Spotlighting the critical importance of hands-on research as a highly effective tool in sparking a lifelong scientific curiosity within students, Sue Wieber Nourse keynoted the dedication of the center.  At the same ceremony, she received the Jaeger Chair for Marine Studies in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments on behalf of Tabor Academy and for her national leadership in science education.

The diamondback terrapin research program ended at Tabor Academy in June 2008 when Sue Wieber Nourse received a year-long sabbatical, during which she co-founded Turtle Journal and subsequently assumed executive leadership of Cape Cod Consultants where she continues her breakthrough work in marine science research, environmental assessments, wildlife rescues, sensitive habitat restoration, endangered species conservation, and hands-on educational experiences in both formal and informal settings.

Herons Reinforcing Nest for Babies

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Male Great Blue Heron Brings Twig to Mom and Babies 

With chicks the size of Baby Huey stumbling around a flimsy treetop aerie, great blue heron parents spent the weekend reinforcing the nest.  Each time dad returned to the nest with a new twig to add to the nest, mom greeted him lovingly, and the kids were simply amused by all the action.  The chicks hatched on May 14; for details, see We Have Great Blue Heron Babies!

Male Great Blue Heron Departs for More Twigs

As though by magic, once the twig was passed to mom, dad lifted his wings and rose into the air.

Male Great Blue Heron Scavenges Material from Deserted Nest

He glided silently to a nearby tree with an abandoned nest that he scavenged for building material.

Male Great Blue Hero Returns to Nest

On a breeze and a thermal, dad floated back to his nest with another twig.

Great Blue Heron Nest Getting a Bit Crowded

As mom and dad worked away, the kids settled down in the comfort of the swaying bough.

Momma Great Blue Heron and the Twins

The parents continued all weekend, twig after twig, until the nest became sturdy enough to support their growing family.

Terrapin “Cover Girl” Resurfaces after 15 Years

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Diamondback Terrapin 829 Cover Girl 

Every turtle has a story to tell and a lesson to share.  While researchers eschew bonding with wild animals, the truth is there’s always a special critter or two through the years that you remember fondly.  Female Terrapin #829 played such an important conservation role as the face of Cape Cod diamondback terrapins that she holds a special place in our hearts and minds.  In 2000, her glossy photograph graced the cover of Natural New England Issue #2 to represent this species in trouble on Old Cape Cod.  Her captivating beauty, which appeared in countless publications and multimedia presentations, helped inspire a community conservation effort that turned around the outlook for diamondback terrapins on the Outer Cape … and has helped preserve fragile coastal uplands and restore critical salt marsh systems.

[ASIDE:  Yes, we know.  That’s political science, not hard science.  But it’s Turtle Journal’s thesis that effective conservation is the nexus of sound science and smart political science.  Each on its own is necessary, but insufficient.  You must do both with equal skill and intensity.]

Diamondback Terrapin 829 in Blackfish Creek

We chose Terrapin 829 for this role because of this wonderful photograph taken on the stunning brilliant day of her first capture on September 26th, 1999.  The backdrop is Blackfish Creek, Wellfleet Bay and Great Island in the far background.  On this perfect fall day, as most Outer Cape terrapins were preparing to enter brumation, healthy Terrapin 829 weighed 1394 grams, her carapace measured 19.6 centimeters and her plastron spanned 17.6 centimeters.  Based on our Outer Cape growth model, we estimate her age in 1999 as around 30 years.

Proof of Concept:  Capturing Terrapins from a Kayak (1999)

We captured Terrapin 829 from a kayak with a 10-foot dip net at 7:15 in the morning in her native Blackfish Creek.  She was one of the first terrapins netted in this proof-of-concept approach that subsequently became the principal methodology for water captures on the Outer Cape and SouthCoast.  Terrapin 829 was also the next to the last active terrapin we observed in 1999; all others had already burrowed under the ooze for a long winter’s snooze.

Terrapin 829 in 2002 with Traumatic Shell Damage

On June 3rd, 2002, we sampled terrapins in Wellfleet Bay’s prime mating aggregation: Chipman’s Cove.  We netted ten female terrapins; nine were first time captures.  Terrapin 829 proved the only recaptured turtle. Since we first saw her in September 1999, she had suffered traumatic shell damage to her front left quadrant, probably caused by an encounter with a boat.  See Life After Celebrity originally published in Terrapin Diary and now posted on Turtle Journal.

Terrapin 829 15 Years Later (May 2014)

On Friday, May 16th, the Turtle Journal team visited the Chipman’s Cove mating aggregation for the first time in the 2014 season.  We waded into the flooding cove and hand-netted six diamondback terrapins:  two recaptures and four first timers.  The very first turtle we netted was the quite distinctive Terrapin 829, easily recognizable by the injury to her left front marginal scutes.

Terrapin 829 Still a Cover Girl Beauty at 45!

In 15 years Terrapin 829 has grown 25 millimeters in carapace and plastron lengths, while maintaining the same weight.  She’s still quite a beauty, especially when she shows her right profile and hides the cracked marginals.  We suspect her recent glossy image will still grace many a publication and more than a few multimedia presentations.

Still Hot — Female Terrapin 829 Pursued by Handsome Male

How hot is she?  When we observed Terrapin 829 paddling through the shallows of the Chipman’s Cove mating aggregation on Friday, she was hotly pursued by a handsome male terrapin.  Note the gender dimorphism of diamondback terrapins illustrated by this pairing. Female Terrapin 829 weighs 3 pounds and is 7.8 inches long; the large mature male, #6103, weighs 2/3 pound and is 4.9 inches long.