Break in Fall Westerly Storms as Sea Turtle Season Nears
Archive for October, 2000
Don Lewis Paddles Fox Island Wildlife Management Area
With water temperatures in Wellfleet’s creeks hovering around 50 Fahrenheit, time has come to sweep marsh channels for potentially lethal debris. Last fall more than a 100 diamondback terrapins died in these salt marshes and this year we’re not going to allow history to repeat. See Death in the Marsh, documenting the dramatic die-off of terrapins in the Wellfleet population.
Marsh Channels between Indian Neck and Paine Hollow
A few days of bright sunshine have raised the water temperature to 12 C (53.6 F). The 10 knot northerly breeze has cleared visibility in the creeks, mucked up by several days of a westerly blow. The channels around Indian Neck and Fox Island, which last year were blocked by “ghost” netting and other debris, seem remarkably clear and open.
Debris Pile off Indian Neck Brumation and Nursery Habitat
A single pile of debris remains off Wise Hill. Iron framing, netting and oyster boxes have been mangled together by the tides and while they don’t block any channels now, they still pose a potential hazard when underwater at high tide and especially should they be swept from the marsh by a storm surge. We’ll pull this material ASAP.
Flooded Marsh off Indian Neck
But the good news is that Wellfleet’s salt marsh habitat seems clear and healthy this fall. Channel patrols will continue by kayak until ice forms and by foot throughout the winter.
Last “Cohort 2000″ Hatchlings Released
Parents experience it, or so I’ve been told. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that terrapin researchers share the same emotional letdown, or at least this turtleman does. At noon today I released the final three hatchlings from the lab, and chances are high they’ll be the last terrapins seen in the Land of Ooze until late April. The next cycle of new moon tides, beginning around the 25th of October, will offer an outside opportunity to observe a turtle or two which may be seduced out of its warm, mucky bed by mild temperatures.
Predators Attack Already Hatched Nest
I jeeped the hatchlings across the causeway to Lieutenant Island and carried them to the nursery marshes off Turtle Point. As the mutts and I walked along the wrack line, we noticed the nesting slopes had been hit by predators yesterday. The hillside was pocked with digs. Luckily for our beloved terrapins, these critters attacked nests that had hatched or been excavated the last couple of weeks, so no babies were lost. I guess turtle scent must linger in the ground even after the hatchlings and their egg fragments have been removed.
Released at mid-tide near the wrack line, the hatchlings quickly scrambled under salt marsh grasses . . .
. . . and disappeared in a New York minute.
Local Wellfleet Artist at Black Duck Creek
Picture perfect, Wellfleet’s marshes settle into the understated beauty of a long, quiet hibernation.
Blackfish Creek at Low Tide
Beware the Ides of October? Nonsense. The Land of Ooze embraces fall, tourist free, striper rich, and color full. Requiting October reciprocated with a perfect autumnal bouquet this weekend.
Daybreak Water Temperature Drops to 12.5 Celsius
While air temperatures ranged from 55 at sunrise to near 70 at sunset, water over the tidal flats held steadfastly to its chilly 12.5 Celsius.
Eleven-Year-Old Female Terrapin 959
After two days of mildness, several terrapins surfaced in this morning’s low tide parade. One, Turtle 959, came late in the tide and was an easy hand-capture as she barreled through the rip. A healthy 11-year-old female of 18.2 centimeters carapace length and a chunky 1140 grams, she seems well prepared for winter brumation.
Nest 177 Hatchlings Released
As temperatures climbed, I thought the moment ripe to release the maturing hatchlings from Nest 177 discovered on 12 October. They were bathed and warmed and maggot free, ready to join their siblings and cousins in the rich nursery habitat of the south Lieutenant Island marshes. After release at the wrack line, they scurried ’neath patens cover and quickly disappeared from sight.
Hatchlings Disappear Beneath Wrack
The mutts and I patrolled the shoreline in forlorn hope of finding a last nest of the season.
[Let me digress for a moment. If any colleague or correspondent thought they heard me, sometime in the past, say something along the lines of, “While we don't have a lot of data from which to extrapolate, limited evidence seems to indicate more Wellfleet hatchlings over-winter in nests than emerge directly upon hatching in the fall.” . . . if you mistakenly thought you heard such a statement, I can assure you that I couldn’t possibly have said it and urge you to consider a good eye, ear, and nose specialist. Extensive field research this fall points to an overwhelming majority of hatchlings emerging rather than over-wintering in nests. But before you mis-hear me again, I think I’ll wait until spring passes to actually say what you thought you just read.]
New Nest Emerges at Turtle Point
Nest 178 opened two-thirds up the west sandy slope of Turtle Point. We had scoured this area yesterday and did not observe the opening. Hand-excavation revealed 11 fresh egg shells from which hatchlings had emerged and escaped into the marsh. As I gently lifted each fragment from the chamber, I detected that very familiar rustling in the sand. At the absolute bottom of the nest, Hatchling 89 emerged rear first from her shell.
Conditions were mild, 55 degrees and dead flat calm, as echoes of last night’s full moon haloed Wellfleet Bay. Wading cross channel in shadowed darkness prompts eerie thoughts of what lies beneath, as you probe for sink pockets with your net pole and pray that slapping sound somewhere to your right is really a striper and not something a tad more ominous. The welcomed rise of the rip, midway between Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck, signals a chance to breathe once more.
Turtling under a Full Moon
Water visibility was Cayman perfect. With just a dash of headlamp, you could see anything passing through the pre-dawn outflow: a lonely horseshoe crab half buried in the flats, a too friendly flounder flopping over the rip, fist-sized calico crabs patrolling the channel for a late season snack, and one very sluggish terrapin.
Turtle 958 floated down stream with the current, head tucked well inside ample layers of fat, coasting and tumbling more than paddling as he bounced through the channel. A seven-year-old male of 11.42 centimeters carapace length, he had plumped up to 280 grams for impending brumation. I suspect he didn’t burrow down well enough for the night and the full moon tidal current uncovered his hiding place, dislodging a surprised and not too happy camper.
Protesting the unfairness of life, #958 refused to budge on release. He held his ground and waited for the water to come to him. I guess you don’t get turtle fat by wasting energy chasing an incoming tide. He heard this tale about the mountain and Muhammed, and drew his line in the sand. This far and no further.
Male Diamondback Terrapin 958
And so our chilly friend waited and waited and waited and waited as the tide lapped over his shell. From his expression you could just barely read his mind, “Look at those stupid humans standing around watching a turtle watching the tide advance inch by inch. You’d think a supposedly intelligent creature would have something more productive to do. And they call us dumb animals, indeed… Well, this looks like a good spot for winter. Night, all.”