Frigid Conditions in Blackfish Creek
Winter returned to the Land of Ooze. No snow nor sleet nor freezing rain — just plain cold. The thermometer registered 41 degrees as I climbed the barrier dune to reach Blackfish Creek and face a stiff 15-knot wind blowing off the North Atlantic out of the northeast. I’ll let you do the wind chill calculations.
Not only was the air cold, but two days of blustery conditions plunged creek water temperature back to 48 degrees — well below our terrapins 55°F wake-up call. So, the sleeping beauties remain sleeping, but the poor critters that have already popped out of brumation are enduring some challenging moments.
Nothing seems to stop the horseshoe crabs, though. Pairs locked in mating bliss flowed through the channel and cozied up to emerging sandbars to lay eggs.
Female Terrapin #774 Spins Upside Down through the Rip
I didn’t expect and hoped not to find many turtles out and about this morning. So, I was not surprised that no heads popped up for most of the tidal flow. But nearing ebb, I saw one female struggling through the rip. So cold and sluggish was she, that as she tried to propel herself through the rapids, she flipped completely upside down. Her orange plastron spun like a lighthouse beam to guide me through murk and turbulence to net her.
Terrapin 774 proved a very interesting recapture. We saw her last on the evening of 4 June 2000, as she negotiated this same channel. At the time, she was a pre-pubescent turtle of only 14.5 centimeters and 522 grams — both well below the 15.75-cm and 650-gram threshold for a nesting female. Since then, this 8-year-old terrapin has spurted nearly 10% in linear dimensions and 20% in mass, so that 2001 may mark her first year of maturity. Similar spurts were noted in three females last year as they, too, straddled the puberty line.
Examining her hind quarters, #774 showed signs of having freshly emerged from brumation with muddy residue apparent along her tail.
Six-Year-Old Male Terrapin Plops over the Rip
Only a moment or two later, a 6-year-old-male plopped over the rip. His dark carapace matched the color of the day and the water. The play of reflection and illusion under murky overcast yields a surreal portrait of these animals as they slip through the rippling current.
Two Cold Terrapins Head Back into Blackfish Creek
Both turtles were cold to the touch and seemed sluggishly disoriented. So, it was with some concern that I released them and watched as they carved their separate paths back to the wild of Blackfish Creek. With luck we’ll see #774 again this summer as she crawls ashore in June and again in July to deposit her first nests of soon-to-be strapping hatchlings to join our Wellfleet Bay population of diamondback terrapins.