Archive for September, 2008

Skill + Luck + Patience Yield Best Dune Emergence Sequence

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Skill brings you to the precise location where an extraordinary event MAY occur.  But luck ensures that you reach that spot at the once-in-a-lifetime moment when an extraordinary event DOES occur.  Finally, patience permits you to dwell at the right spot at the right time for that exact instant when everything comes together and a miracle happens.  Watch how these factors brought us to the perfect dune emergence sequence on Saturday.

Hatchling Slaloms Down High Dune

Experience keyed us to a certain set of dunes that lay within a dense diamondback terrapin nesting site.  Skill enabled us to recognize a series of fresh hatchling tracks that crisscrossed the dune face like trolley lines (see above).  But then luck kicked in.  It showed us a stream of tracks that appeared to converge on a single concavitiy in the dune slope (see below). 

Tracks Converge at Possible Emerging Terrapin Nest

Patience gave us to time to wait and to watch the concavity without barging into the scene and disturbing the ongoing miracle of birth.  Seconds ticked by, then minutes, and finally a head poked through the shifting sand … and another one.  Hatchlings popped like slow-motion popcorn under the heat of the midday sun.

Hatchlings Emerge and Scramble to Safety

Spying so many tracks when we arrived, we had hoped that perhaps one hatchling might be left to emerge.  As luck would have it, ten babies remained in the nest and they popped out in ones and twos over the next hour.  As a whole, the event proved our very best documented dune emergence sequence as a beautiful miracle unfolded before our eager camera lens.

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Best Terrapin Hatchling Emergence Sequence

Behind the Scenes: Best Dune Emergence Sequence

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Stepping behind the scenes, we see how skill and luck and patience were aided by technology to produce the best documented dune emergence sequence.  The Pentax Optio W30 enabled us to get within inches of the action as tiny hatchling poked through the sand and then scrambled down slope like Olympian skiers.

Pentax Option W30 Documents Hatchling Emergence

Their very first view of the world after more than two months buried under the sand is hampered by the blindingly bright high noon sun.  They pause to get bearings which appears for all the world as though they are mugging for the camera.

Hatchling Mugs for the Camera

The clip below documents how we capture these events for the Turtle Journal.

Getting Close to the Action

And finally these ten beautiful little miracles are released into the relative safety of the nursery marsh.

Ten Hatchlings Head into Marsh under the Camera’s Gaze

Monarchs of the SouthCoast

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Monarch Butterflies Feast on Golden Rod for Long Journey

September on the SouthCoast opens a window into the endless, cyclical, multigenerational migration of monarch butterflies from the Great White North to Mexico and back again.  We’re told that it takes two generations each way or four generations for the complete migration cycle.  How fortunate we are to witness one end of this epic flight as monarchs feast on milkweed and golden rod in the coastal fields along Cape Cod and Buzzards Bay.  Today, as we walked the trail at Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Dartmouth, we came across several monarchs sipping golden nectar to garner strength for the long journey ahead.

Monarch Butterfly at Allen’s Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

This same time last season at Demarest Lloyd State Park also in Dartmouth, we happened upon a large flock of monarchs preparing to kick off their migration southward.

Monarchs Preparing for Migration at Demarest Lloyd State Park (2007)

Attack of the Praying Mantis

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Strolling down the beach road off Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, we caught sight of a praying mantis crossing in front of us.  Its sand colored topside with greenish head and wings blended perfectly with the beach sand roadway and we would have missed the critter entirely if it hadn’t been startled by our presence and darted for the dense abutting vegetation.  From the deserted, post-summer look of things along this stretch of Dartmouth beach, the praying mantis prettry much had the road to itself and expected no two-legged or four-wheeled creatures to intrude on its constant hunt for tasty treats among the lush salt marsh vegetation.

Praying Mantis at Allen’s Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

Despite its surprise, the praying mantis tolerated our intrusion … for the moment … as Sue scooped it from the road for a closer inspection.  It settled in her hand, assessed us as no threat, posed a bit for the camera and walked around her palm to assess these goofy humans who had stopped to make its acquaintance.

Meet the Praying Mantis

As the camera came in for a closeup, its patience with our interruption ended … or the praying mantis saw this shiny silver object as a potential tasty meal.  Whatever sparked its interest, the mantis went into full attack mode, first boxing with the camera as though a sparring partner, and then pouncing for the pin like a WWF wrestler.

Praying Mantis Attacks Camera

Once placed back on the ground, the praying mantis went about its business as though we had never existed, finding a perfectly camouflaged stalking spot on the stem of a golden rod, holding itself in seeming suspended animation as the stiff September breeze tossed the leaves to and fro, and waited … for some unsuspecting prey to stumble by or perhaps another pair of foolish humans to amuse and then abuse.

As Arrival of Fall Speeds Up, Turtles Slow Down in the Great White North

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Raw, blustery September has gripped terrapin nesting sites on the Outer Cape.  As temperatures plunge, hatchlings hunker down in their underground hide-aways, snoozing in the warm darkness, hoping and waiting for a sunny respite to heat up the sand and their bodies for the sprint from nest to safety in the abutting nursery habitat.

Temperatures Begin to Plunge Below 55F Activity Threshold

Yet, while they wait with quiet patience, predators act.  Mammals and insects sniff the odor of organic material issuing from the pipped eggshells.  These predators take advantage of the hatchlings’ stupor to snatch an easy meal.

Lethargic Hatchling and Potentially Viable Egg

Nest 996 fell victim to secretive plant and insect predators.  As we excavated the nest in the morning chill, we encountered egg after egg that had been attacked by roots, stilting embryo development and piercing the shell.  Once the egg is cracked, insects stream in and consume the organic material.  Near the bottom of the nest, we found a seemingly lifeless hatchling wrapped in an eggshell that we would have instantly discarded as non-viable.  Peeling the shell away, we found a healthy, if motionless hatchling.  And at the bottom of the nest, we removed one potentially viable egg that has been carefully transplanted to the “second chance” bucket where eggs go to finish incubation and hopefully achieve their full potential.

Excavating Six Sluggish Hatchlings

A few feet away we discovered a concavity in the sand that indicated that a pipped nest might lie beneath.  About four inches under the surface we found a half dozen hatchlings, some pipped but still inside eggshells, but others just snoozing the chill away.  Check out these sluggish babies once they are excavated as they lie about like cordwood, waiting for sunshine to warm their bodies before dashing to freedom.

September weather in the Great White North can be cruel for tiny hatchlings.  But a saving hand can make a world of difference for this threatened species by dramatically increasing the number of live hatchlings that enter the ecosystem each year.