Archive for March, 2010

“They’re Back!!” — Piping Plover Pair Sighted on Buzzards Bay Shore

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

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Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) in Westport, MA

Whether for good or for evil, whether to cheers or to jeers, piping plovers have returned to our Southeast Massachusetts shores.  We spotted a pair of piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) in adult breeding plumage in Westport this Sunday afternoon.

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Piping Plover Foraging in Ebbing Channel near Allens Pond

The pair foraged the flats and channels between Allens Pond and Buzzards Bay as the tide receded. 

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Piping Plover Scurries Across Buzzards Bay Beach 

This isolated stretch of beach is not easily accessible and should provide a quiet area for breeding.  We did, however, detect numerous predator tracks scouring the beach between water and wrack line in focused search for prey.  Predator digs dotted the sandy upland wedged between bay and salt water pond.

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Area Closure Sign Found in Storm Wrack

Right behind the beach where the plover pair foraged, we found a half dozen “AREA CLOSED” signs that had washed up into the storm wrack line.  Presumably these plovers had returned to the precise closure area where they had previously nested, or stranger still, perhaps they can read!

Discovering Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab on First Day of Spring

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

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Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab in Palm of Don’s Hand

A glorious first day on Spring 2010 visited Outer Cape Cod with bright sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s.  We began taking water temperature today as we await the emergence of diamondback terrapins once it reaches a sustainable 12.5 Celsius.  Today’s water temperature in Blackfish Creek in South Wellfleet at 2:30 pm hit 11.0 Celsius … after the tidal flats were baked by a morning low tide.  While we found a number of species showing for the first time today, we were disappointed in not observing any horseshoe crabs in the shallows.  We saw what could have been some horseshoe crab crawls in the submerged sand, but nothing definitive.

Discovering Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab in Marsh Channel

Nothing, that is, until we examined a protected salt marsh creek in the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area off Indian Neck.  We spied a tiny juvenile horseshoe crab crawling along the oozy bottom and Don attempted a capture with his sampling net.

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Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Mugs for Camera

Horseshoe crabs seem like prehistoric critters, but this little one managed to evoke a certain “cuteness” factor.  Here the juvie poses for the camera at the edge of Don’s fingers.

Examining Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab

The Turtle Journal team spent several minutes examining this little creature in great detail.  We don’t often get to see juvenile horseshoe crabs in the wild, especially so early in the spring season.  The FIRST day of spring, in fact!

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Bottom of Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab

Quite comical with appendages moving in every which direction, this cutie let us know that it was time to return to the safety of the wild.

Releasing Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Back into Marsh

Sue released the tiny horseshoe crab back into the same spot in the marsh channel where we collected the juvenile a few minutes earlier.

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Tiny Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Burrows in Marsh Ooze

The tiny horseshoe crab headed directly to the bottom of the channel and slowly dug itself into the ooze.

The Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Leviathans Returns to Buzzards Bay

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Each spring witnesses the return of leviathan leatherback sea turtles to Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.  These massive sea turtles, an anachronistic relic of prehistoric times and the most massive living repile on Planet Earth, are a globally listed endangered species.  Adults can reach more than 8 feet in length and 2000 pounds in weight.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The leatherback is the largest, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles.”

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Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

Leatherbacks achieve this massive size by feasting on a diet almost exclusively composed of jellyfish.  In Buzzards Bay, the attractive prey that entices leatherbacks to return each year is lion’s mane jellyfish.  So, each spring time the Turtle Journal team watches the shores of Buzzards Bay for the first appearance of a lion’s mane bloom, which presages the arrival of our favorite leviathans.

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 Lion’s Mane Jellyfish in Sippican Harbor

Today marked the first lion’s mane jellyfish that we have documented in Buzzards Bay this (pre-)spring.  We also recorded our first ctenophora (also called comb jellies) in Sippican Harbor yesterday.

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Lion’s Mane Jellfish

So, if jellyfish are the breakfast, lunch and dinner of leviathans, how are leatherback sea turtles configured to exploit this exclusive diet to gain such massive sizes?  Since jellyfish congregate in patches amidst vast empty distances of the oceans, how can leatherbacks take advantage of a good spot when it comes along in their pelagic journeys?

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Mouth of a 700-Pound Leatherback Sea Turtle

The enormous mouth and the esophagus are lined with long, downward pointing spikes.  For a jellyfish, and anything else that enters, the leatherback GI system is a one way journey: downward.  When a leatherback runs into a patch of jellyfish it gorges itself, filling its mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines with a bulging mass of food.  Another interesting anatomical feature of the leatherback is its enormous liver which processes the generous supply of toxins that it consumes from its jellyfish prey.

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Lion’s Mane Jellyfish in Sippican Harbor

For the Turtle Journal team, the first sighting of lion’s mane jellyfish each year means that marine turtle season is fast approaching.  Welcome home, leatherbacks!  We’ve missed you all winter long.

Spotted Turtle and Wood Frog Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

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Female Spotted Turtle

Warm sunshine and Saint Patrick’s Day brought out the best in nature.  Turtle Journal visited the pond at Brainard Marsh on the South Coast of Massachusetts to see what might be stirring.  Sue Wieber Nourse found a mature female spotted turtle and a tiny spotted yearling basking on the moss covered banks of shallow Brainard Pond, and a fire red wood frog catching the late morning rays on the surface of the pond.

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Mature Female Spotted Turtle with Head Withdrawn

The mature female, caught unaware in the act of basking, withdrew her head inside her dark shell adorned with yellow spots.  The yearling spotted turtle was so camouflaged that it lay hidden in “plain sight.”   Once Sue recognized that the tiny leaf was actually a spotted yearling, she crept stealthily toward it.  When just within grasp of the tiny critter, it hopped like a spring-loaded frog from the bank into the pond in a single leap.

Mature Female Spotted Turtle in Brainard Marsh 

The short video clip documents the discovery and the release of the mature female spotted turtle at Brainard Marsh in Marion, Massachusetts on Saint Patrick’s Day. 

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Mature Female Spotted Turtle Carapace and Plastron 

 Spotted turtles are a real beauty!

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Wood Frog from Brainard Marsh Pond

Basking on the surface of Brainard Pond, a fire red wood frog caught Sue’s attention.  If you’ve never tried to capture a slippery frog in its own milieu, then you haven’t the slightest concept of the phrase “Mission Impossible.”  Undeterred, Sue plunged into the mucky water and snagged the wood frog in a swingle swoop.

Wood Frog Released Back into Brainard Pond

While wood frogs are reportedly plentiful in the Northeast, this one represents the first that Turtle Journal has identified on the South Coast of Massachusetts.

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Wood Frog

Spotted turtles and a gaudy wood frog … not a bad showing from nature for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Wearing the Green for Saint Patrick’s Day 2010

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Everyone’s Wearing the Green for Saint Patrick’s Day 2010

The Turtle Journal team assembles a chorus of exotic critters from the Great White North to acclaim March 17th, 2010 as “Wearing of the Green” Day in honor of Saint Patrick, while still attesting to an important cultural and environmental message”  “It’s not easy being green!