Archive for June, 2015

How to Find a Diamondback Terrapin Nest

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Diamondback Terrapin #95 Laying Eggs off Sippican Harbor 

Well, as Turtle Journal has learned with decades of experience, the easiest way to discover a diamondback nest is to find mother terrapin digging, and then patiently, silently, stealthily waiting for her to complete the process.

Diamondback Terrapin #95 Nesting in Sandy Patch at Wrack Line

With a bit of luck and skill, you spot the turtle from a considerable distance and you wait with telephoto lens, so that you don’t disturb her.

Diamondback Terrapin #95 Laying Eggs into Nest Chamber

If she detects you before beginning to actually lay eggs, the terrapin will most likely abandon the nest.

Diamondback Terrapin #95 Laying Eggs into Nest

If she’s already started laying, as with Terrapin #95 above, the turtle may continue until she deposits all her eggs.

Diamondback Terrapin #95, Her Excavated Nest, 12 Perfect Eggs

When she finishes laying eggs, and the terrapin begins to cover and disguise the nest, you can approach.  Here Diamondback Terrapin #95 deposited 12 perfect eggs.

Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Run Tracks & Nest (Top Right)

Sadly for researchers, terrapins are fairly cleaver and stealthy themselves.  So, you learn to read tracks.  Like a tank, turtles leave “tread marks and plastron drags” as they crawl up from the water and meander along the beach.  With the right sand conditions, you get beautiful tracks like those above.  The direction of travel can be discerned from the upside down commas that turtles leave as they push off with their rear legs.

Diamondback Terrapin Nest (Left) and Nesting Run Tracks

And if conditions are just perfect, like this morning, the nest itself shows as an unmistakable pattern in the sand.  Within a few hours, wind and sun will erase all signs, and the nest will disappear.

Excavated Diamondback Terrapin Nest and 13 Perfect Eggs

So, as with all things in life, 99% of success is determined by just being there at the right time.  The challenging part, though, is figuring out where and when.

NOTE:  Diamondback terrapins are a protected species in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Please alert Turtle Journal, 508-274-5108, if you find a turtle or a nest.  We’re always ready to respond.

First Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Emerges @ Tabor’s Schaefer Lab Beach

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Sue Wieber Nourse Rescues Exhausted Over-Wintered Hatchling 

While checking for threatened diamondback terrapin nesting at Tabor Academy’s Old Schaefer Lab beach this morning, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse discovered an over-wintered terrapin hatchling meandering in the sand.

Emerged Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Meanders

The Schaefer Lab beach is a documented terrapin nesting site, and hosts the most critical nursery salt marsh habitat for infants and juveniles in the Inner Sippican Harbor.  (See Rare Turtle Nests at Tabor’s Schaefer Lab and Two Rare Terrapin Nests Hatch @ Old Schaefer Oceanology Lab.)

Inaugural Recipient of Jaeger Chair in Marine Studies

Prior to founding Turtle Journal and becoming CEO of Cape Cod Consultants, Sue Wieber Nourse was honored as the inaugural recipient of the endowed Jaeger Chair in Marine Studies at Tabor Academy.  Sue and her advanced marine science students engaged in highly lauded and original scientific research, funded by a prestigious National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant, that confirmed the existence of threatened diamondback terrapins in Marion and documented previously unknown nesting sites for these rare turtles.  Once on the brink of extirpation, their continued survival stems from this successful conservation initiative.

Sue Rescues Exhausted and Dehydrated Hatchling

This little baby hatched early last fall and opted to remain buried upland rather than venturing into the great wild world.  Given the brutal winter Massachusetts suffered, the hatchling may have chosen wisely.  This morning, though, the terrapin baby exhausted itself trying to reach the marsh through concrete obstacles exposed on this sand starved beach.  She had collapsed dehydrated and weak when Sue rescued her.  The hatchling is recovering at Turtle Journal headquarters, receiving appropriate TLC before being returned to the wild.


Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Run Tracks and Completed Nest

With Sue checking Schaefer, East Marion and Wareham nesting beaches, Don Lewis patrolled other SouthCoast nesting sites.  At one Aucoot Cove site, Don found a half dozen diamondback terrapin nesting tracks from the nighttime high tide.  He discovered the clear sign of two completed nests within inches of each other.

Eleven Large, Pink, Freshly Laid Eggs

This first nest contained 11 very large, pink and freshly deposited eggs in a nest chamber four to eight inches under the sand.  Because of their highly vulnerable location, eggs from this site are harvested and relocated in a protected turtle garden.  When hatchlings emerge, they are released back at the site of their natal nest.

Another Freshly Complete Diamondback Terrapin Nest

Within inches of the first nest, Don spotted signs of the second completed nest.

Ten Big, Beautiful Pink Eggs Harvested from Second Nest

This second nest contained ten large, pink and freshly deposited eggs in a nest chamber about three to six inches below the surface.

Third Nest Laid on the Overnight High Tide

A third nest was discovered about ten feet from the first two.  It contained 11 very large and freshly laid eggs in a chamber three to eight inches deep.  In sum, the Turtle Journal team recovered 32 healthy eggs from this site for protecting in our safe turtle garden.