SouthCoast Painted Turtles Begin Nesting

May 26th, 2015

Female Painted Turtle 

With bright sunshine and rising temperatures, Tuesday afternoon, May 26th, proved extremely active for painted turtle nesting on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  The Turtle Journal team had found the first SouthCoast nesting turtle, a snapper, in the morning, and we had also observed several painted turtle tracks, but only false nests.

Camouflaged Nesting Female Painted Turtle on Bog Bank

With more favorable conditions, Rufus, the famous turtle dog, found several nesting painted turtles Tuesday afternoon.  No matter how camouflaged the turtles might be, like the one pictured above hiding under dense vegetation on a steep bog bank, Rufus sniffs them out.

Rufus Guards Female Painted Turtle

After the turtle is found, Rufus remains motionless until her colleagues respond.  Rufus has trained the humans very well.

Rufus Points Out Nesting Painted Turtle

As she patrolled the upland pathways surrounding the cranberry bog, Rufus found another nesting painted turtle.  As documented in the photograph above, she patiently stands a comfortable distance from the nesting turtle until she gains our attention.

Nesting Female Painted Turtle

Unlike diamondback terrapins that avoid grass for nesting, painted turtles prefer grassy spots to dig their nests.  Unlike terrapins and snappers, painted turtle nests tend to be fairly shallow, only a couple of inches below the surface.

Seven Rescued Painted Turtle Eggs

Rufus discovered an abandoned nest containing seven perfect painted turtle eggs where the mother had apparently been disturbed before covering the nest.  Thanks to her skills, these eggs (and the future hatchlings they promise) were saved from certain depredation.

With snappers this morning and painted turtles this afternoon, the nesting season is now in full swing on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.

First SouthCoast Turtle Nester of 2015 Season

May 26th, 2015

Young Female Nesting Snapping Turtle

Tuesday morning, May 26th, dawned with cloudy skies powered by a brisk westerly breeze.  For the last couple of days, the Turtle Journal team observed movement of snappers and painted turtles in the bog channels of the SouthCoast, preparatory to nesting.  We expected to see our first nesters with daybreak this morning and we were not disappointed.

The Turtle Journal team with Rufus the Turtle Dog and Sue Wieber Nourse in the lead discovered the first SouthCoast nester of the 2015 season.

First Nester of 2015 Season — Young Female Snapper

Rufus the Turtle Dog and Sue Wieber Nourse led the search that discovered the first SouthCoast nester of the 2015 season.  A young female snapper, perhaps ten years old, industriously excavated her nest at the crest of a cranberry bog bank.

Young Female Snapping Turtle Nester

She anchored her tail into the muddy soil to give her sound leverage and then scooped vigorously with her rear legs to shape a deep egg chamber to deposit her eggs where they will incubate for the next two to three months.

Rufus Practices Studied Indifference

Rufus, remembering previous close encounters with these living dinosaurs, practiced studied indifference after first alerting us to the nesting snapper.  Clearly, she saw the better part of valor in allowing the humans to approach the feisty snapper.

Young Female Snapper Charges Back to the Reservoir

Once done with her nest, the young snapper chugged like a Sherman tank across the narrow pathway and plunged into the reservoir with a might belly-flop.  KA-SPLASH as water erupted like an exploding volcano.

Diamondback Terrapins Gather in SouthCoast Mating Aggregation

May 15th, 2015

Beautiful Female Diamondback Terrapin #601

Thursday morning, May 14th, broke beautifully.  A gentle breeze nudged southerly temperatures into Buzzards Bay. Unfiltered sunshine did the rest, baking low tide drained mud flats into steamy saunas. Unquestionably a day for turtles!

Lucky Female Terrapin #7

We launched kayaks from Town Landing and headed for the major Sippican Harbor mating aggregations. Paddling through flat waters, we observed gorgeous female and handsome male diamondback terrapins gathering. Clearly, numbers were still light as many ladies and gentlemen lingered in oozy shallows, preferring to bake in soft mud baths rather than bask in the open air.

Handsome Male Diamondback Terrapin #28

Guys were snorkeling in the main channel, waiting for damsels to arrive. We spotted a few females on the bottom under mud mounds and gently tapped them on the shell, interrupting their sauna dreams. Needless to say, they were NOT amused … by neither the tap nor the dip net that quickly engulfed them.

Lucky Female Terrapin #7 Snorkeling in Shallows

One of the captured turtles had a very interesting story to tell. Female Terrapin #7 had been rescued in Central Massachusetts last year and released in Sippican Harbor on July 5th.  When we examined her yesterday after a summer and full winter in Buzzards Bay, she proved in great condition, having gained 162 grams (14% increase) and having found her way into the most popular mating aggregation in the area.

Juvenile Female and Adult Male (Right) Terrapins Sloshing in Shallows

None of the terrapin females yet shows palpable egg development, but the season is young, and mating aggregations are just beginning. We also spotted a number of very young juveniles playing hide & seek in “quick mud” tidal flats in water depths less than 2 inches.

Baby American Eels Arrive in SouthCoast Estuaries

May 6th, 2015

American Glass Eel (Elver) [Anguilla rostrata]

On Sunday, May 3rd, the Turtle Journal team observed the first baby American eel (elver) of the season on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts. Transforming from the nearly invisible glass eel state, elvers remain difficult to spot as they swim and wiggle upstream through estuaries, rivers, creeks and streams to reach fresh water wetlands where they will grow to adulthood. As the week progressed more elvers appeared.

Last year, Turtle Journal documented the odyssey of American eels, in the article titled:  Saving Elvers on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts. Eels are the only catadromous fish in North America … as opposed to the anadromous salmon and herring.  That is, they are born as plankton-like critters in the Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea, float with currents toward the coast, transform to glass eels and then elvers as they make their way upstream to estuaries, swamps, ponds and lakes where they reach adulthood, and then swim back to the Sargasso Sea to mate and die. The opposite of salmon and herring (anadromous fish).

Elvers Fighting Gushing Water

We found elvers backing up at a local culvert. Spring flood waters augmented by snow melt seemed too strong for most of the elvers to make the passage upstream. Last year we observed thousands of elvers backed up at this culvert during the apex of the spring run in mid-May.

Elvers Resting in Backwater behind Culvert

On both sides of the culvert, a quiet backwater was created by the swirling creek. Elvers took refuge in these calm waters before making repeated attempts to traverse the culvert to reach the ponds and reservoirs upstream.

Elvers Take Shortcut to Wetlands


While elvers are extremely difficult to spot in the babbling creek water and even more challenging to capture, the Turtle Journal team scooped a small bucket of elvers and “crossed” them to the upstream side of the culvert.

Releasing Elvers Above the Culvert

No, we can’t personally save them all, but we can definitely save some of them; and we can lobby to have an elver passage created to save even more American eels on the SouthCoast.


April 29th, 2015

Osprey Pair Prepare for Love on the Fast Track

Tuesday afternoon we happened to walk quietly by the recently reconstructed osprey nest in the SouthCoast rookery. As we stealthily approached, we spotted a male osprey that dove with clenched talons towards the female perched on a branch a few feet from the nest. No question; this pair had love on their minds.

Luckily, we had with us a camera with fast zoom lens because osprey love, as documented in the time stamped photos, takes ten seconds flat from landing to take-off.

In life, timing is everything.  The digital time stamp will be posted under each photograph.  Click on each image for a full version.

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