Posts Tagged ‘Blackfish Creek’

Tiny Hatchling Beats Cold Front by a Nose

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Three Gram Second-Chance Terrapin Hatchling

“There’s always one more.”  That’s the motto of the Paludal Posse, our terrapin research and conservation team on Outer Cape Cod.  There’s always one more nest to find, one more nest to hatch, one more turtle in the nest, one more hatchling to emerge, one more turtle to save.  In short, there’s always one more.  And so it was proven again this weekend as we prepared our last batch of terrapin hatchlings for release on Tuesday, a promised mild October day.

Terrapin Hatchling and Second-Chance Egg from Nest 996

Sue counted 20 second-chance hatchlings soaking in 70F water to prepare for their sprint to freedom.  Second-chance hatchlings?  What the heck are second-chance hatchlings?  As we harvest emerging nests that have mostly hatched and other nests that have been exposed by predators, we often find a couple of unhatched eggs left behind.  Most of these eggs are in good shape and need only a couple days more incubation.  A few, though, look pretty sad; dimpled, dented, dehydrated, discolored, and so on.  These eggs wouldn’t make it in the wild.  Still, we prefer to give every turtle egg a chance even if it has only a small probability of survival.  So, these long-shot eggs go into our mystical, magical second-chance bucket, filled wtih clean, moist natal sand and warmed first naturally in our sun room until early October and then under a heat lamp in our lab until successfully hatched or all hope is exhausted.  We always have Halloween hatchlings, usually have Thanksgiving babies and occasionally find a pair of cute dark eyes staring up at us on Christmas morning.  (ASIDE:  Can there be a more powerful holiday message?) 

So, as Sue collected the 20 lucky babies for their trip back into the wild, she scanned the second-chance bucket and yelled in exclamation, “We’ve got another one!”  To which I sagely replied, “Yep.  There’s always one more.”

Perfect October Day for Second-Chance Hatchling Release

We made it to Turtle Point on Lieutenant Island while the weather held; 63F, gentle breeze and warming sunshine.  But a careful look at the clouds streaming above reminded us that a storm front approached. 

2nd Chance Hatchling and 20 Siblings Released at Turtle Point

The sand at Turtle Point had baked through the morning and reflected warmth as we sat down to release our 21 charges.  Placing them in a single bunch near the wrack line on the downward sloping dune, we watched as they scattered in random directions and power bursts.  Soon they had all disappeared into the nursery surroundings, some into upland vegetation, others into downland wrack and Spartina salt marsh, and still others burrowed into the warm dune sand.

Last Sailboat Dances with Northeast Blow in Blackfish Creek

Within an hour the weather had closed in.  The cold front arrived with gusts whistling across the narrow Outer Cape peninsula from the North Atlantic.  Clouds massed and grayed; white caps appeared; and we were doused in cold droplets whether from rain or briny spray we couldn’t tell.

“There’s Always One More” Egg in Second-Chance Bucket

Back in our warm, comfortable lab office Tuesday evening we inventoried our terrapin assets.  Tanks empty and ready.  Second-chance bucket filled with potential.  And our hopes high for one more miracle.


Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Emergence Hole About 1.5 Inches Long x 0.5 Inch Wide

Today brought a cool overcast to the Outer Cape as September’s autumn preview now grips the Land of Ooze.  Hatching had slowed to a crawl as temperatures fell and clouds rose.  So, we expected little from our afternoon rounds that began at Griffin Island where the truly northernmost terrapins in the world reside, stopped by Indian Neck on the north shore of Blackfish Creek and crossed over to Lieutenant Island on the south shore.

Another Emerge Hole, Same Size as Previous

Surprise!  Emergence holes and emerging nests greeted us at every stop.  Two on Griffin Island:  one on the shoulder of an asphalt road and only about five inches deep because mother hit pavement, and the other along a boardwalk leading to the Herring River salt marsh.  Eight live hatchlings emerged from the first nest and four succumbed to maggot depredation.  Sixteen hatchlings escaped from the second nest into the salt marsh.

Camouflaged Emergence Hole

When I spotted the emergence hole for the second nest, I burst into laughter.  A clump of pine needles had obviously been blown atop the hole by a recent storm.  But it looked so carefuly placed so as to camouflage the nest and give emerging hatchlings cover from predators as they bolted into the safety of the Herring River marsh.

I also hadn’t noticed until this posting the near identical similarity in shape of the first two emergence holes pictured above.  Sure, these critters are nearly identically sized at the hatchling stage, ~ 2.7 cm carapace length and ~ 6 grams mass; but after observing the chaos of an emerging nest (see the video clip below), I’m amazed by the twin shapes. 

Count the Heads as They Emerge

We arrived at the Indian Neck nest just as the clutch began to broil.  Heads popped up for a peek of their brave new world and quickly receded again under the dirt … to be replaced by a new set of darting eyes.  Try keeping a headcount as babies appear.  These thirteen lively characters could easily convert this performance art into a comedy circus routine that I would gladly book for a World Tour.

Hatchling Emerges from Nest; Note Pointy Egg Tooth

The shifting dune sand on the Hook of Lieutenant Island makes finding an emergence hole impossible, except immediately after a drenching rain storm.  No such meteorological assist was in the cards.  One hundred percent overcast, but no rain.  Still, luck played in our favor.  We first spotted a collection of hatchling tracks slaloming across the dune slopes.  Tracing these signs back to a convergence point, we ran smack dab into a terrapin hatchling just emerging from the nest.  Behind this baby, three more waited their turn to make a break for freedom.

Nest Completely Depredated by Fly Maggots

While we rejoiced in more than 75 live emerged hatchlings documented during our rounds this afternoon, we did have one sad encounter.  Nest 210, which we had been monitoring since June on the Boathouse dune, had been completely depredated by fly maggots that had consumed all the hatchlings, leaving  behind only a thin layer of each carapace.

Fox Island Marsh Conservation Area Welcomes Endangered Babies

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

The Fox Island Marsh Conservation Area lies in South Wellfleet and, along with its neighbor the Pilgrim Spring Woodlands Conservation Area, comprises 68 acres of woods and 100 acres of salt marsh.  An exquisite parcel of these conservation lands is the Whale Bone Point Trail (see Google image below) described as the jewel in the crown for its unmatched overlook views of the Fox Island Marsh and Blackfish Creek.  These lands are owned by the Town of Wellfleet and the Wellfleet Conservation Trust.

Whale Bone Point

This last week the Fox Island Conservation Area witnessed the arrival of babies from two Massachusetts protected species: diamondback terrapins (threatened) and Eastern box turtles (species of special concern).  While the Whale Bone Point area had been assessed as box turtle habitat and the point has been documented as a terrapin nesting site, these are the very first babies of both species that have actually been discovered on the land as they were being born.   The conservationists, environmentalists and naturalists who worked to protect this precious habitat deserve two thumbs up, one for each of these listed species.

One of Four Eastern Box Turtle Hatchlings

Last week a resident abutting the Whale Bone Point area discovered four Eastern box turtle hatchlings in a nest in her mulched landscaping.  That story was reported below under Eastern Box Turtle Hatchlings.  These adorable babies were a bit disoriented, one might even say “grumpy,” at being so uncerimoniously disturbed from their post-natal snooze, and they were a little dehydrated, too.  So, after a few days of turtle R&R, the foursome was released into the protected woodlands of Whale Bone Point near their nest site.

Release of Eastern Box Turtle Hatchlings

After releasing these box turtle hatchlings on Friday, we trekked down to the tip of Whale Bone Point where we had documented diamondback terrapin nesting since 2000 based on depredated nests and discarded egg shells.  We discovered three emergence holes within about 12 inches of each other that contained the remnants of escaped hatchlings, undeveloped eggs and some eggs that had been destroyed by root and insect predation.  In the middle nest, tucked under the lip and cradled in roots that had drained moisture from the nest and had contorted the embryos inside their egg shells within their nose-like grip, three pipped and cracked eggs remained.  One had not survived the attack, but two others were alive, albeit distorted, severely dehydrated and frozen in a trance-like stupor.  The clip below documents our removal of one of these hatchlings from its egg cocoon; the babies were so weak that they couldn’t free themselves from the dried egg shell and dig themselves out of the nest.

Rescue of Terrapin Hatchling Trapped by Roots and Dehydration

You can see from the clip above how undersized these hatchlings are.  The image below gives you a good sense of their actual size.

Undersized Terrapin Hatchlings

The good news:  Terrapins (and most turtles, actually) are Timex critters.  “They take a licking and keep on ticking.”  Turtles are extremely resilient.  Given a little TLC, even the most hapless turtle can be given a head-start toward survival.  These two babies just need a few days of care before they, too, will join their siblings in the nursery salt marsh abutting the Fox Island Marsh Conservation Area.  And in about eight years … Mark your calendar for June 15th, 2016 … they may be returning to Whale Bone Point to deposit their own nest of hatchlings.  And so the cycle goes on.  Save one turtle and your action ripples through the ages.  Precisely like the “Time Machine” that Nature truly is.

Two Terrapin Hatchlings Released at Whale Bone Point