Posts Tagged ‘October’

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.

In Search of the Great Pumpkin

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Pumpkin Patch in Marstons Mills, Cape Cod

Halloween!  The sweetest, most inventive American holiday arrives in a mere two weeks.  Halloween was once dominated by roving gangs of ghosts and goblins squealing the churlish threat of “Trick or Treat,” a menacing phrase eeriely reminiscent of the old British highwaymen’s “Stand and Deliver” or the 20th century mugger’s “Your Money or Your Life.”  But America’s greatest cartoon genius, Charles Schultz, rescued Halloween from ghouls and gangsters, sprinkled it with child-like purity and gave us back our innocence.  So, each October we search the far landscape for the most perfect pumpkin patch where the Great Pumpkin will appear to the purest of heart.

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” by Charles Schultz

A snipe hunt?  No way.  Even if we suspected that Charles Schultz had tried to pull one over on us, Linus would never try to deceive.  And even a snipe hunt offers opportunities for fresh air and the beautiful Cape Cod countryside.

Searching for the Great Pumpkin at Cob Webb Farm in Marstons Mill

On Wednesday we drove out into the woodlands of Marstons Mills on the Upper Cape and spotted the Cob Webb Farm pumpkin patch.  We were the only patrons with acres and acres of pumpkins to survey, selecting a perfect 25-pound orange globe as the Halloween welcome sign for our front porch.

Squirrel Finds the Great Orange “Acorn”

Not all pumpkins are for carving, but they are revered nevertheless.  A neighborhood squirrel stumbled across the decorative pumpkin we placed on our front banister to invite youngsters for a sweet Halloween feast.  Even this bushy tailed rodent morphed into a cuddly Schultz-like creation, transformed by a Halloween pumpkin into cartoon purity with eyes swelling, arms trembling and heartbeat racing so fast that its chest vibrated like a base drum.

Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata)

Well, you may have thought you’d get through an entire post without that pesky science stuff.  No such luck.  While we were walking through the Cob Webb Farm patch and inspecting orange orbs, we found a slew of spotted cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) feasting on stems and crawling around pumpkins.  Their dorsal color blends perfectly with the surface of the pumpkin, turning them invisible to the untrained eyed.  We also found a few striped cucumber beetles (Acalymma vittatum) that had embedded themselves into the surface of the pumpkin.  Both spotted and stiped cucumber beetles cause significant damage to cucurbit crops, including plants like cucumbers, squashes, pumpkin gourds and melons.

Cucumber Beetle “Break Dancing”

To balance the science we’ll close this post with a photographic melange of a very talented cucumber beetle that appeared engaged in a complex, acrobatic break dancing routine.

Monet School of Menhaden

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Island Wharf (Center); Long Wharf and Beverly Yacht Club (Right)

Last evening about an hour before sunset, the Turtle Journal team strolled to the Marion town docks at Island Wharf in Sippican Harbor.  Located just north of the Beverly Yacht Club, the docks lie close to Ram Island and the outlet to Buzzards Bay.  So many yachts are moored in the protected inner harbor that one might literally hopscotch from deck to deck across the broad waterway.  This busy location translates into fewer sightings of shy estuarine critters seeking safety from predators and dangerous encounters with humankind.

Inner Harbor and Island Wharf Left of Ram Island; Buzzards Bay Right

So, rather than “on assignment,” we were merely enjoying a pre-sunset, postprandial walk from Turtle Journal Central along the south bank of Sippican Harbor.  As we climbed down the ramp, we were surpised to see a group of menhaden circling within feet of the empty floating dock.  This late on an October evening, the sun had dipped so low in the southwestern sky that it bathed the harbor in long waves of light and transformed the scene into a blurry impressionist reflection of reality as the rays ricocheted in the thick, plankton rich top layer of harbor water .  Ghostly fish cruised through the water with silver scales casting off flashes of reds, blues, violets and eerie grays.

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Monet School of Menhaden

The effect was stunning; an impressionist’s canvas painted in light and life.  As we walked back with the image echoing in our memory, we thought had Monet kept fish in his Giverny water garden, he would surely have imported menhaden for such an autumnal moment.

Menhaden Seek Safe Harbor in Wellfleet; Still Absent in Sippican Harbor

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Atlantic menhaden, known locally as pogies, alwifes, and bunker, often school in estuaries during September and October, swimming in very large balls as herd protection from ferocious bluefish attacks.  As Hurricane Kyle blew by Cape Cod on Sunday, topping off a long three day weekend of pouring rain, a menhaden school flooded into the inner harbor of Wellfleet at high tide, followed by blues that were followed by local fishermen.  The word must have spread by ethernet (among bluefish and humans) because soon fishing poles outnumbered pogies.

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Menhaden Flood into Wellfleet Inner Harbor

Over the last few years, locals have perceived a significant decline in menhaden.  They have petitioned state and federal legislators for action to control the reduction fishery in which menhaden are harvested for the extraction of omega-3 oils for human consumption with the remainder used for aquaculture and livestock feed.  Menhaden are also harvested as bait for both commercial and recreational fisheries.  Whatever the cause of perceived overfishing, menhaden form a critical link in the coastal ecosystem and their absence would have a significant effect in degrading the coastal enviroment.

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Large Concentration of Menhaden in Sippican Harbor (2006)

In Sippican Harbor off Buzzards Bay, we have been awaiting the arrival of pogies this year.  We found no significant concentration of menhaden in the fall of 2007.  The last time we documented a major massing of menhaden schools in Marion’s Sippican Harbor was September and October 2006.  We are waiting to see if they return in any substantial numbers in 2008.

Sippican Menhaden Beset with Parasitic Copepods

As you can detect in the close-up shots from the video clip, a large percentage of 2006 menhaden were adorned with parasitic copepods.

Don Lewis Holds Menhaden Netted in Chipman’s Cove

During early October 2005 we documented many large schools of menhaden in Wellfleet’s Chipman’s Cove, south of the harbor pier.

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Menhaden Massing in Chipman’s Cove (2005)