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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

More Nests Discovered and an Old Fatality — 3 April 2001

Bright sunshine this morning broke a string of gloomy overcast that has gripped the Cape for weeks on end.  The mutts and I exploited this break to scout some new areas where we had seen terrapins heading during last year’s nesting season.  Along the wrack line beyond Lieutenant Island’s Turtle Point and behind Round Island, there rises a bearberry hill, thickly vegetated to a depth of nearly a foot and liberally sprinkled with beach plum and pitch pine.  Turtles negotiate this passage like porpoises in heavy surf, submerging and breaching in waves of cresting ground cover.

Summer never afforded the opportunity to track these turtles to their nesting site.  But with blue skies and time to spare, today offered that chance.  We trudged through the bushes and focused on the only clear area immediately surrounding a seasonal cottage atop the hillside.  As we crossed a predator trail midway to the summit, I spied two dried pleural scute bones from a large mature female that apparently didn’t complete the round-trip nesting run.

A spot of loose soil at the edge of the cottage’s backyard decking proved too seductive for a nesting terrapin to resist.  With a warm southwest exposure, and human scents aplenty to scare off predators, it was highly successful too.  Several egg shells had been exposed by the rainy deluge we’ve endured this last week.  I excavated two nests to recover a total of 26 hatched eggs: 14 from one and 12 from the other.

I still marvel, though, at the stubborn endurance of tiny one-inch, quarter-ounce hatchlings.  From these nests, they forge a quarter-mile path through walls of vegetation and a backfield of predators to reach the distant safety of their marsh habitat.