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

Frost on the Marsh — 7 May 2001

Unbelievable!  The thermometer outside Connemara Cottage read 30 degrees when I left for the dawn low tide.  Not only was the marsh laced with frost, but ice had to be scraped off the windshield.  Water temperature over the tidal flats dropped to 50°F — not a turtle friendly reading at all.

The wind was dead calm creating an ironing-board flat sea state.  Anything moving through the rip left a telltale wake — anything.  And once the sun rose over Old Wharf Point, water visibility became perfect.  Horseshoe crab pairs by the dozens flowed through the channel, each leaving an identifying wake.  So, with some confidence, I can assert that no critter with the mass of a female terrapin passed through the rip during this tide.  It would have been impossible to slip through without detection.  Although slightly less assured, I think that few, if any, smaller male turtles moved through the channel.

The tide ebbed at 0613 and with nothing but horseshoe crabs stirring, I packed up my gear and prepared to wade back across the creek when I spotted two smallish wakes approaching the first drop.  Well, what could it hurt to check it out?  The first proved a spider crab edging its way over the rip.  The second, though, showed a raised keel and, sure enough, here came Terrapin 907.  He plopped over the rapids and drifted into my left hand.  Cold to the touch, he was very sluggish, withdrawn as far as he could inside his shell.

One of the few “mustached” terrapins, #907 measures almost 12 centimeters long and weighs nearly 300 grams.  He was last spotted on 5 August last year swimming the morning tide through the rapids.  On release today, he basked for a goodly time in the morning sun before stretching his neck and ambling off back into the chilly creek.  I’ll wager he wish he had “put on” one more blanket of ooze before drifting off to sleep last night.

The Real Survivors

Bright sunshine warmed water temperatures in Blackfish Creek to 62 degrees by the afternoon tide, and lots of turtles were on the move.  A stiff southwesterly breeze replaced its northerly counterpart, yet still managed to kick up enough turbulence to obscure visibility.  Despite those adverse conditions, four terrapins were captured on the evening low.  Three were first timers and one was a repeat from last July 29th.  Two were males and two were females.

The most interesting captures were #1060 and #1070, both of whom well represent my slogan for these extraordinary animals, “The Timex critters — They take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”  Terrapin 1060 was the first captured of the evening as he paddled through the rapids.  My attention was attracted by a shiny brightness where the sun reflected off an exposed bone on his left forelimb.  The wound looked somewhat fresh, as the joint had not yet been covered.  Number 1060 is the largest confirmed Wellfleet Bay male with a 13.7 centimeter carapace length and 370 grams weight.

Fifteen minutes later Terrapin 1070 was netted.  She is a 9-year-old mature terrapin who suffered a traumatic encounter in her distant past.  A large chunk of marginals on the left side and left rear foot are missing.  Despite this well-healed injury, #1070 at 17.5 centimeters and 928 grams is a well-nourished and perfectly normal pubescent female.

On release, both ambled back to the creek and resumed a happy, healthy turtle life.  Now, these specimens are what I call real survivors, as opposed to Tinsel Town stand-ins.