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

Turtled Turtler and First Nesting — 10 June 2001

If your correspondent looks a bit disheveled and waterlogged, chalk it up to a Steve Irwin (a.k.a. Crocodile Hunter) moment.  What’s that?  An instant when rational thought yields to exuberance . . . when doing trumps thinking . . . when turtler gets turtled.

The tide was not good for terrapin research.  Between too high water and a westerly breeze blowing the long fetch up Blackfish Creek, we didn’t stand a chance.  So, as we paddled kayaks back across the channel, emptied handed and dejected, I was surprised to see a female terrapin coming straight at my boat, about two feet off port, heading in the opposite direction at the speed of the current, augmented by her powerful kick strokes, and escalated by the closing rate of my kayak. 

That’s when insanity struck.  Without a net, my only chance was to actually catch the speeding bullet by hand.  No time to assess risk, I reached for the terrapin, held her in one hand, as the kayak “turtled” on top of me.  The plosh could be heard the length of Blackfish Creek.  I was upside down, under water, staring an equally surprised terrapin eye-to-eye.  Somehow I managed to wiggle out of the kayak, stand waist deep in creek and mud, lugging the water filled boat with one hand and gently cradling the turtle in the other, as I waded back to shore.  Amid calls for a reprise from a hastily assembled audience of weekend invaders who had missed the photo-op of a lifetime, I bowed deferentially and settled down to transition from (mis)adventure to science.

Number 1105 was a first time capture.  She is a 9-year-old terrapin at 16.65 centimeters and 786 grams, who shows signs of a misadventure of her own.  Her right front limb is missing below the joint in a wound which has well healed over time.  She also had lots of mud in her frontal cavity and even more in her rear quarter.  Other than the limb, she seemed a healthy and normal post-pubescent female.

In the early afternoon, a resident of Lieutenant Island discovered a tiny hatchling in his driveway.  Obviously over-wintered, this baby is the second smallest in our records at 2.42 centimeters carapace length and only 3 grams.  Undeterred by its miniature status, it proved energetic and ready to conquer the world.  These little critters are so comically feisty in their approach to life that you gotta love ’em.

And this evening brought the first observed nesting terrapin in Wellfleet Harbor for the 2001 season.  At 4:30 P.M., a researcher found tracks that led from the high tide water edge on Lieutenant Island’s north beach up to and over the dune known as Turtle Pass.  A search of the island by the Paludal Posse discovered a female terrapin crawling down slope along a dirt road leading from the island’s northwest high point.  She was dust covered and had already deposited her eggs somewhere upland of the spot she was found.  Terrapin 1106 is approximately 14 years old, 17.2 centimeters long, and weighs 824 grams.  With her appearance as a benchmark, we can anticipate nesting to escalate until it crescendos during the last week of June, then taper off just as gradually until ending in late July.  As witnessed by the multiple tracks she crossed en route from her nesting site, she and her sisters take on quite a risk when they come ashore.