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

Protecting Vulnerable Nests — 14 June 2001

An important conservation theme of nesting season is finding and protecting especially vulnerable nests.  Today that theme kicked into high gear.  The morning began on Turtle Point when I spotted the remnants of a terrapin track that had been mostly obscured by foot traffic.

The trail yielded first several false nests, and finally a spot that seemed too unnaturally smooth for the surrounding terrain.  Probing confirmed Nest 024-01, which I field marked until it could be equipped with a nest protector later in the afternoon.


Several more nests were discovered throughout the day, each temporarily field marked and subsequently protected as appropriate.  One such nest in the shoulder of a dirt road near a new home construction was run over by a multi-axle delivery truck.  The ground was crushed and rutted by tires, yet — thankfully — the egg chamber survived intact.

Another nest was dug on the Crescent Island barrier beach, but unfortunately below where a summer storm tide might reach.  We excavated this nest, which held 15 large eggs, weighing in total 159 grams.  They were relocated to a safer upland site and equipped with a nest protector to evade predation.

The saddest story came from Old Wharf where a resident watched with a scope as a terrapin crawled out of Blackfish Creek, scaled the high dune and dug a 16-egg nest in the soft sand at the corner of her house.  She neglected to report the sighting last evening, opting instead to wait until the next day.  Overnight a predator sniffed out the freshly laid nest and devoured its eggs, leaving an empty nest and torn shards this morning along with an object lesson about the need to act quickly to get these nests protected when the scent is still recent and strong.

The evening ended on a high note, though, when visitors from New Mexico saw a terrapin strolling down the dirt road in front of their rented cottage.  These summer homes are papered with Wanted Posters and Fact Sheets and numbers to reach the 24/7 Turtle Dispatcher.  So, the visitors called and nervously reported the sighting made by their son Dillon.  Well, at my request, Dillon stood guard from a respectful distance while I jeeped over the causeway.  He helped me record observations on this 10-year-old female whom we were seeing for the first time.