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

Tails from Marsh Road and Other Tales, Too — 1 July 2001

Marsh Road runs along the pristine southside marsh of Lieutenant Island.  A dirt road with excellent substrate, human activity to ward off predators, and teeth shattering bumps that keep vehicular traffic to a crawl, this location supports a large number of diamondback terrapin nests.

Yesterday, Saturday, was changeover day.  That’s the moment when weekly rentals expire and new weekly rentals begin, and both groups converge from opposite directions on the island’s single-lane roads. So, when #1124 crawled ashore to lay her second clutch of the year on Marsh Road, she ended up in the middle of a local traffic jam.  Disturbed, she abandoned her nearly full nest, uncovered, and with two eggs remaining inside her.  We tried to coax her to resume laying, but to no avail.  She headed off toward Loagy Bay.  We covered and field marked her viable, partially filled nest.

But the Paludal Posse never rests.  An hour later she was spotted by residents still slogging her way to the bay.  They called the 24/7 hotline and we responded to the turtle sighting.  It was, indeed, #1124 again.  But this time she deposited the last two eggs in my hands as I examined her.  Since we knew her nest (#113), we could add these last two terrapins-in-waiting into the egg chamber with their siblings.

This evening a line of violent storms swept across the bay and into Wellfleet.  Coinciding with high tide, the front might entice a nester or two to emerge, so I jeeped over the tinkertoy bridge to the island.  I saw nothing but darkness and downpours and lightning.

But as I pointed the car back across the causeway, I was hailed by an overtaking vehicle, lights flashing, horn blaring.  Vacationers, whom I had spoken to after changeover yesterday, found a turtle in the middle of Marsh Road as they left for dinner.  It was one of my favorites, Terrapin 145, whom we’ve been tracking faithfully since 6 July 1989.  She’s a special turtle in our books because she demonstrates a rather unique nesting pattern with her two annual clutches.  While most turtles return to the same proximate spot for both nests, she places the first clutch each June on the north side of Lieutenant Island and the second each July in the middle of Marsh Road on the south side.  We’re so lucky our Paludal Posse receives reinforcements from vacationers each week, so we don’t miss such old friends like #145 even in the midst of a thunderstorm.

In the stranger-than-fiction category, we have the latest technique in terrapin captures.  A new home was built off the First Encounter marsh over the winter, and on 19 June a female was discovered trapped in its window well.  This morning two more terrapins were found in the same well, an 11-year-old female and a 4-gram, over-wintered hatchling.  The adult was quite unusual looking for a terrapin in the Land of Ooze.  Her marginals were all primitive angles and edges, and the rear marginals were so splayed that it was difficult to find a number with which to legibly mark her.  Eventually we settled on 3003.


Finally, under the oddities section, we have this dark, mature female with a light-brown mustache who literally has a look that can stop traffic.  Yesterday, she strolled across tourist-jammed Route 6 in Wellfleet — the moral equivalent of crossing Time Square or Dupont Circle at rush hour.  Now, since she’s already 15+ years old, we suspect she hasn’t attempted this feat often.  Where the heck she thought she was going on her nesting run (yes, she was quite gravid) is anyone’s guess.  But it’s fairly unlikely she would find suitable nesting sites on the other side of the main Cape artery, and even less likely that any hatchling could survive the return journey.