Previous Page Photo-Diary of a Terrapin Researcher  Next Page

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

Storming Duck Creek on Bastille Day — 14 July 2001

With nesting season slipping into history and a string of mediocre mid-cycle tides, there are no good choices for a field researcher in the Land of Ooze.  Still, the alternative to trying is a severe case of terrapin deprivation.  So, I loaded my kayak into the jeep and drove into downtown Wellfleet to see if it were possible to capture turtles single-handed in the inky waters of Duck Creek.

Duck Creek lies east of the town pier and in the heart of picturesque Wellfleet.  A lazy westerly breeze skimmed across the bay, air conditioning the day to perfection.  Sadly, our terrapins prefer the muck and mire of the mud flats to the clear blue waters of the harbor.  I paddled around the dock, raised my dip net on its 10-foot extender, and drifted along the shallows chasing ripples where turtles snorkeled for a gulp of air before quickly scooting back into the oozy substrate.

Visibility in the flats is practically zero.  And dip-netting in this quick-mud milieu becomes an exercise in “panning for terrapins.”  When you spot a nearby head or carapace, you reach with the dip net to the spot where you suspect it dove below the surface.  Now, transition from water to ooze is seamless for the turtle.  So, when you weight-lift your net containing a mini-ton of mud glued to the weave like Jell-O, it’s still problematic whether or not you actually captured the terrapin.  You go into gold-miner mode and sift the ooze from the net by gently swishing it through deeper water.  If luck holds, at the bottom of your dip net appears a mud ball with head, tail, and four limbs — all of which seem in action at once.  As illustration, here’s a shot of Terrapin 1166, a 340-gram, 6-year-old pre-pubescent female, as she swam through the creek.

Four other turtles, all females, were netted this afternoon: 1094 (18.4 cm long & 1090 grams), 1116 (17.5 cm & 898 grams), 1165 (17.3 cm and 836 grams), and 604 (18.6 cm & 1163 grams).  Of these five, two had previously been captured in June.  All the others were seen for the first time today.