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

Bookends — 23 July 2001

Low tides bracketed the day in perfect rhythm with sunrise and sunset.  Three days of westerlies blowing against ebbing tides churned Blackfish Creek into a mucky salad.  Turtles blitzed through the channel in a 3 to 4 knot current, surfaced for a gulp of air as they hit the shallows, and plunged into the rip with reckless abandon.  They were invisible and safe from the clutches of our research crew.

This morning, a single terrapin managed to swim by the only spot with both a modicum of clarity and a patient (sic) researcher.  Maureen netted Turtle #1173, a 7-year-old male measuring a little over 4.5 inches long and weighing 260 grams.

By evening, winds were gusting over 20 knots retarding the low tide well after another spectacular Cape Cod sunset.  The crescent moon quickly followed Sol behind Great Island, leaving Mars’ embers the brightest light in the sky.  Conditions made wading unpromising and potentially treacherous, so we took to kayaks as a last-chance gamble to net a terrapin as it whooshed through the channel.  We paddled to the mouth of the creek, raised dip nets on long extenders like primitive sails, and let the westerly breeze propel us through the channel against the ebbing tide and outflowing turtles.  The goal?  Spot a terrapin snorkeling for air in the darkly shadowed chop and within net distance of the kayak.  Prospects were not good.

Mass Audubon’s terrapin research assistant
Maureen Ryan processes Terrapin 997.

But on our first run through the channel, Terrapin #997 drew the short straw.  She poked out of the depths about 20 feet off my bow.  Startled, she dove for safety as my kayak plopped over a wave crest.  I calculated the best probable course and swooped the net blindly through the murk.  Clink — her carapace tipped the net, and I lifted a less-than-happy female from the water.  With turtle suspended in the “mast,” my kayak kicked into hyperdrive as gusts whipped boat and terrapin upstream.  Once ashore, night dropped like a third act curtain.  The end: no more turtling tonight.

The epilogue proved challenging as we struggled to process #997 in the pitch black with winds swirling everything not nailed down.  At 17.5 centimeters and 930 grams, she registered a tad large for an 8-year-old Wellfleet female.