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

Box and Nest — 29 July 2001

The first call came midway through the afternoon.  Residents found a “terrapin” crossing the asphalt road by the Lieutenant Island bridge.  As they explained, “He was destined for roadkill in the weekend tourist parade.  So, we picked him up and called.”

“A terrapin, you say? Was it high domed?”

“Yes, well sort of.”

And so I met a new box turtle, Zuma, a handsome 30-something male who was roaming as far west as a land turtle can get on Lieutenant Island Road without transforming itself into a terrapin or risking a suicide crossing of the tinkertoy bridge.

A feisty turtle, Zuma measured 14.4 centimeters carapace length and weighed 529 grams.  While we’ve never seen this red-eyed fellow before in this neck of the marsh, we did have a beautiful female box turtle (Joiya) who wandered the area for years until she was killed in a traffic accident late last summer.  Perhaps Zuma decided to investigate his missing pal.

Immediately after releasing Zuma, I got a cell call from a beachcomber on Lieutenant Island.  He had spotted eggs in a dune path at the northwest corner of the island.  He had never seen a terrapin egg before, but would I check it out?

Undermined by severe erosion from winter storm surges and worn by heavy foot traffic from summer tourists, the dune path had collapsed about halfway up the hill.  A terrapin had laid her nest in the middle of the path and the avalanche split her egg chamber in two.  Eight eggs hung precariously over the edge, while four eggs had already tumbled down the slope.  The nest appeared several weeks old.



While I’m reluctant to move eggs even a day after they’ve been laid, this situation offered no reasonable alternative.  If left in place, the whole nest was doomed.  I harvested the clutch, trying as best I could to maintain orientation of at least those eggs which remained in the egg chamber.  I relocated them to a safe area where I have several vulnerable nests under close observation.  Fingers crossed, perhaps we can save some hatchlings from this unfortunate nest.