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

Mornings Become Terrapins — 2 August 2001

Low tide came to Blackfish Creek at 5:22, a quarter hour before sunrise, and a stillness gripped the Cape in freeze frame images.  The channel flattened ironing board straight, pleated with V’s as stripers crisscrossed the creek in pursuit of menhaden.  Turtles cruised through the current, bobbing for air and basking in the predawn rays.  In other words, a perfect morning for turtles and turtler.

The tide was too high for wading, so I launched my kayak with net and extender wedged between legs.  The tactic here is drift through the channel with just enough momentum to maneuver, but not so much wake as to warn the turtles of your approach.  A fine balance rarely achieved.  The best possible condition comes when you converge on a terrapin against the current with the sun at your back, akin to holing in from a mid-fairway sandtrap.

Today’s first capture, Terrapin 1182, coincided with sunrise.  I swooped her from the channel and paddled back to shore with Ole Red Sol spotlighting the path.  A mature female of 18.5 centimeters, she swayed the net (and kayak, too) at nearly 1200 grams.

In all, six turtles were netted in the morning tide.  All were female, only one was a recapture, and three were pre-pubescent 5 and 6 year olds.  The recapture, Terrapin 838, had first been observed in the spring of 2000 swimming through the Blackfish Creek rip.  Back then, she was assessed as ~ 10 years old, about 18 centimeters long and around 1050 grams.  I noted at the time that her shell was dark colored, and I reconfirmed from original photos that she had a dark green, almost black carapace.  Well, like the Chipman’s Cove turtles described yesterday, her late summer tint has shaded to the pale green, too.  Number 838 has grown 3-4 millimeters in all dimensions and has added another 150 grams in weight.  She also carries a nice decoration of light green algae aesthetically distributed along her vertebrals and rear marginals.

The real fun this morning, though, was provided by the juveniles and pre-adults.  The channel was literally awash in tiny heads, sprinting about in jerky motions, popping up and down like excited kids.  The final two captures, #1178 on the left and #1179 on the right, were 6 and 5 years old, respectively, with the oldest being the smallest at 201 grams and the youngest hitting the scales at 265 grams.