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

A Murder of Crows — 12 September 2001

The pitch pine woods of south Lieutenant Island sway to a cacophonous chorus of crows.  They hover at treetop surveying Marsh Road from above, watching for hatchlings to emerge and scramble uncamouflaged across the barren backdrop of a dusty dirt strip.

About 25 feet in from the asphalt causeway, I found a newly hatched nest, #230, tucked in the raised sandy shoulder.  Tracks indicated an avalanche of hatchlings had tumbled down the slope and scurried in random patterns across the road toward the nursery marsh on the other side.  Later excavation of the egg chamber revealed that 11 babies had made the dash for safety.

Unfortunately not all reached the marsh.  Fateful encounters are painted in the dirt as hatchling tracks are intersected by crow's feet, and another predator takes a swipe out of the next generation of terrapins.

Another interesting encounter today bears documentation.  On Indian Neck across the channel from Lieutenant Island, I spotted a circular indentation in the soil that looked like the collapse of a hatching nest.  I dug into the egg chamber and extracted remnants of a small clutch; six hatchlings had emerged from the nest.  But at the very bottom, I found a pipped turtle, which at first I dismissed as a tiny pebble because of its anomalous size.

Hatchling 269 measured a mere 2.17 centimeters long and 1.74 centimeters wide, and barely moved the scale at 2 grams.  Yet in all characteristics she is a perfect miniature turtle with fully absorbed yolk sac.  For comparison, I held her next to Hatchling 271, a normal Wellfleet 6 gram, 2.7 centimeter baby who was rescued from a maggot-infested nest only a few feet away.  The picture gives you a visceral sense of how tiny she really is.