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

Awakening — 10 April 2002

Warm blue skies have bathed the Land of Ooze in springtime and the awakening has begun.  Critters are stirring in the marsh.  Fiddler crabs and minnows are scurrying about, trying to get a head start on their soon-to-emerge predators.  Painted turtles have been spotted basking in protected ponds where temperatures rise a tad earlier than the creeks and the bay.  A water check at Uncle Tim’s Bridge in Duck Creek at noon today registered 54ºF., roughly a degree shy of the waking threshold for Wellfleet’s terrapins.  But cool, crystal nights will tug-a-war with bright daylight to hold off the first diamondbacks of the year for another week or so.

Still, this gorgeous day couldn’t be resisted by researcher or his turtle houseguests. Darth, the 25+ pound snapper convalescing in the Connemara Cottage garage, asked for an opportunity to stretch his legs and soak up some Vitamin D.

Still adorned with his wired jewelry to keep his jaw in place, Darth spent the afternoon trying to sneak out of the backyard and into the abutting marsh.  One time he got the jump on me and managed to crawl into the thick underbrush.  His powerful claws grabbed roots and bushes, defying my attempts to retrieve him.  And every thoughtless approach to free his forelimbs was met with a lightning strike.  They don’t call him a snapper for nothing.

Yet whether coming or going, there’s one thing to be said for Dapper Darth: he’s one sharp looking dude — especially his jaws and claws and prehistoric tail.

You remember Bubbles.  Her carapace was punctured and her left bridge smashed in a mid-October encounter in Duck Creek.  After treatment at the U.S. Humane Society’s Cape Wildlife Center, she came back to spend the winter with me.  She, too, took advantage of today’s sunshine to get some exercise in the backyard.

The wound to her carapace has fully healed and within a year or two, she’ll have only a scar to show for her unfortunate run-in with man.  Even more miraculously, her crushed bridge appears to have knitted back together.  The Cape Wildlife Center vets taped her bridge back in place for the first couple of months and then let turtle nature take its course.  Today, it seems solidly woven back together.  Terrapins are amazingly resilient animals.

Spring plans?  Although a bit early in the season, there are fair low tides around dawn this coming Saturday through Monday.  We’ll be checking the creeks to see if anyone has emerged prematurely.  The first scheduled roundup will begin with the afternoon tide of Monday, 22 April.  As full moon approaches on the 26th, tides will be exceptional to monitor terrapins emerging from six months of winter slumber.  Bubbles can’t wait to join her long-lost comrades.