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

The Paludal Posse Rides Again — 4 May 2002

It’s been a tough week for turtles in the Land of Ooze.  What promised for a brief moment to be an early spring proved a false hope.  Instead temperatures dipped into early March range and storms battered the Cape.  What few terrapins had ventured from their hibernacula in mid-April disappeared once more beneath their warm, mucky blankets. Perfect tides for the last ten days produced no terrapin observations.

On 29 April I found a five-year-old, prepubescent female dead in the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area marsh during a routine patrol.  She measured 10.37 centimeters carapace length and 9.14 centimeters plastron, and is the only dead terrapin found in this area in 2002 after more than 100 deaths in 2000 and another 25 in 2001.  Her shell was not waterlogged suggesting that her death had been relatively recent.

This week Terrapin Volunteer posters go out as we organize our resources for the 2002 research and conservation program.  The terrapin team operates under the banner of the Paludal Posse, which includes researchers, assistants, interns, volunteers, supporters, and donors alike.  The kick-off meeting for the 2002 season is scheduled for 2 June from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  For those who wish to join the terrapin team, they should know that no experience is necessary.  Only requirements: a spirit of adventure, a love of the outdoors, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to save a threatened species from extinction.  The team is aided by volunteers, donations, grants, the Adopt-A-Turtle program, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which graciously supports the terrapin project under its mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts.  Last year the posse identified over a 100 nesting females, located more than 300 nests, protected nearly 1300 baby hatchlings, and reduced turtle traffic deaths and injuries on the Outer Cape.  For the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary's summer 2002 field programs and lectures related to terrapins, click here.

Despite the chilly weather, pre-season activity buzzes for the Paludal Posse.  Biology students at Wheaton College delivered nearly 100 nest protectors they constructed over the winter, while still finding time to run a series of highly successful DNA tests to develop protocols for their field research this summer to study genetic diversity in the terrapin populations of the Outer Cape. Two Wheaton interns under the guidance of Professor Barbara Brennessel will join our terrapin field team in June and July. Professor Charlie Steinhorn’s mathematics students at Vassar College have generously taken on the arduous task of statistical analysis of our 22-year database to develop a high confidence size estimate of the northernmost terrapin population in the world. And local Boy Scouts dropped off 25 more nest protectors and a dozen hand-made “Turtle Nesting” signs for the coming season.

This afternoon the weather finally broke for the better. After a morning of sustained 20 knots gusts off the ocean, the wind backed to the south and conditions improved dramatically. While I still saw no terrapin in the creeks south of Lieutenant Island, by mid-afternoon painted turtles were out in force in Silver Spring Brook. Definitely a sign of things to come.