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

Lessons Learned . . . and Re-learned — 10 May 2002

A gorgeous spring day stirred life in the Land of Ooze.  Sixty-five degrees with a mild south-southwest breeze off the bay, and not a cloud in sight.  After a morning run, I zipped across the Lieutenant Island bridge to check for turtles basking along the creek banks.  None seen, but as I stared into the murky water a shadow of a terrapin swam upstream against the receding tide.  She stayed just beyond reach of my long pole and burrowed under a camouflage of muck in mid channel.  Score one for the terps.

This morning a resident called the Sanctuary about a snapper heading for disaster.  The critter was crossing backyards on a collision course with Route 6, the main Cape thoroughfare through which legions of weekend visitors were already flowing.  The likely destination: a lush pond on the other side.  The first rescuer decided to capture the turtle and return it to its former waterhole.  That strategy worked for about a Chelonian minute until the next panic calls came in.  The snapper had accelerated its gait and was within feet of the highway.  I got the relayed call.

About two-thirds the size of Darth, my winter houseguest, this turtle had an impressive snap nonetheless.  And it was certainly in no mood for another encounter with a foolish human who would only delay its progress across the darn road.  Turtles may have the persistence of Sisyphus, but they do NOT have the patience of Job.  I found a large clean and empty garbage can and “coaxed” the turtle inside.  I then decided to yield to the turtle’s superior judgment and moved it across traffic to its intended destination.  Once clear of the can, the snapper breathed a deep sigh of relief and scurried into its new home.  Life would be so much simpler for turtles if it weren’t for humans.

I chugged north to Chipman’s Cove with the kayak loaded in the jeep.  Launching from the pier, I paddled for the southeast corner of the cove where large numbers of terrapins gather for foraging and basking.  And there were, indeed, a lot of turtles — the most I have ever seen in one place at one time, all snorkeling and basking in 1-to-2-foot water.  Most congregated in the softest, ooziest areas where visibility dropped to opaque.  Still, a few were swimming in clearer water and could be tracked by a nimble kayaker.

I captured three turtles in quick succession and then hung on for dear life.  A blow kicked up suddenly with winds jumping from less than 5 knots to over 30 knots in under 15 minutes.  A light kayak gets tossed pretty easily in those conditions, but a kayak lugging a 10-foot net REALLY kicks into high gear.  The waves rolled in from the bay and hit the kayak abeam as I scudded the two mile track in record time.

All three turtles were first captures.  The one on the left, #1211, is a 9-year-old female of 16.4 cm carapace and 14.45 cm plastron.  She weighed 708 grams, suggesting that last year was her first nesting season.  The other two were nearly identical in size.  The male in the center, #1210, was 11.93 cm carapace, 9.90 cm plastron, and 283 grams.  He is 8 years old.  The young, pre-pubescent female on the right, #1209, measured 11.75 cm carapace, 10.15 cm plastron, and weighed 277 grams.  She is 5 years old.

This evening a resident of Lieutenant Island discovered a hatchling at the southwest town beach.  Hatchling 003-02 measured 2.60 cm carapace and 2.17 cm plastron.  It weighed 6 grams and was quite active after a day of warm sunshine.

Topping off a wonderful spring day, and as a special dig to my great friends and colleagues back in Maryland, the Baltimore orioles — the real ones — arrived this morning and have already driven me to the local grocer to replenish my orange supply.  One is tempted, you know, to try lemons to see what might happen to that stunning oriole breast.