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

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Turtle Minds — 17 June 2002

Well, be careful for what you wish, for the gods may be listening.  Today saw the leading edge of the nesting wave crash against the Outer Cape with turtles hitting the beaches from Eastham to Wellfleet.  The day began at dawn with a call from the Department of Natural Resources, which had discovered a terrapin making a nesting run on Eastham's First Encounter Beach.  The day ended at dusk with the relocation of a vulnerable nest found in the north tire track of Marsh Road on Wellfleet’s Lieutenant Island.  In between, our newest team member delighted in her very first terrapin.

Kate Hunt, an intern from Wheaton College in Norton, came on board full time today.  After a long drive from the mainland this morning, she began her first independent patrol of the Indian Neck nesting grounds at 11:00 a.m.  Within ten minutes she had found her first turtle.  Terrapin 876 is a 12-year-old female 18.5 cm in length and 1155 grams.  She was fully gravid when discovered and heading for her known nesting locale.

Later in the day we received a call about another terrapin nesting run at Eastham’s First Encounter.  A beachgoer had watched a turtle come in from the bay, tank up the foredune, and disappear into heavy vegetation. By the time we arrived, the turtle had indeed vanished.  Still, we decided to walk the marsh-side wrack line to check for tracks.  I spotted a set, probably not the culprit in question, but terrapin nonetheless.  It ended at a spot of unnatural smoothness, which I gently excavated and probed.  Sure enough, I hit a nest chamber filled with pinkish white, freshly laid eggs.

Without a nest protector in the jeep, I field marked the site with asphalt chips I found in the nearby roadway and a dash of human scent.  Just enough protection to buy me time to get back to Wellfleet to pick up a predator excluder and get back to Eastham to install it.  Instead, I got diverted by another incident back on Lieutenant Island, but luckily Bill Allan, who normally covers the Eastham beat for the Paludal Posse, re-discovered my field-marked nest and had a nest protector in hand.  He saved me a late night run southward and maybe saved the nest itself.

Back on Lieutenant Island a resident, trying to beat the flood tide across the submerging causeway, was stopped by a turtle digging her nest in the north tire track of Marsh Road.  She dropped the dime on this terrapin, calling the 24/7 turtle line, and kept her in sight until I arrived on the scene.  Terrapin 1039 has been observed nesting in this precise location, “twenty-five feet from the asphalt causeway on Marsh Road,” each of the last three years.  The very same spot within inches.  In 2000 we found her on 14 July laying her second clutch (see photo above).  In 2001 she appeared on 25 June in the identical spot as 2000 and today.

Because the nests of 2000 and 2001 both succumbed to late summer traffic, crushing all pipped hatchlings inside, we decided to relocate this year’s nest to a safe location on Turtle Point.  Incidentally, this procedure afforded us a chance to gather some additional data on the clutch.  It consisted of 14 eggs and weighed a total of 125 grams — nearly 12 percent of Terrapin 1039’s body mass of 1068 grams.  We dug a “natural” terrapin nest on the hill, inserted the eggs bundled together in the moist soil from their original nest, and installed a predator excluder on top.