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

Talking to the Animals . . . Not! — 28 June 2002

Yes, it was only a coincidence.  And, yes, if one locks a hundred monkeys into a room with a hundred typewriters for a hundred eons, eventually one will produce a line of exquisite poetry.  But still, it has the makings of a great story for those late night bar visits after a long day of death-by-viewgraph at turtle conferences And, so, here it goes.  Version 1.00:

Police calls had come in during the late afternoon of 28 June of a turtle weaving its way through bustling beach traffic at First Encounter Beach — the site where Pilgrims had first met Native Americans in 1620.  No specific location and always a little too late to retrieve the critter.  Then, finally at around 4 p.m., a homeowner called the hotline.  She had snatched the turtle from behind a car in her driveway as it was almost squished as someone backed up.  Terrapin 1303 had been rescued.  She had been seen four days earlier making the same epic journey across lanes of traffic on the busy road to the beach on another unsuccessful nesting run.  Life is tough for a gravid turtle during the vacation season on Cape Cod.

After confirming her number and re-weighing her for the record (1221 grams), I jeeped her over to a protected dune hill abutting the First Encounter marsh.  Placing her in the sand, I exclaimed in frustration, “Look, beautiful, it would be so much easier and safer for you and your hatchlings if you’d just lay your nest here rather than across the highway!”  Turtle 1303 listened intently and stared back knowingly.

To my utter astonishment, she reached into the sand with her forelimbs and tossed a pile of dirt over her shoulder.

She then thrust her face into the soil and tasted the sand, shifted activity to her back legs and began to dig.

And she dug and she dug and she dug.  Beginning at 4:38 p.m., she spent the next thirty minutes laying a nest two feet away from me.

Once the neck of the hole was finished, she started seesawing with first left and then right rear limb to hollow out the large egg chamber.

As her lower half began to disappear into the nest, she braced her body at the top of the nest with a slight incline from front to back.

She took a series of deep breaths and began to deposit her eggs into the hole.

As soon as the laying concluded, Terrapin 1303 commenced deconstructing the nest from the bottom up.  She padded down dirt on top of the eggs, and layer by layer she worked her way back to surface.

She bounced with her limbs and plastron to tamp tight the ground and then rough “sanded” the top layer to restore a natural appearance to the ground.  On completion, she weighed 1125 grams, losing 96 grams in the laying process.

As Turtle 1303 slipped back into the safety of First Encounter marsh, we installed a predator excluder and awareness flag over her newly laid nest.  Hopefully we can protect her hatchlings when they emerge this September with the same diligence we showered on her this June.