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

The Cove Heats Up — 9 May 2003

Chipman’s Cove in the northeast corner of Wellfleet Harbor is the spot that heats up earliest in the spring and hosts the most turtles at this time of the year, most of them munching down calories and beginning the springtime mating dance.  On Wednesday this week, I captured 19 turtles in one hour of kayaking as temperature rose for the first time this season to nearly 70 degrees.  Of those 19, twelve were recaptures and seven were seen for the first time.  The gender distribution was four males and fifteen females.

Yesterday, rain and chilly winds dropped temperature back into the 40s, but today offered another chance to find terrapins.

Never getting above 60 with a light northerly breeze, conditions remained marginal for terrapin activity.  Still, I decided to launch my kayak about an hour after low tide to check for turtles flushed back into the cove with the flood surge.  Very few snorkeling heads could be seen in these chilly conditions, but more than a few females were hunkered down at the bottom of the cove in two to four feet of water.  And the biggest change from Wednesday was the amount of pairing.  Males were pursuing female turtles from one side of Chipman’s Cove to the other.

Even when the female lay still on the bottom, males could be seen hovering about as this ritual, May-time pas de deux commences.

For the day, 11 turtles were netted: three males and eight females.  Seven of these terrapins had previously been marked and four — two males and two females — were seen today for the first time.