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

“America 24/7” Visits the Land of Ooze — 14 May 2003

Photographer Matt Suess, as part of America 24/7 (the largest collaborative photo project in the world designed to capture “extraordinary pictures of an ordinary American week,” which were taken between May 12 and May 18), spent the day in the Land of Ooze chasing terrapins in kayak and in waders.

Dawn barely broke through the overcast and spitting rain dominated the weather until nearly noon.  Stiff northwesterly winds whipped through the harbor and churned Chipman’s Cove with silt and foam.  Nevertheless, three kayaks paddled into the cove in search of terrapins.  But only three turtles were spotted in three hours and just briefly, as the Outer Cape continues to experience the year without springtime.

Hoping for better luck, we transitioned from kayaks to waders and moved to Blackfish Creek between Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck.  The breeze had backed to the east and dropped to only five knots.  A full moon low tide had shrunk the channel to workable size and shallowed its depths.  Two staff members of the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies, training for a terrapin survey of the west shore of Buzzards Bay, and Dr. Barbara Brennessel, Chair of the Biology Department at Wheaton College, joined me to dip net for terrapins in the ebbing tide.  The team captured three terrapins, two mature females and a five-year-old male, and Matt documented the process from netting in the creek through measuring and weighing to release.

Both females were recaptures from the time when they were still prepubescent.  Turtle #787 had first been observed in July 1999 as an 8-year-old on the cusp of puberty.  Back then she measured 15.3 centimeters carapace length, 13.3 centimeters plastron, and weighed 598 grams.  Today those numbers read 18.15 centimeters, 16.0 centimeters, and 995 grams.  Terrapin #843 was first seen on 22 May 2000 as a 7-year-old, also on the cusp of puberty.  Her carapace had been 15.1 centimeters, her plastron 13.2 centimeters, and her weight 562 grams.  Today she is 18.3, 16.5, and 991, respectively.  The male registered 10.6 centimeters, 8.8 centimeters and 208 grams.

Still, very few turtles are active compared with previous years.  Temperatures remain chilly, with nighttime plunging near 40 and daytime barely reaching the mid 50s.  By Sunday, though, the forecast calls for gradually improving conditions with sunshine and mid 60s temperature to kick-start the 2003 terrapin season into gear.