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

Busy Days — 21 May 2003

Late it came, but spring finally has settled onto the Outer Cape.  A few May days in the 60s and turtles have restarted their endless cycle of Jobian patience and Sisyphusian persistence.  But turtles arenít the only critters to emerge from their winter hibernacula.  Humans, too, have begun to stir and the invasive species Homo touristo has resumed its seasonal migration.

Sunday was the last day of the America 24/7 shoot, and photographer Matt Sues joined me in Chipmanís Cove to get some footage of capturing terrapins from a kayak.  Nine-foot kayak, ten-foot pole net and paddle in hand ó all was ready for an adventure.  And a successful day it proved with eight captures within just a few minutes of water time: three recaptures, five new turtles; one male, seven females; all adults and all involved in various stages of pairing.

The technique for capturing speeding swimmers in open water is to paddle in areas of good visibility where the bottom can be seen, searching for turtles as they zoom by underwater.  Once spotted, the game is afoot.  Turtle and kayaker zig and zag, testing who has the most maneuverability and who can outlast the other.  The advantage of a short-snout kayak and a long pole net becomes obvious in these circumstances.  The ten-foot pole is a little less advantageous during gales and thunderstorms, but thatís how turtles maintain a limit on field researchers, through the natural Darwinian culling process.

Matt finished up the shoot with a videographer on scene to document the photographer documenting the turtle researcher.  I must admit that at times the event seemed a bit Alice in Wonderland as Matt shot pictures of me shooting digital photographs of the turtles while the videographer was shooting Matt shooting me shooting terrapins and so on and so forth.  But all in a good cause: The World According to Turtles.

As summer guests return to the Land of Ooze, they too have a chance to meet the turtles.  During Monday morningís sunrise training session in Blackfish Creek, a family stumbled upon the proceeding and met one of our very eager male captures.  Technique in the creek is much different from tracking down turtles in open water from a kayak.  Here we wait for low tide and net terrapins as they are forced through the narrow, shallow creek channels with the ebbing waters that drain their habitat dry twice daily.

Tuesday, students from Outer Cape high schools met at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for an annual ecological symposium consisting of morning adventures and afternoon presentations of student projects.  One group drew the turtle straw and joined me to wade in the creek for turtles.

Whether observing mating horseshoe crabs, netting diamondback terrapins, or discovering the wonder of moon snails, it was simply a great day, a memorable day to frolic in the sunshine.  The students captured two male turtles, one recapture and one seen for the first time.

It was a brief natural history lesson on the beach and a perfect ending to a perfect morning in the Land of Ooze.