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

They’re Back! — 31 May 2003

Students, faculty and advisors from Dutchess Community College swept into town for their second annual invasion of the Land of Ooze.  Unlike last year (see The Poughkeesie Invasion — 31 May 2002) when they caught the turtles by surprise, with two days of fairly warm springtime under their shells, our terrapins were ready for action.  So, we had to be creative to get the jump on our cold-blooded friends and we changed tactics.

Rather than approaching them in a flotilla of canoes and kayaks the size of a miniature D-Day invasion, we devised a new scheme.  We waded into the high tide flooded marsh rim of Chipman’s Cove — Wellfleet Harbor’s terrapin singles bar, converging in two lines abreast from opposite directions with long-pole dip nets and ready hands to capture turtles.  The result: eight captures in about 45 minutes of concentrated search.

The adventure began as we walked the beach from the vans to the bar as students got a first-hand view of a veritable orgy of horseshoe crab mating.  They, too, have been encouraged by the recent warmth.  There were males everywhere trawling the shoreline for mates.  And the few females who visited the cove did not lack for attention!  This festive grouping was amusing.  They were swarming the female on our out-bound pass; when we returned, they had converted to a Conga line.  You gotta love those wild and crazy limuli.

But when you have turtles around, everyone gets into the dancing act.  Although I strongly suspect that tiptoeing through the ooze may be the more pressing factor in the complex gyrations witnessed during the afternoon adventure.

At the end the day, this brief excursion reaped four males and four females; only three were recaptures.  Most useful for our quarter century longitudinal study of diamondback terrapins on the Outer Cape, four turtles were 4–5-year-old juveniles who will be with us for a long time to come.  So, when the Dutchess Community students had to blitz off to their next engagement (a seal watch cruise out of Chatham on the Cape’s elbow), I didn’t even mind that they left me behind to process a literal handful of young terrapins.