Friday, July 5, 2013

Terrapin Terror on the Cape! 7-3-2013

The big trip for our vacation was going to be one night on Cape Cod. Well, the big part about it was to be the "Turtle Hunt" at the Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary, a chance to see a Diamondback Terrapin in the wild. They are super hard to see, threatened and Wellfleet is the very tip top of their range. They have super strict habitat requirements; this has always been a mythic creature to me... something that I just never figured I'd see. So, any help I could get to actually see one, I was going to take!

We arrived on time for our 9 AM meet-up! Not bad for an old-timer, his hot wife and a broken-down Corolla! It took us roughly two hours to get there. We met Cynthia, our guide, who said that the previous day, there had been a lot of activity. The rest of the group showed up (mostly young girls) and we went out.

On the way to the nesting areas, we got a nice tour of the sanctuary and saw a few animals, like this mostly hidden Bullfrog
A basking Painted Turtle
And a young adult and metamorph Bullfrog...

Well, I'll admit we cheated. Cynthia was in touch with volunteers all over the nesting areas and they were tipping us off as to where terrapins might be at. We eventually got a call from Kelly that one had just laid her eggs. We went that-a-way... and sure enough, Kelly had a nice, older adult female Diamondback Terrapin for us to see.
We photographed here and weighed her
and measured her and recorded her stats. She was feisty and strong! Kelly asked us to release her back by the marsh. I shoved aside a dozen little girls and volunteered to carry her back! Andrea and I were living the dream... actually holding a DBT!

We released her and she went motoring back into the marsh...

Check out the path she made through the grass!

So, if that wasn't great enough, we saw 5 terrapins basking!
I had seen some other volunteers looking out there and we were lucky enough to see them!

At this point, we broke away from the group, who had to get back. We were where we wanted to be at the moment, and we stayed with  a couple of gentlemen who had just had a female lay and were getting ready to protect the nest. We stayed and helped them.

This is what it looked like first... covered up by the terrapin:

It was dug into to see how deep the eggs were. 8.3 cm, I think...

We then dug a hole around it 6" deep in order to put a predator-proof screen cage around the nest.

And marked it with a flag.

Yay!! We helped!
The sun was in my eyes... that's not my usual grimace...

This eastern Kingbird was very impressed!
Eastern Kingbird

We took a nice walk around after this, but saw no more Terrapins. It was over 90°, so we retreated for a sandwich (not in Sandwich, MA) and some sustenance, then went back in to see what other trails might be out there.  Of course, we were hoping for more Terrapins or maybe a Box Turtle, neither of which we encountered. BUT...

We saw boatloads of Fiddler Crabs, who amused us to no end!

Loads of Bullfrogs! From tadpole to metamorph to adult!

We watched (and cruelly laughed) as this Painted Turtle made attempt after attempt to get up onto this piece of wood...
He never succeeded while we were there...

We found a secluded, tiny, duck-weed filled pond, man-made I think, and this hatchling Painted was lording over the whole thing!

Along another trail, we saw... more of the same! Bullfrogs and Painteds!

We eventually made it out to the beachy area, just to explore tidal pools and see what was around.DSCN5450
Willet among the periwinkles
A Willet among a mess of periwinkle shells!

So, we'd been at it for over 7 hours in the sun on a 90° day! We went to our motel and relaxed for a bit. We went back out at 5 for another 2 hours of poking around the Cape Cod National Seashore, looking for places to herp. We stopped a few times, but the mosquitoes and flies were so heavy that we just said forget it. We had some dinner and had the best intentions of going out after dark to see if we could road cruise any herps.

We both fell asleep.

So, normally a 3 species day is considered crappy (unless it is January)! Especially when you factor in expense, travel time and time put in on the trails. But, one of those species was a Diamondback Terrapin, so we're calling it a great day!

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