Monday, July 03, 2006

Diamondback Terrapins in Rye and in Oyster Bay

I cut out of work early on Friday to drive to Marshlands Conservancy, in Rye, where I and several others were to meet Matt Draud, a biologist at LIU/C.W. Post, and a colleague of his named Barbara. Matt has been studying diamondback terrapins in Oyster Bay for almost a decade and, because terrapins occasionally show up at Marshlands, Alison Beall, Marshlands’ curator, invited Matt and Barbara over to hear their opinion of the preserve as terrapin nesting habitat. It was about 4 p.m. and marsh wrens were singing. Snowy egrets and great egrets were foraging, and Alison said a yellow-crowned night heron had been there as well, although it was gone by the time we arrived. Mosquitoes swarmed us and in particular zoned in on Matt, who was wearing khaki cargo shorts and flip-flops and who stepped into the shallows up to his knees to seek relief.

We walked along the shore and the edge of the marsh looking for terrapin habitat. Matt gestured toward the flats of Spartina patens.

He said, “If they’re nesting near here, that’s going to be chock full of baby turtles right now, and when I say baby, I mean one to four years.”

Alison said she occasionally sees terrapins swimming in the creeks, and Matt said that’s the best way to find them – paddle about in a canoe or small boat, in April and May, and look for their heads above the water. They’ll venture into Long Island Sound proper, but the Sound, with a salinity that can range as high as 32 parts per thousand, is too salty. They like tidal creeks with a steady flow of fresh water. Eleven parts per thousand is ideal.

Matt and Barbara, who is an adjunct professor at C.W. Post but whose last name I didn’t catch, poked around along the preserve’s beaches. They dug with their hands in a couple of spots, but judged that it did not seem sandy enough for nesting; and the places where the sand seemed right were below the storm tide line, which is a risky place for terrapin nests.

But, Matt said, the absence of prime nesting areas at Marshlands does not mean there are no terrapins. Other parts of Milton Harbor, as well as the embayments near by, might have good nesting habitat. In Oyster Bay, he has tracked terrapins nesting as far as two and a half miles from their marshes and creeks.

Matt said he came to C.W. Post as a fisheries biologist but chose to concentrate on diamondback terrapins when he realized that not much research had been done on them. In his years on Oyster Bay, he has marked and tracked 800 terrapins and, because the females return to the same beaches year after year, he knows where most of them nest. Yet who knows what portion of the population 800 terrapins represents. Not long ago, he caught 102 terrapins of various sizes and ages in one pull of a net. And although he has marked hundreds over the years, there were still a lot of turtles in the net he did not know.


Blogger Sam said...

Good blog, Tom. I'm glad you didn't run into the snapping turtle, which while they are important scare the dickens out of me. We found a snapping turtle along the CT River and I dangled an almost-new garden hose in front of it.

He snapped it clean in half in one bite.

2:40 PM  

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