Diamondback terrapins in Queens

I spent the past week at the New Jersey School of Conservation for a class in field herpetology, and I’ll be headed back for another in the morning. I am kind of a mess right now, between bug bites, poison ivy, aching feet, sunburn… We had mostly wet weather, and my so-called waterproof gear was not really up to hours out in the rain, and tromping through streams, etc. It was fairly miserable, but I was also geeking out hard the whole time, so my complaints are minimal.

We traveled to several counties and states to explore specific habitats and find varied species. One of the sites that is open to the public and worth the trip from Westchester is the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Our goal was to find diamondback terrapins nesting, but the weather was less than ideal. For a while, our luck was limited to seeing a few heads poking up above the waves, scouting out the shore.

Finally, we found this lovely lady out looking to nest. We connected with some volunteers from the Jamaica Bay Terrapin Research group and processed her. Processing basically involves weighing and measuring, noting any injuries or abnormalities, and marking. Most of these turtles have been tagged in some way so they can be identified over the years, but they also paint some nail polish on the shell, so volunteers know she’s already been processed this year and don’t disturb her when she comes back out to nest. The nail polish won’t last longer than this year.

The nesting season will likely run through mid-July, and if you visit on a clear day around high tide, you might be lucky enough to see some of these beautiful creatures. Often their skin is bright white with black speckles, a truly striking combination. The site is also known for great birding. We saw nesting osprey, American oystercatchers and lots of other shorebirds and songbirds. The trail loop is completely flat and under two miles. Definitely worth checking out with kids!

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