In my walk around Jamaica Bay today I saw many cool birds, some neat bugs, and, best of all, a Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) burying her nest.  Unfortunately for her eggs, she chose to bury them right in front of a bench on the trail around the West Pond (a not uncommon occurrence at Jamaica Bay, according to this abstract).  Fortunately for her eggs I marked the nest with a makeshift flag fashioned from a twig and a band aid and when I reached the visitor’s center I let the woman behind the desk know the exact location and she promised to inform their terrapin researchers.

Diamondback Terrapins are not on the federal endangered species list but they are considered endangered, threatened or “of concern” in several states.  They live along the east coast of the United States from Texas to Cape Cod in brackish water, feeding on a variety of marine life, and come ashore to lay their eggs in sandy soil (often two clutches are laid in a single summer).  Though at one time they were considered a delicacy people stopped eating them quite awhile ago and in most locations their populations eventually bounced back.  The biggest threat to them now (except for the omnipresent habitat loss) is still predation, not by people, but by raccoons, skunks, crows, and muskrats.

At Jamaica Bay a trail off of the West Pond trail called the Terrapin Trail is closed to people this time of year to allow the terrapins time to lay their eggs in peace.  But the terrapins don’t know that only a portion of the preserve is closed off, of course, so they lay their eggs wherever they find the right kind of soil, which keeps the terrapin researchers busy!

Close-up of a Diamondback Terrapin

Diamondback Terrapin

Diamondback Terrapin burying eggs

The female in these pictures was a bit smaller than the size of a dinner plate and didn’t seem to mind me watching her burying the eggs.  I did not get too close, and once she was done burying her eggs she ambled off into the undergrowth, done with her parental duties.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.