They might not like to be held when you try to feel for eggs. What I did was have my turtle in a dry dock area, which is about the size of a twin bed. Wait for her to stop exploring, moving around, etc., then gently use your finger to feel for it.
As for sand, I guess play sand would do, but real dirt helps too. Dirt is usually the top layer, I don't know if a sand-only nest will work. That's tough considering the time of year. Having the male in there greatly increases the odds of her being gravid. After I separated my pair, my female RES has not been gravid.
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