Friday, June 29, 2012

Turtles on the Move

The other morning, I found this Eastern Box Turtle crossing the driveway in front of my house.  I hung around and watched as it made its way across the drive and on into the tall grass near the upper end of the pond.  Several years ago, I was standing near some bushes at the edge of the lawn, watching a turtle travel an almost identical path.  Someone skidded their car to a stop at the end of the drive, got out and hurried towards the turtle.  They never saw me and were quite startled when I was suddenly between them and the turtle.  Their mistake cost them a lecture in which I imparted my thoughts on wildlife conservation, trespassers, poachers, thieves and idiots.  I don’t know if their day improved from that point on, but I doubt it got any worse.

You’re liable to find turtles any time from spring through fall, but there are two weather events that are guaranteed to make them increase their activity.  One is rain.  Rain brings out the worms and slugs and the turtles go in search of these juicy morsels.  Two is drought.  Turtles change their patterns to utilize available water sources.  When a drought comes on suddenly, like the one we’re experiencing right now, the turtles all seem to shift at once.

On a recent hour long walk, I found six different turtles.  As the turtle from the driveway made its way to the pond, this turtle was already finding the pond waterless.  Several different turtles visit the pond.  It’s a common sight to see one of them crossing the yard on the way to the water.

This youngster was traveling across the dry floodplain near the creek.  Its line of travel would take it to one of the few remaining pools.

Farther down the creek, I found this guy with a lump in his neck.  He was walking when I first caught sight of him.  I was approaching head on and he pulled himself in as soon as he saw me. 

By the way the skin is folded; I would guess that the lump was down the neck away from the head.  The turtle was active, alert and appeared in fine health.  The lump didn’t seem to be causing it any trouble.

Still farther downstream was another fine specimen.  The turtles don’t spend a lot of time in the creek channel, but I’ve often seen them drinking from the pools.  I hope their instinctual behavior is honed enough to keep them from all getting carried downstream in the event of a drought buster flood.

Not all of the turtles were near water.  This guy was walking across a mowed trail at the top of the hill.  Slugs are still active in the early morning and box turtles love to eat slugs.  A slug body would certainly hold a good deal of moisture which would help meet the turtle’s water needs.

I thought this to be a particularly intricate shell pattern.  The turtles of Blue Jay Barrens have suffered through many droughts during the past 27 years.  They always seem to survive.  July is typically a good rain producing month, so there’s a chance of us picking up a few storms that will at least bring some relief to the situation.  Until then, the turtles will position themselves to best advantage in relation to available water.  Hopefully I’ll have many more turtle encounters through the summer.

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