Field season has been in full swing for over a month now. I have been tracking Blanding’s turtles from sunrise until sunset, driving from northwest to northeast, canoeing through lakes, marshes, swamps and fens and catching Snapping turtles, Painted turtles, Blanding’s turtles and fish. I just can’t get enough. The field season completely consumes my whole being. I have been tracking 42 turtles in 4 different locations across Ontario and have also been surveying for juvenile Blanding’s turtles in one specific location. Every week I camp out for a few days at our biggest site and have been soaking up each and every adventure! I have many stories about connections and lessons learned through turtles that I would love to share with you. Follow the turtles and I on this journey…………the first story I share is my very first weekend out using the traps.
I awoke just before the sun was about to rise. The silence penetrated throughout my being…I was so excited to start the day! This was my first weekend out tracking and trapping the turtles. At this point I had tracked all the turtles successfully (21 in total) and just had to check my trap. I had slept thinking only of turtles….and specifically of all the ones I was going to catch in my trap. In my dream there were so many they were falling out of the net. A quick breakfast and then it was time. This morning (as of every other morning I am camping) I am making oatmeal (how original). I find when I am camping everything tastes amazing….even the slightly burnt mushy oatmeal I was eating. I literally threw a few spoonful’s down my throat and couldn’t wait any longer, the suspense was killing me! I had to go check the traps!! Setting and checking traps is such an exciting experience! It’s like Christmas in the summer. I often think about what is happening in the traps at night……are juvenile Blanding’s going into the traps, having a small party in there, eating the bait and then sneaking back out just before I get to them? Oh how I would love to set a camera in the traps to see if anyone is sneaking out! It had been raining on and off all weekend and I was right in the middle of the lake yesterday when a real soaker happened. Rain was coming down so fast, I felt like I was in the shower with my clothes on. This morning the sun was shining and the rain had passed. All my clothes were still soaked, but thank-you (whoever it was) to the invention of quick drying gear, I knew I would be dry in no time. With one last check to make sure I had all the equipment needed….off I paddled to my first site. From my typical campsite it usually takes approximately 20-30 min to get there with 1 short portage. This morning I was pretty wound up…I’m sure I took minutes off the paddle. The site is a sweet gale swamp thicket. Sweet gale (Myrica gale) has an intoxicating sweet smell that comes off the plant when rubbed against, going through a thicket is like walking through a candy store!
As I entered the site, I had set a trap on the right. The closer I got to the trap; I swore I saw something move. I “casually” got out of the canoe and right away saw one turtle!!! It was a Blanding’s turtle! I could feel my breath starting to heighten. I picked up the net and not only was there one but there were two more turtles!! All Blanding’s turtles!! I dropped the trap back down and began to do a little dance…3 Blanding’s turtles…..Yes! I felt like I needed to share this with the world. I thought this was the biggest news since Wayne Gretzky got traded! I began to focus and started the processing. Processing turtles is like being a customer service representative; you are not sure what type of turtle (customer) will show up…the patient/well-behaved, the biter, the hiss-er or the scratch-er. I started assessing each turtle looking for parasites or injuries, taking measurements and assessing their age. Determining the age of a wild turtle is all estimate. Each turtle grows annual rings on there shell, so you can count the number and determine the approximate age, but as the turtle ages their rings start to fade so it could be a 70 year old turtle! Unlike humans there skin does not wrinkle with age, there organs don’t degenerate, nor do they “slow down” with age (all pun intended). On the contrary, as female Blanding’s turtles age they have more clutches and more eggs in each clutch. I’m sure there probably is a scientist out there trying to figure out how humans Can get some of those genes! After processing them, I determined I had 3 adult turtles: 2 males and 1 female. I notched there shell with a file using our number code and released them back into the swamp. I then collected the trap and started my paddle back to camp to gather my gear. The weekend had passed so quickly, and I felt like I was in heaven with the moment. My hunt for wild juveniles is still on! As I paddled my canoe out of the swamp and introduced myself back to society, I felt a wave of certainty, a knowing that I am exactly where I need to be, and that in every moment we all are exactly where we need to be. That in every moment we are choosing the next: so find what inspires you and ride the wave! You see the inspiration is always within and is waiting to be set free!
I just left the site and I am already itching to get back out! ……..More adventures to come.
Lynda Ruegg, KTTC Field Biologist