The art of tracking turtles…let me set the mood. I have just canoed to a sweet gale swamp thicket wetland, which was where I last saw the turtle. I am standing in my canoe, antennae in hand. I begin to point and hammer down the antennae from left to right. Listening to the sounds of the beep, I decipher where they are getting the loudest and I bring my arms together to the loudest point. I then start canoeing in that direction. Now that seems so easy, right? Did I mention that the turtle could be a kilometer away, in the middle of a thicket, with 3 portages to get past…it is like trying to get to the nearest exit on the 401 during rush hour traffic…. you see the destination but you are moving as slowly as a turtle, and don’t think you will ever get there!
Today I am going to write about George and recount some of his adventures. One of my favorite new sayings lately (with all fun intended!) is “Seriously, George!”
George was born/hatched in a hole, probably a south facing hole with lots of sandy soil , away from a lot of vegetation so it was exposed to the bright sun. He possibly had anywhere from 3-19 brothers and sisters, but you see George doesn’t know anything about his family. Soon after he was hatched, he walked away from his brothers and sisters and set off on a path of his own. He never knew his mother, she left before he was born and his father wanted no part in any of his life. George, the mere size of a quarter, walked out into the world and against all odds survived (<1%-15% survivorship rate). He probably grew up in a wetland with lots of cover and shallow water. By the time he hit 14-20 years old, his hormones started pumping and all heck broke lose! We all know these as the “teenage years”. George was becoming interested in the ladies and was ready to start dating. He is not exclusive to one female…. so he moves around quite a bit. At this time, George is estimated to be anywhere from 25-40 years old, which is considered “being in his prime”! George enjoys travelling, keeping active, and eating. He “resides” in a sweet gale swamp thicket and is quite a “good-looking” Blanding’s turtle. His carapace (shell) has an abundance of beautiful yellow spots, he has big, beady, beautiful eyes and his yellow chin shines like the sun. Not to mention, he is a good-sized Blanding’s and keep’s himself in wonderful shape!
I met George in the early springtime, when we were out looking for Blanding’s turtles. When he was found in the trap one morning, it was decided, he was getting a transmitter! What we didn’t realize is how hungry he was; he was found several different mornings in the trap, having an easy snack. I quickly became accustomed to the predictability of George. I would go to the wetland and George would hang out near the entrance, or just back in the channel a bit. Early on in my trapping days, I would excitedly go to the trap and see a turtle’s head pop out of the water. Yes, a Blanding’s turtle!! (I won’t lie, a small dance did occur) and to all the excitement, I would pull out the turtle and laugh! Seriously George! I usually don’t handle the turtles a lot, so as not to disturb them, but every month I try to catch them and quickly take their measurements. When it was George’s monthly check-up, off I went to the easily accessible channel in the swamp. Out of the canoe I went, hearing the beep getting louder and louder; it was an area easy to navigate with just a few hummocks. The beep became really loud, so I knew he was within the area. I put my hand in the water to see if I could feel him; I definitely couldn’t see him. And just to clarify- I do blindly put my hand in the water and start to swim around under there. I have yet to be attacked by a swarm of leeches (knock on wood!), or grabbed and pulled under by some sort of graboid! (referring to the big worm like creature that swallows people whole in the funny/supposed to be scary 90’s movie called Tremors with Kevin Bacon…Reba McIntyre is classic in that movie!) A few seconds later I noticed the beep was very low…that is a good indication the turtle is swimming. So I got up and readjusted my antennae…. I figured out the direction and off I went and repeated the same events. I was losing the beep so quickly; you see George had some open water to work with. After a couple of minutes of following him swim, he took a very unpredictable right turn and started swimming around a hummock. He was just about to fool me into staying in the hummocks when he made a dash for the open water and I reached my hands down and scooped him up. George is a quiet scratcher; he will let you hold him then BOOM, his arms and legs sway back and forth, trying to reach every corner of your arm. I worked quickly, and had him checked in and out of the “clinic” in no time. George was looking good. My arm on the other hand……
The next week I went to check on him, there was no signal! Okay, seriously George, where in the wetland did you go? I went to the front and back of the swamp-nothing! I decided to make a trip to the far east side of the swamp, but it is nearly impossible to get the canoe through the water, so I decided was to portage it on land. First, I walked to the end of the route on land, to the water’s edge to see if I could hear a signal- I did! The faintest beep was heard, like when you are ready to go to sleep and hear the faintest sound of your partner trying to tell you a story! So I portaged the canoe through the rocky outcrop. Once on the other side, I found a bit of open water which led to a beaver dam, followed by a swamp thicket, then more open water after. As I was trying to follow the beep, the terrain got a little more difficult. I portaged the first beaver dam and as I got closer realized there were three more! Including one dam that was almost chest height. I decided it was best to traverse this area on land. Off I went to find George’s location, climbing up steep slopes and cutting through juniper shrubs and lots of blueberries (which can be very distracting!) The beep was getting louder. I got to the other side and BAM!…there was a small lake. Guess where the loudest beeps were coming from? That’s right the farthest corner away. Seriously George! What in the world took George to this area? Food? Females? He must have known from last week that I was following him! Yes, that must be it! In all seriousness, Blanding’s turtles can travel quite far and love to have expansive wetlands for all their adventures.
George has continued to hang out in the farthest east side of the wetland, moving around within that area, checking out each community, until last week when I went to his predictable location: he wasn’t there! He is off on another adventure and it is not currently in the sweet gale swamp thicket. I am sure he will show up again on my radar. …Sometimes they go off grid for a week or two weeks (such as Carl…. but he is a story on his own!).
Thank-you George for all the laughter you have brought and the lesson on predictability: I think that life can be so predictable sometimes, but what is predictability? It is a projection about the future from past experience. If we always thought life was predictable, a shift in energy could not occur. And sometimes it is just a small shift we need to bring us back into clarity. And clarity is the present moment. Being present in every moment is hard to do, but that is probably the most amazing adventure to be in. That’s why we feel so clear in nature. Nature is the present moment. George you are the present moment.
KTTC Field Biologist