While most people take a relaxing trip in the canoe and have fun with their friends and family, when the field team takes out the canoe for turtle research, it becomes a full body workout. We are all familiar with strong winds and some uncomfortable waves that prove difficult for canoeing, but the field team faces other challenges while in the water, such as squeezing through tight spaces, pulling the canoe over beaver dams, and pushing through shallow water.

The canoe commute starts out with loading the canoes into the water, loading them with gear, and paddling from the large open lake into the wetlands where the turtles live. There are other wetlands along the way that make it difficult to get from the dock to our destination. Sometimes we get stuck in grassy or shrubby hummocks, so we have to back up and try another way. Other times we have to make tight turns in the canoe around vegetation and stubs left behind by beavers. In these same wetlands, shrubs often block our view so we need to carefully stand up in the canoe to look for open channels that are wide enough for the canoe to pass through. The canoes are adorned with battle scars from the previous years, and there are more to come. With shallow waters, shrubs, branches, and fallen logs, it is rarely “smooth sailing” in these boats!

There are plenty of hummocks in the wetland that make it difficult to move through in a canoe.

In addition to maneuvering around in wetlands, we also have to cross many beaver dams. To do this, my canoe partner and I paddle up to the beaver dam, where we then get out onto the dam, each standing on opposite sides of the canoe, and pull the canoe over. The water levels influenced by beaver dams are fascinating, and the water level on either side of the beaver dam can be drastically different. There is this one beaver dam where the difference in water level between the two sides is over 2 feet! Pulling the canoe over this dam and it was certainly a workout. Beaver dams also serve as natural bridges for animals to use, and can be areas of high traffic. We’ve seen a porcupine crossing from one side of the dam to the other, as well as a garter snake on the dam eating a frog it had just captured.

Grace Wiley pulling the canoe over the beaver dam so that we can reach our destination and track some turtles.

A few weeks into the month of May, part of one of the beaver dams came apart and the chunk that came apart floated metres away from the dam. With an opening now in the dam, it was much easier to travel into the next wetland, as there was no longer a need to get out of the canoe and pull it over the dam. While it is more convenient for us to commute to the wetlands to find the turtles we are tracking, I do hope that the beavers continue to fix and create these dams as they are nature’s construction workers that shape the wetlands that are home to so many plants and animals.

With the canoe docked on the beaver dam, a very visible opening of the dam is seen, along with the part of the dam that came apart