Radio tracking turtles can be thought of as the most rewarding game of hide-and-go-seek there ever was, mostly because the reward is finding a gorgeous, potentially sassy reptile. Turtles are often portrayed as slow-moving animals but boy oh boy can these little critters move. Not only do our turtles move, but they travel to different waterbodies often in dry stream beds or forested valleys between large rocky outcrops which can make this a rather challenging game of hide and seek. Rocks and dense trees disrupt the signal from the turtles transmitter to our equipment, leaving us with sporadic beeps going every which way. Loud constant beeps are a welcoming sound to our ears, a loud constant beep says we are headed in the right direction, closer to our turtle pal! Sometimes the loud beeps will bring us to a dense thicket of shrubs, a dark vernal pool, a large lake, a deep swamp, a grassy wetland, or a bog full of floating vegetation mats. As we travel over the land to these locations the beeps grow louder and louder at a lower gain (similar to volume), letting us know we’re close. The beep may be screaming in your ear letting you know the turtle you’re tracking is within reach, although they’re often hidden under mounds of grass, swimming away as quick as they can, or they may even be taking a curious peak at you from a metre away!
Turtle 068, poking his head up in his vernal pool location at the beginning of the season.
Turtle 068, hiding under grasses in his new wetland location.
In deep water the turtle tracking is very tricky with the turtles being experts at hide and seek, zipping around and doing circles around us, if a turtle could chuckle I’m sure this would be one of those times. Sometimes the turtles have not moved from their previous location, but they live in a tricky habitat like a thicket. The dense shrubbery of thickets makes moving within it very difficult and this sometimes skews the beeps sending you in odd directions. While tracking one particular individual the beeps brought us through its thicket habitat at a low gain, at this point constant seeking was taking place. The screaming beeps led us to the back of the thicket but the turtle was no where to be seen, land was close and a different angle for the equipment was available for us to better try to locate the turtle. Upon reaching the edge of the thicket we discovered the silly little turtle on land nestled in some leaves basking in the sunshine!
Turtle 016 basking on land under leaf litter.
Hide and seek turtle tracking style, can often feel like you’re running in circles but seeing that characteristic grin of a Blanding’s Turtle when you’ve discovered their location, is the best way to end the day.