NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Teva Harrison, Manager of Supporter Development at Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).
When Jen McCarter emailed me and invited me to join her and Tricia Stinnissen, a former Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) intern, in the field for a day looking for turtles, I jumped at the idea. I don’t have a car, so I booked a seat on a train to London, where they picked me up to drive out to a secret location in Ontario to look for spotted turtles — a globally endangered species that relies on a few special wetland habitats in Ontario, some of which NCC protects.
I woke up bright and early to catch the 7:30 a.m. train out of the city, arriving in London a couple of hours later to meet Jen & Tricia — awesome NCC scientists who specialize in turtles. We drove out to the secret location, where spotted turtles, along with a few other kinds, were documented in 2005. The locations are secret because the spotted turtle is globally at risk, and the species is commonly poached for the pet trade.
Chest waders: an essential turtle spotting accessory
We arrived at the wetland complex after about an hour of driving, and suited up in chest waders. Our backpacks held our lunches, cameras and equipment. Jen and Tricia also carried in big hoop traps that we would leave behind overnight.
It was my first time wearing chest waders, and they took some getting used to. My feet kept getting stuck in the muck, or twisted in soggy grasses under water, but I eventually got the hang of it.
Today, we hoped to see spotted turtles, Blanding’s turtles, stinkpots, painted turtles and snapping turtles.
We made our way through the marsh to an area of more open water, where we set the first trap and baited it with anchovies. Spotted turtles aren’t likely to be caught in the traps, but Blanding’s and snapping turtles are attracted to the smelly fish, and they get trapped, which makes it much easier to count them.
Water, water, everywhere
The day was overcast and a bit cool. Jen took the temperature, and the water was slightly warmer than the air, so turtles were likely hiding out in the water. They certainly weren’t basking in the open. We spent hours walking back and forth slowly through deeper water and little canals, and over uneven marshy ground, even through dense thickets, peering into the rushes, looking for a hint of a turtle.
We saw green frogs, osprey, countless darling little songbirds and small fish. We heard the music of spring peepers, calling across the wetland complex. Hours went by, as we laboriously made our way across the property. There was a lot of evidence of beaver activity on the property, which was changing the wetland, diverting water and draining sections that used to be submerged.
We documented big patchesd of phragmites, or the common reed, an invasive alien plant that towers above the wetland, and crowds out the native species. Phragmites grows so densely that turtles can’t make their way through, and can block transit between seasonal habitats. NCC staff will be removing these plants, and hopefully, they’ll be able to stop them from coming back.
Photo courtesy of NCC.
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