Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I swam in the ocean and I canoed in a couple rivers on last July's Florida vacation (see the first post here), and I have to say I favor the inland waters of the Sunshine State, or at least its panhandle.

Springs pop out of the limestone that underlies much of the panhandle, producing gorgeously clear pools flowing out into gentle (but chilly) creeks that are a pleasure to canoe or kayak. I took a couple absolutely sublime trips - one by kayak on my own, another in a canoe with my brother-in-law Fernando, who is entitled to call in the debt I owe him for constantly stopping the canoe as I jumped in the water to pursue turtle after turtle.

I am not going to organize this post by trip; rather I'll start with the scenery and then discuss some of the turtle species I saw.

Here's a murkier creek, one I was working on foot (in other words tripping and slogging my way along) until the deep mud, snags, and the nagging fear that an alligator was going to rip my arm off called it quits for me. There are some wary turtles in the distance in this shot. In the foreground is a large branch I sort of flopped over into the mud again.

I'll start with the ugly. I mean no offense to the cutely homely mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) but there is a little bit of a let down when you charge into the mud and water and then realize you've caught something you can find at home:

The first turtle I came up with on the canoe trip with Fernando was almost as unexciting - a yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), the less attractive cousin of the red-eared sliders (T. s. elegans) that are colonizing the Delaware Valley from their native range in the middle part of the country. Yellow bellies live all over the Southeast, and you can find them just about anywhere there is water.

Still, it was an exciting proof of concept: that I could see turtles dive into the water, and then catch them by diving in after them with my mask and snorkel.

There are three species of cooter that I probably saw on this trip (all related to our local cooter, a.k.a. the redbelly turtle - Pseudemys rubriventris). The most common, based on the one I caught and the characteristics of the river I caught it in, is the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna). They have a distinctive C-shaped mark on one of the scutes towards the front of the carapace along with other distinctive markings that I was unable to make out in the far-off, wary turtles that jumped in elsewhere. Thus I might also have seen some Florida cooters (P. floridana) and Florida Redbellies (P. nelsoni).

One of those turtles in the distance (my camera does great underwater, but not so great on zooming in for long distance) is a beefy-looking softshell (Apalone sp.) that I failed to catch. Part of the problem is that I lost my flashlight in the river early on the trip, and with the cloudiness of the water couldn't see much towards the bottom of the deeper sections.

Even when I didn't get my hands on the turtles, I did enjoy the other river dwellers I got to see:

Now here is the catch of the trip, a Barbour's map turtle (Graptemys barbouri). The males and females look quite different, with the males staying small and eating bugs and small crustaceans, while the much larger females grow bulldog-massive heads for crushing mollusks and crustaceans. I only found one male - testament to my poor turtling skills on an unfamiliar river, but I was still pleased as punch. Here is how it looked underwater.

Here's the little guy for one out-of-the-water shot before being released.

1 comment:

David Steen said...

Snorkeling for turtles in a clear southern creek is among my list of favorite activities. Looks like a good trip.