Sunday, May 01, 2011

Every year I try to find another spotted turtle population (Clemmys guttata). I look at the maps and satellite images, do a little scouting over the winter, and then see if they're there like I expect them to be in the spring.

This year's spot was in the Pine Barrens. There are probably decent spotted turtle populations all over the Pine Barrens, but so far I haven't looked for them there - part of my overall anti-Pine-Barrens bias I suppose.

Our herping buddy Frank (a.k.a. Obi Frank Kenobi) told me once that he found a pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) at a spot I herped a lot when I first moved up here - 2005-2006. Frank has been herping since before I was born, so there might not be pine snakes there anymore, but I thought I might as well take a look around and get a feel for the terrain.

I couldn't hunt both pine snakes and spotted turtles at the same time. Spotted turtles are creatures of shallow water; pine snakes prowl and tunnel beneath the upland sands of the Barrens. They are also best found in different weather: spotted turtles tend to be morning people and are hard to find once it gets hot, while we, at least, tend to find pine snakes crawling around in warmer weather.

So I started off with the spotted turtle hunt. I tromped and slogged my way through the flooded forest fringing a creek and found no spotties. I did see a ton of dead Japanese stiltgrass.

I'm not sure if spotted turtles don't like the stuff - its an invasive exotic weed that tends to choke out everything else - but I think of it as the sign of a degraded landscape, and I saw no spotties there. I did see some wood frogs (Rana sylvatica)... well as the season's first box turtle (Terrapene carolina) sitting pretty on an island in the marsh.

As a rule, box turtles make a trip. If you find a box turtle, the trip is not a failure and you have not wasted your time driving all that distance, burning all that gasoline, slogging and hacking all those miles. I looked the scared guy over and rubbed my hands over the warm, rough shell to trigger the release of some more endorphins (mine of course) before I put him down.

After a couple hours I headed uphill and worked back to the car on the sand.

I met a pair of fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) sitting in a hollow tree.

They ran out when I looked more closely. Here's the big girl up on the trunk doing her best squirrel imitation (trying to stay on the other side of the tree).

Here's the male, who actually stopped on the trunk and did some push ups that showed off his pretty blue belly and throat.

I saw no pine snakes, but check out this track under the sand. Pine snakes eat pocket gophers, and so seeing pocket gopher tracks is a nice sign.

It was over 70 degrees and the sun was shining hard when I took a quick detour into one last patch of marsh. I could see some bushes and tangled greenbriar from up on hill, and that was enough to pull me back down into the water.

And the water looked perfect. I even wrote "perfect water" in my notebook (I did not write 'perfect vegetation' as shrubs and vines - many of them with thorns - did their best to poke my eyes out and skin me), and then a couple steps later I watched a spotted turtle slide into the water.

I was elated. I did not catch the turtle (I tried, feeling around for a few minutes like a raccoon), I didn't see or catch another, but I was ecstatic to simply have found a turtle where I wanted to find a turtle.


David Steen said...

Congrats! Great find. Spotted turtles give me a thrill as well, I remember the first time I caught sight of one as its head submerged between two tussocks of vegetation in a NH marsh. I managed to get ahold of it by feeling around in the mud with my hands.
I agree with your sentiment regarding box turtles, I never saw a wild animal in all my time in the northeast. Down here in the southeast however, they do periodically show up in my path.


Bernard Brown said...

Thanks Dave,

Box turtles have a kind of magic to them, which (not to spoil the good vibe) makes me all the more frustrated to see them apparently in decline.