Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blanding's Turtle Not Shy!

The conservation status of the Blanding's turtle varies from threatened to endangered depending on where you are. Our natural reaction to the word "endangered" is to think of rarity. So it stands to reason that Blanding's turtles are hard to find. Another natural assumption arising from calling an animal "endangered" or "threatened" is that we think the animal itself understands its precarious status and flees at the slightest whiff or sighting of a human. I have read descriptions of Blanding's turtles which say that while you might see painted turtles sunning on a log, the Blanding's is likely to slip off the log before you get a good look at it.

In the St. Lawrence River valley near Lake Ontario, Blanding's turtles are not hard to find, and, save for the snapping turtle, who you aren't going to get too close anyway, it is the boldest of the turtles, if your idea of bold is staying put and minding its own business. In my experience, painted turtles always bailout before a Blanding's turtle.

On the first warm sunny day after the ice melts from the small pools of water up on a well wooded sandstone ridge on our land, (and here's what it looked like on March 24 this year)

my wife takes a break from boiling maple sap and goes up to what we call the "Turtle Bog" and sees if the Blanding's turtle is out in the sun. Almost every year it is and then she goes down to the cabin, rouses me from a nap, and I go up and take a photo.

Last year we had a early thaw and a Blanding's was out on March 18, notice the skim of ice still in the water:

The year before that, 2009, we saw a Blanding's out on April 2:

I could continue to digress because this happens every year, about the same time, about the same place, if the sun is out and it's not too cold.

This year, on April 3, two turtles were out. One at about the same spot I saw a turtle last year in March.

And the other was in a wet flat thicket about 20 feet from the other.

As far as I could see they were doing no more than getting some fresh air after having been in the mud all winter and listening to the wood frogs croak. One had its neck stretched out in the sun. I was attracted to that one. Love to see that yellow skin under the neck of a Blanding's

From across the little pool of water, I was no more than 20 feet from it. While I hate to force the poor thing back into the water, I know from experience that if I want a candid close-up of my old friend, then this is the time to do it. So I eased my way around to the other side of the pond, snapping photos as I went.

It seemed to twist its neck in my direction once, but otherwise didn't bat an eye.

Then I got around far enough to see the yellow.

I held my breath, got in front of the turtle, and took my official portrait for the Spring of 2011 and left it in peace.

As it warms up these turtles get more active and I've seen them scouring pools for food, and, I've seen them doing it. One afternoon in late September I came up to a pond and saw a Blanding's turtle swimming in the water toward the shore. I had a camcorder and was pleased that I got it whirring before the turtle sank into the dark pond. But it didn't sink. I walked closer and kept that camcorder whirring. Soon enough I saw Mrs. Turtle upon whom the happy-go-lucky looking fellow on top was getting a ride.

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