Friday, June 21, 2013

Turtle Time of Year

May 29, 2013
Meadowbrook Road, Queensbury NY

Now I see a snapping turtle, its shell about a foot long, 
out here on the damp sand,
with its head out,
disturbed by me.
   HDT Journal, June 7, 1854

Like Thoreau, I am thinking of turtles at this time of year. Around the first of June, turtles of all types have one thing on their minds – nesting.
Memorial Day weekend, all the conditions were right, except for one. It had finally rained (a lot) after a long dry spell, and the moon would be full. The only factor that might dissuade them was that it suddenly turned cold again. There were even frost warnings that weekend !
Turtles have been out basking for some time now.  Painted Turtles have probably dug nests close to their ponds, undetected.

For four years now, I have seen Wood Turtles right in my own yard -- but only at this time of year. These critters spend 90 percent of their time in the woods, and are as elusive as they are uncommon.
If you are lucky, you might just happen upon one digging a nest to lay eggs.

This girl has been using the flower beds of the Girl Scout office as her nursery for at least  four years now. 

 I can say this with a fair amount of confidence,  because I have taken a photo of the underside of her shell, which has a distinctive pattern that varies for each individual.



One of them was killed by a lawnmower last year. It was good to see this other one, in her usual spot, creating future generations.

It was the snapping turtles I was really watching for, however. There’s one in the slough out back, who makes her way each year to her preferred place --  across the road.
You might say, Why not pick a site where she doesn’t have to cross the road ? Not very smart of her !
But turtle time is not our time.
She and her mother’s mothers were making that trek each season,
long before this building -- this road -- or this town-- was ever here.

This week, I drove around to all the usual spots – culverts and bridges near various creeks – and saw no sign of diggings.  Perhaps turtles, being reptiles, were waiting for warmer temperatures to venture forth and deposit eggs into the earth.
Many of those spots, including one right here at my apartment, were near busy roads.
Each year I see dead turtles, smashed by cars. These creatures have survived whatever killed off the dinosaurs, but have no defense against the automobile.
I had toyed with the idea of making “Turtle Crossing” signs, but had never gotten around to it.
Well, maybe next year.

The first of June, it turned warm again. We had a steady rain, and bad storms were forecast for the afternoon.  I was home after my Vermont trip, and heard a long low rumble of thunder in the southwest.
Looking out my window – I saw a familiar dark shape out in the lawn, near the road.
It was our resident snapping turtle, spurred to action by the rumbles of the storm!

I don’t do storms. Lightning scares the heck out of me. But I ventured outside, to “help” this turtle get across the road.
More thunder, closer now.
She crouched down and stopped, as I approached. Hmm. What to do?
Standing there was only going to prolong this.
She's crossing that road, and certainly isn't afraid of a little thunderstorm.

The sky darkened as I drove to a Lowe’s store nearby. I hastily grabbed some metal sign stakes, and a piece of bright green blank plastic for a sign.  Hustled through the self-service checkout, and back out to the car, as rain began to fall.

The turtle was still on my side of the road when I got home, but edging closer to the white line.
I grabbed a raincoat and a broom (with a metal handle !) and ran back outside, and used the bristles to urge her to walk a little faster across the road.
More thunder, above us now.
Cars approached, slowed down, and went around us.
If I pushed too hard with the broom, the turtle stopped, braced herself and pushed back. This was going to happen at turtle speed if at all.
Finally, she made it to the grass on the other side of the road. I figured she would be heading back across the road after her digging, and I had a little bit of time.

Back to the apartment. I nervously made a crude handmade Turtle Crossing Sign as lightning flashed.
Outside again, with the signs (and metal stakes !), to place them fifty yards to either side of where I thought she might make her return crossing.

I parked my car nearby, to wait out the rain, and make sure the turtle didn’t double back.

An SUV pulled over, it was a father who wanted to show his daughter a turtle. Ah, another turtle fan! We talked  about turtles for a little while. Momma turtle headed for cover in some nearby bushes, so it was up to Fate from here on.
If she chose to cross back at night - well, maybe drivers would see those signs and slow down a little.
The rain was easing up.
An hour later, the sun ventured out.
And so did I, going a short distance up the road --
there to see a rainbow, rising like the curved edge of a Cosmic Turtle.

Nature does not forget the beauty of outline,
even in a turtle’s shell.
   HDT Journal, May 16, 1854

Post Script – Two days later, just around the corner, I drove by a little house along the brook. There were the unmistakeable signs of turtle-digging at the end of their driveway.
And, there, made by hand and evident love -- was another Turtle Crossing sign.
My smile was a mile wide.


  1. Awesome story, I loved reading it! I have worn a silver turtle necklace for 18 years, it was a 25th anniversary gift from my husband. Lovely creatures, turtles.

  2. Very good work! Turtles deserve a little tender loving care.

  3. Thanks for following !... some turtles take up to a dozen years to mature before they even lay eggs - and it only takes a car a minute to wipe out a future generation - I think I'm going to make a BUNCH of signs next year.

  4. The turtles are lucky to have such a champion in you. And we are lucky to have your blog so we can follow your adventures with them.

  5. Thought of your "Turtle Time of Year" post and the helpful measures you took when I saw a businessman turn on his flashers, exit his expensive automobile and help a snapping turtle across a busy roadway this morning.

  6. turtles rock ! and thanks for the info, it's good to find out they are still up and digging at this time. I think they got a late start this year. But what is "late" to a turtle?!