First turtle of the Year, 2012

Where to begin? Certainly with the first turtle of the season of the
Digs 2012; but at the same time the first posting here since 25
October of last year… I guess that is simply an overwintering
absence, and this is essentially a journal of my days in turtle
places. My final entry of 2011 described my finding the last turtle of
the year, that 5 year old spotted turtle found in the Far End of the
Great Alder Carr, a favored wintering compartment of many of the
spotted turtles I have recorded over the years. I expected that same
wetland compartment, dominated by alder and royal fern mound
structures, to be the locus of my first turtle sighting of the year, a
spotted turtle, as is the rule. But it was a different species in a
very different venue this season: a four-year old wood turtle (one I
had not come upon before) up on the bank of his overwintering stream,
that I found on the thirteenth of March. I thought this might be a
new record for earliest emergence from hibernation, but a vague deep
memory circuit has my recalling a finding of an adult and juvenile
wood turtle up on a bank on the opposite side of this favored
ovrwintering reach, not far from the site this discovery, on the truly
remarkably early date of 5 March, some years ago. I can only say once
again, “It’s in my notes”. I am beginning a project that will have me
going through all of my field notebooks to find the dates for the the
first day of emergence from hibernation, year by year, for over twenty
years I believe, and should be able to clarify this. More on this
topic in a subsequent posting.

I had gone to that spotted turtle site the day before, expecting to
find open water and perhaps the first turtle. But despite (or perhaps
because of ?) the essentially snowless winter, the habitat was still
locked in ice, an ice-hold strong enough for me to walk on. Most years
I head out for my first investigation by walking on a logging road
used as a snowmobile trail, then proceed to the alder carr on
snowshoes. This year I could drive in part way, then walk open ground
out to that destination. The next day, after a showery morning broke
to full sun and a very warm afternoon, in the low to mid sixties, I
went to the east branch of the brook confluence that is the setting of
my primary (almost exclusive, in recent years) wood turtle focus. I
knew the ice would not yet have yielded in the alder swamp. The stream
was open; it may not have frozen over at all this past mild winter;
and the stream banks were free of ice and snow. beavers had
constructed a great new dam and lodge at the downstream end of this
brook, not far upstream from its confluence with the west branch. I
have only found a few wood turtles to hibernate in this lower reach, a
nearly level run with slower flow and more sedimentation than the
upper brook. Now, with a vastly broadened and deepened watercourse
subject to even more sedimentation I did not expect to see a turtle
that had been overwintering here. Former stream edgings, along which I
did find some on occasion, were in fact now inundated.

As I made my way upstream – not easily done, in view of the the
effects of the beavers’ alteration of the flood regime – I expected to
see a basking wood turtle at any turn. But it was not until I reached
the last niche in which I thought I might find one that I had my
solitary sighting of the day. This was where some years ago a large
wind-thrown red maple, uprooted from its bankhold on the very edge of
the brook, had crashed into riparian thickets dominated by alder and
silky dogwood. I have often found wood turtles taking advantage of the
cover provided by such wind-thrown trees, an interesting ecological
convergence of flowing stream dynamics, wind, riparian trees and
shrubs, and wood turtles (as well as other animal life). Another
subject in itself, as is everything out here, in one way or another…
the complexities, interrelationships, balances that humans continually

Typical of wood turtles – especially young ones, it seems to me – this
one was up on a rafting of flood-drifted small branches (more
ecology), several inches off the substrate, which was yet hard with
ice. And there was an ice sheet less a than meter away from the little
turtle’s solarium. I have read that substrates influence the body
temperature of turtles more than direct sun, and certainly it would be
hard for one to achieve a heat-gain with a plastron resting on
something close to ice pack. I have on occasion found three or four
wood turtles in basking sites associated with the fallen, several-
trunked red maple. Some strips of bark along on trunk section are
viable, and have sent up a line of sapling-high branches-become-trees,
near their time of flowering. One long-time familiar adult female has
appeared in this massive tangle at emergence from hibernation in many

Following the finding of this first turtle, as is frequently the case,
the weather turned overcast and chill, even cold, for four days. Then
a dramatic shift from late winter to midsummer erupted, and lasted for
five days, with a series of four (five?) days in a row that
established new high-temperature records for the dates in the Concord
area, days in the low eighties to eighty-four degrees, as I recall.
This brought the first spotted turtles out of hibernation in the Alder
Carr, more wood turtles along the brook, (these will be the subject of
my next entry), and turtles everywhere no doubt, still so early. And
then, as it is with March (and capricious April has its mood swings as
well, of course), things wheeled back in the direction of late winter.
I have had eight indoor days now, badly needed for matters in my
Arbeitzimmer; and there will be a couple more before there is renewed
turtle danger. *** I have not advertised this site, as it has been so
long dormant, and my past track record has been anything but one of
daily breaking news (but this is largely turtle business, after all).
And although I am resolved (again) to do better with consistency et.
al. in making entries as the season goes along, I am aware of how hard
it is to break established patterns, and may well continue with rather
lengthy postings at too widely separated intervals. But I would
appreciate anyone stumbling upon this journal site and finding it of
interest passing it along to anyone else who they might find it
interesting to read. Thanks. Turtles, David

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 31st, 2012 at 3:03 pm and is filed under Site News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Copyright © 2009 David M. Carroll. All rights reserved.