Some notes on spotted and wood turtles; hatchling wood turtles; Jefferson salamnader

My last spotted turtle sighting and capture occurred on the 14th of
July. I waded into the Swale, which still had water depths in some
compartments that would seem to support spotted turtles’ lingering
here a while yet. Last year this vernal pool habitat, the epicenter of
my spotted turtle encounters for over thirty years (and a central
setting for four of my books), was completely dried up by late May.
The vagaries of the seasons; the shiftings of the spotted turtles –
always a fascinating dynamic, and one that, outside of radio tracking,
allows few findings of these turtles, and hence few insights into its
progress. I searched from the southern edge of this seasonal wetland
to its northern extremity, which I refer to as the “Far End” in my
Digs notebooks. And I had no sightings until I reached that far end.
It holds the largest and deepest pool in the Swale’s wetland basin.
The sighting and capture of a long-familiar male was a classic one for
me, something familiar to me since those first days as an eight year
old discovering spotted turtles and their world. First there was a
slight jostling of emergent sedge, the inflated sedge that has come to
proliferate in the deeper depressions of the Swale. The brief, reedy
movement, set in various stirrings caused by the wind and occasional
frog activity, signaled a turtle on the move. Within seconds there was
a sharp alarm cry from a young green frog who made a swift departure
from that section of sedge. The suspected spotted turtle was not in
pursuit of the frog; but some presence in the water triggered his
Then – and this is how it commonly goes – long minutes of no further
evidence of a turtle, as I kept still and waited. And waited. At
length the head of a male spotted turtle appeared above water. As is
all but invariably the case, this initiated another long period of
waiting-out the turtle I would now love to take in hand to identify.
Thusly I have spent countless swampwalking hours over the course of
six decades and counting. The turtle finally ducked his head under and
I made my move. He detected this and at once made his own move.
Happily I was able to track his progress enough, despite losing sight
of his movements for a second or two here and there (this part of the
process takes place with contrasting quickness), to grasp him and
bring him to the surface. This turtle has chipped marginals at the
right rear edge of his carapace, a distinctive mechanical injury I
have backed up with a single slight notch, features that allowed me to
know him as one with whom I have a long history. And an uncommon one,
in that I first recorded him as a very young turtle.

Following that my turtle time centered on wood turtles, until the wild
recharge of the Swale and other seasonal wetland haunts of the spotted
turtles by the tropical storm that hurricane Irene had become upon
reaching this area. Such rain events have on occasion in the past
spurred a return of at least some spotted turtles to the Swale, and
initiated a period of activity in the shrub swamps to which they
return at summer’s ending for their overwintering. The Swale was
filled to the brim and over the brim – always wonderful to see – but I
found no sign of spotted turtles there. I went on to the Great Swale,
wondering if I might see one there. This is a central setting for YEAR
OF THE TURTLE, and another former epicenter for the spotted turtles.
But, to put it briefly, turtle sightings there have declined as plant
succession has advanced over the past two decades, to the point that I
rarely make searches here, even at the time of emergence from
hibernation. Another significant factor in my not coming here but a
couple of times a year is that the near-impenetrable tangles
vegetation have become flat-out impenetrable. As described in TURTLE
and other writings, moving through this wetland is an all-body
experience. This was arduous even ten years ago, before the
encroaching sedges, alders, red maple saplings, et. al. had taken over
all but completely – and I was that much younger. The channels and
pockets and pools in which I found so many spotted turtles in those
earlier years are essentially untraceable now; I believe they are
overwhelmingly unnavigable even for the turtles. There is virtually
nowhere that I can look into the water (this is still a seasonal flood
compartment, one of those natural flood control acreages that have
been lost to human alteration of the wetlandscape); nowhere I might
possibly see the head of a turtle above the surface. Nor could I
detect turtle movements here, were there turtles present. I struggled
mightily, making little but exhausting progress, remembering former
times here. I had to turn back, thinking it might still be possible to
search and find here at thaw, when at least the new growth had not yet
begun. But so much is now woody tangles and persistent masses of
herbaceous sedges and ferns, that I have great doubts about any future
expeditions here.

On to the Far End of the Great Alder Carr, the downflow end of this
large Great Swale-Great Alder Carr wetland depression in the
landscape. It is here that I have come to find spotted turtles at
emergence from overwintering in recent years. It is difficult enough,
though not as challenging to make my way through as the Great Swale
was even when I first discovered it. There are wadeable/navigable
channels and pools; it is possible to sight and capture spotted
turtles here. And, of great import, there are turtles here. but the
water was deep, by spotted turtle habitat parameters, that is to say
close to waist deep; and the season’s rampant growth, primarily of
royal fern on shrub mounds, made even places I could wade through
close to unsearchable. I doubted that with the water depth, and
stronger sweep of floodwater through the compartment, which usually
has a very low, steady drift until even that falls away at the time of
low water, would favor activity by the turtles i sought. as is my
custom, my postings on this journal site are too far apart and get
into rather long accounts. I will stop here for now and try to cover
what is sketched out in my heading before long. To be continued…

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