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It’s in Your Nature: Turtles everywhere

My birding trips drop to only one or two days a week now that the migrants have moved through our area and I almost know, by heart, where to find the ones that stayed in the Times News to nest. I’ll only find one or two new species until maybe, late August. So, I decided to take a short walk in an area that has some varied habitat hoping to see some deer, maybe an otter, some snakes, a few birds, and maybe a few turtles.

My chosen location was the abandoned railroad bed running East from Ashfield. East Penn Township (I believe) has been making some drainage improvements and clearing some brush that had started to encroach onto the old rail bed. Some places the cinder bed is still in rather good shape, and other spots, due to human disturbance and washouts didn’t fare so well.

I walked here last June and found a number of turtle nests that were apparently discovered by night prowling raccoons and/or opossums. About ¼ mile into my hike the railroad bed is raised probably 60 feet or so above the Lizard Creek to the north and a marshy area to the south. Both of these aquatic habitats support many amphibian species, some “neat birds,” and a variety of turtles.

It was June 3, not too hot, and the previous evening’s shower had dampened the railroad bed and the vegetation. I think the biggest factor was this morning it was very cloudy and not stifling hot.

When I reached the cinder bed area, I soon discovered turtles eggshells and I realized they were from a recent nest. To clarify nest, a turtle likes to find loose gravel, and in this case easy to dig cinders, in which she slowly digs with her hind feet. Turtles have rather long claws and dig quite well.

In the next 100 yards I found two snapping turtles, their shells covered with cinder dust, heading back to the water. Close to them, I found a number of spots that revealed where the cinders were recently disturbed.

I then found a fairly large snapping turtle in the process of laying her eggs. Her back half of her body was well into the cinders with basically her head and front claws above. I snapped a few photos and moved on. I soon located two more turtles, but these were wood turtles. They too were “filthy,” their carapaces (damp from the wet vegetation), were also covered with cinder dust.

Then in a few more yards, on the south side of the “bed” a large painted turtle was also digging a nest. In another 50 yards I found a number of recently dug nests.

Returning back to my vehicle I checked on the “snapper” laying her eggs. She just moved out of the hole and was ready to cover them Not trying to leave too much scent I snapped a photo of her round eggs (guessing 25 or so.)

Reptile eggs are leathery, not thin and brittle like bird eggs. Her eggs were about ¾ inch in diameter, definitely smaller than Ping-Pong balls.

All these turtle eggs will rely on the sun’s warmth for incubation and mom turtle will not be near when they hatch. I guessing that only a few of these will actually hatch due to the number of predators that enjoy the taste of turtle eggs.

To make the day complete, about 50 yards from my truck I “bumped” into a box turtle munching on some vegetation. Four turtle species in about an hour’s time.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Snapping turtle eggs will hatch in about: A. 2 weeks. B. 30 days. C. 60 or 70 days. D. 5 months.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Unfortunately our increasing demand for guacamole, all types of coffees, and night time flight obstructions are all leading to the decrease in Baltimore oriole populations. More and more acres of forests in Mexico and Central America are being cleared to grow coffee and avocados.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

I hadn't gone too far on the cinder bed when I discovered the first batch of uncovered and eaten turtle eggs. The shells were still soft and pliable - leathery type shells compared to birds' thin and brittle shells. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
A female snapping turtle (shell length about 9 inches) was inches away from her recently covered “nest.” Cinder dust still was clinging to her damp carapace.
Minutes later in my hike, I found this “snapper” in the process of laying her eggs. About half of her body was in the 8 or 9 inch deep depression she dug with her hind claws.
Retracing my route back to my vehicle, I observed the “egg laying snapper” just off the nest exposing her white, round eggs. She was just getting ready to cover them with the cinders.
One of the numerous painted turtles living in the Lizard Creek and the marshy area near it, was also utilizing the “easy to dig” railroad bed to deposit her eggs.