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It’s in Your Nature: Sometimes nature is cruel

The morning of June 7 offered up some fresh, cooler air.

A cold front passed through the region the afternoon before and that was all the excuse I needed to take a nature stroll. (Not that I really needed an excuse.) Well actually, I looked at my nature logbook and I remembered that I submitted an article on finding turtles everywhere on an early June morning last year.

My walk took me on that same abandoned railroad bed east of Ashfield. I wanted to see if I could find turtles again.

The old railroad bed, at some places is raised at least 50 feet above the Lizard Creek to the north, and above acres of swampy wetlands to the south. At spots, much of the south facing cinder bed has very little vegetation and these areas are ideal for turtles to lay their eggs.

That morning, I found three painted turtles doing just that.

Without disturbing much of the area, I scanned probably two or three hundred feet of the embankment and after a rough count, I saw 40 or 50 recently disturbed areas where turtles had been digging.

But I wasn’t the only one looking for the nests. Raccoons frequent that area and they are opportunistic feeders. I found a dozen spots were broken and drying turtle eggs littered the banks. Cruel?

Snapping, painted, box, and wood turtles that lay eggs here have a good chance of reaching breeding age IF they hatch. If one painted turtle nest of nearly 20 eggs hatches, the survivors probably will live the four or five years needed to mature and begin their own egg laying. Nature has provided an abundance of turtle eggs to feed raccoons and opossums and just enough to insure the species’ survival.

Last year, I found toad tadpoles in a large puddle.

If your memory is good, last May was one of the driest Mays on record.

A week later, that puddle was nearly dry and all the tadpoles died. Hopefully, some other toads found another water source that didn’t dry and from the thousands of eggs, hopefully a few will live long enough to breed as well. Nature can seem so cruel.

Angela, one of my former students living in Ashfield, just this year though, scooped some tadpoles from a shrinking water source and moved them to a “safer” spot. Kudos to you Angela.

This same morning, I witnessed another “cruel” event. Before reaching the turtle egg laying area, a few hemlock trees line the old bed. I heard a loud, raucous group of blue jays scolding and scolding. They were soon joined by a few robins and catbirds.

The cause, two crows raiding the blue jay’s nest high above me in the tree. Crows, or even gray squirrels, in order to feed themselves and their young, will capitalize after finding some tasty bird eggs or nestlings.

I’m sure the Jays squawking didn’t deter the nest raiders.

Hopefully, the blue jays’ second nest will be a success and 3 or 4 young will “make it.”

I’ll conclude with something disappointing I observed two years ago. A red-eyed vireo built its delicate nest in the fork of a low tree close to a path I hike. I noted the location, and weeks later, went there to photograph the adults feeding the young. Egad, when I settled in for pictures, I found that mom and dad vireo were feeding a single nestling. BUT, the nestling was a cowbird.

Cowbirds lay an egg in another bird’s nest and most often only the young cowbird fledges and intended young perish.

Nature can be cruel, but again, hopefully the vireo’s second nest had better results.

If you want to see nature’s dramas first hand: you “gotta get out there.”

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Which of these owl species is the MOST nocturnal? A. barn owl B. great horned owl C. barred owl D. short-eared owl

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: There are three bluebird species in the U.S. The eastern and western bluebirds and the mountain bluebird.

A female box turtle scurries (at turtle speed) from its egg laying spot back to the Lizard Creek. It was one of three I found that morning. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
A predator located one of the turtle nests and left only the leathery broken shells. This was just one of many nests I discovered, and the eggs destroyed.
The nest raider was probably either a raccoon or possibly an opossum.
A drying mud puddle near the destroyed egg revealed that at least one of the “egg eaters” was a raccoon, which left clear, easily identifiable tracks.
Well over a hundred toad tadpoles about 1/2 inch long feed in a mud puddle. The photo captured an area about the size of a paper plate. Sometimes toads deposit up to 20,000 eggs each spring. The tiny tadpoles face a gauntlet of predators from grackles, to starlings, to herons as they get larger. Even a drier than normal spring will lessen their chances to survive.