Thursday, May 26, 2011

School Days

It was early on a quiet Wednesday morning when I arrived at Great Meadows. The weather had started to turn warm. Wandering around the refuge I encountered my first dragonfly and butterfly of the year.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


With the warm weather the Bullfrogs have started to appear. I've also noticed the Great Blue Herons fishing closer to the edge. Perhaps these facts are related.

<Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Soon the quiet of the morning was shattered as three school buses of children descended upon the refuge like a cloud of locusts. The majority of the students were from the seventh grade science class at Curtis Middle School in Sudbury. They were participants in the head start program for Blanding's Turtles. Since last fall they were caring for two newly hatched turtles (Kip and Flip-Flop). Today was going to be the day the turtles were going to be released into the wild.

Prior to the release, the students participated in several different activities at the refuge. Here they are seen analyzing the aquatic life in water samples from the refuge to understand the food chain that supports the turtles.
Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Groups rotated through a station located at the base of the tower, where Bryan Windmiller of the US F&WS Blanding's Turtle project shared more information with them about how the turtles are marked and tracked using a radio transmitter.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;
Each turtle tracked is outfitted with a radio transmitter tuned to a particular frequency. The transmitter and antenna is attached using a putty-like epoxy glue. The epoxy allows a solid bond that is not easily dislodged as the turtle traverse the marsh and woods. Thankfully when it is time to replace the transmitter, it is easily pried off. On young turtles, the transmitter is affixed to the middle of their back to help keep them balanced. The total weight of the transmitter and epoxy is kept to less than 5% of their body weight, so that it won't be a burden.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Each turtle is tagged with a unique number composed of notches in their shell. (Sort of like cutting a notch in your finger nail.) Scientists have developed an ingenious system using the panels on turtle's shell, it's position near the head / tail, left and right of the head / tail to develop a permanent numbering system. Other vital statistics are logged to later be added to the tracking database.

Blanding's turtles can grow quite old. They don't mature until they are 15 years old. mature females, have their transmitters mounted on the side, so the males may mate with them. By this time the weight of the transmitter is a negligible portion of their total body weight. This turtle was first caught as a mature adult in 1975. That makes the turtle about 50 years old!


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

The class got a chance to handle a mature Blanding's Turtle and a Northern Water Snake. Who believes the stereotype that girls are squeamish? Here are the photos that prove they were leading the way in handling these animals.


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Soon it was time for Kip and Flip-flop to be released into their new home. They were released into the reeds near the tower to find their own way. The students pressed around to get a last glimpse as the turtles started to explore their unbounded new world.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Elsewhere in the refuge the second grade from the Pompositticut Schol in Stow was investigating the life in the marsh. You cold hear their conversations about frogs, snakes, birds and fish. Hopefully, between these two schools a few children will be infected with the curiosity of nature and a fascination with science to join the next generation of biologists and naturalists to help others appreciate the world

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


As the school children left and quiet descended once again on the refuge, I wandered back out to see what else I could encounter. I happened upon a pair of Northern Water Snakes that were mating. The differences in size didn't seem to matter to them.


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


All morning long I had been bombarded by the samara ("helicopter") seed pods blowing off of the maple trees. I had tried to capture them in flight, but just couldn't take a photo that captured what I was experiencing. It turns out my favorite photo was these that missed the mark and were floating upon the dark water.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

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