Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Day With The Blandings

If you've been visiting Great Meadows for any time, you've probably glimpsed people wading around waving a funny contraption over their head or canoeing amongst the reeds. Perhaps you have seen net traps nestled in the cattails. If you have you've seen the Blanding's Turtle research team in action.

Blanding's Turtles can be found in the Midwestern United States and also in New England. In many areas they are considered endangered, in Massachusetts they are merely "Threatened". The current study started in 2003. There were Blanding's Turtle studies at Great Meadows perviously periodically between 1971-1985. Some of the females that were marked as adults in 1971 are still being tracked today; that puts their age at least 60 years old.

With an interest to find out more and share that with you, I contacted the US Fish & Wildlife Service, completed my volunteer application, and got the opportunity to join this year's interns Jared Green and Jeff Slocum as they worked.

During the spring they have been trapping turtles in the impoundments. Each new Blanding's Turtle is assigned a permanent tracking number. The turtle's number is filed into the turtle's shell using a very clever encoding system, using the panels of the shell to designate the various numbers and places.

Currently there are approximately 50 mature Blanding's Turtles that call Great Meadow's home. Of those 13-14 are mature females with working radio transmitters which are being tracked.

Weights and measurements are taken of all Blanding's Turtles captured. New turtles are assigned numbers. New females or those without working radio transmitters receive a new radio transmitter. All this data is logged into a database for tracking. The transmitters allow them to find the females when nesting to help protect their eggs. Turtles are also tracked to ensure they are safe and healthy.

On Tuesday, I got to accompany Jeff and Jared on their round of checking traps. I brought my kayak and PFD to paddle around with them and take photos. Let me walk you through the day in photos.

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Putting in near the tower on the Upper Impoundment

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The trap consists of netting spread over hoops to keep it open, stretched between two stakes

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Not just Blanding's wander into the traps. Here Jeff is removing a painted turtle. Census information is captured about the animals found in the traps.

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The traps have a plastic ring to try to keep out the big Snapping Turtles, but sometimes smaller ones make their way in.

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Most of the traps can be inspected from the boat, but sometimes you just have to get out and check

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Jeff is stretching the trap back out

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Fastening the other end to the post

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No they weren't drinking on the job. This bottle must have floated into the refuge when the Concord overflowed the dike.

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On to the next trap. It looks like fun on a warm sunny day, but they are also here when it's cold and rainy. Jared is in the bow and Jeff in the stern. (To keep things fair they switched places when portaging between the two impoundments.)

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The traps are nestled among the various coves and inlets in the two impoundments. Overall there are about 12-20 traps.

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Each trap is baited with a can of sardines. Holes are punched in the can to let the oil leak out to attract the turtles. Unfortunately the turtles are not strong enough to puncture the can themselves.

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Sardines are small fish that turtles (and many humans) find tasty

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They are not totally heartless, the prior trap's sardines are dumped near the trap for turtles and fish in the area to feed upon.

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Approaching the next trap. What will they find?

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After almost a dozen traps, lots of painted turtles, a few snapping turtles, several fish. About half of the traps today are empty. That may be because the Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles are starting to lay eggs.

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Even this job has paperwork to fill out about each trap, but my what an office.

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The next to last trap contained a snapping turtle

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Even the sharp teeth and powerful jaws of a small snapping turtle can do serious damage. (If you have to move one, remember this hint - they can stretch their neck to reach half way around their body, so only pick up the back half)

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It also contained two Blanding's - one mature, the other juvenile. Just like humans, it takes Blanding's about twenty years to mature.

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On a juvenile, you can count the rings on the lower shell (plastron) to determine how old they are.

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After about 20 years the rings get too close together to count to determine their age. On very old Blanding's (50+ years) they are often wiped off.

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Each Blanding's Turtle is measured

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And weighed

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A mature Blanding's on the left, and a juvenile on the right.

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The view from below. Note the rings around the spots on the juvenile.

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The yellow neck, is one of the distinctive markings of a Blanding's Turtle

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A good view of the markings and shell of a mature Blanding's turtle

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An Osprey watches on as we paddle home







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