Friday, June 17, 2011

An Evening with the Blanding's

Last month's trapping expedition with the the Blanding's Turtle researchers was a precursor to tonight. In the early evening, I joined Bryan Windmiller, along with some students and educators from Concord to track and hopefully protect nesting Blanding's Turtles. They trap the turtles to find females so they can attach radio transmitters to their shells. Tonight, we will track those females to see who is nesting and hopefully protect their nest.

Before setting out Bryan shows everyone a Blanding's that a neighbor found on their lawn shortly before our arrival. This female's radio had failed, so it was going spend a night in a turtle B&B, receive a new transmitter in the morning, and be released to lay her eggs.

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Because this is nesting season the females are tracked each evening. If they are still in the water they won't be nesting this evening. They search for those on land to see if they are nesting.

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Each turtle has their own frequency. Notice the unfortunate note that one died crossing Route 62.

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At each stop directional antennas and receivers are used to listen for each turtle's frequency.

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Knowing who is still in the impoundments, we're off to the neighborhoods.


The Blanding's Turtles like soft sandy soil to lay their eggs. They seem to prefer a sunnier, south facing location for their nest.

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Getting permission to go on home owner's property. Ironically, this is the home of one of the Fourth Grade teachers whose class has Head Started Blandings.

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This turtle was found hiding in a person's garden of lilies. Checking every hour or two, they determined that she wasn't ready to nest, but this is where she was spending the night.


The Blanding's Turtles can walk quite a distance to nest. The one we are searching for is near the office park on Virginia Road. That's about 1.5 miles from the refuge. This turtle had to risk her life crossing both Route 62 and Virginia Road. Finding her was challenging because the radio signal was bouncing off the buildings.

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Last year, she nested in the petunias right by the front door.

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Found 2031 wandering through the woods

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The distinctive yellow neck identifies a Blanding's


As night set in, the children's bed time was rapidly approaching. Tomorrow is a school day, so they left to go home. Diane Kablik, Concord's Elementary Science Curriculum Specialist and Susan Erikson a fourth grade teacher from the Thoreau school preserved on.

Diane has been working with the Blanding's program since 2009 and last year secured a National Science Teacher's grant to bring the program to all eleven of Concord's fourth grade classes. Susan's class entered the Disney Planet Challenge this year where they were awarded second place nationally. Her class not only collected and analyzed data while head starting their turtles, but became advocates for the turtles in Concord. They raised awareness in the neighborhoods where Blanding's nest and the rest of the town through stories, brochures, posters, and podcats.

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Susan is reading out transmitter frequencies and making notes when turtles are found, while Diane is holding the flashlight.

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Looking for turtles from the tower. John is with Zoo New England Head Started 10 of the turtles released this year.


Back on the road, we check up on where the turtles on land have moved to and what they are doing. It appears that tonight 2031 will be nesting.

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2031 was found nesting near by. Sorry but I couldn't use the flash over concern that it would bother her nesting. We'll check back on her later.

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The proud mother after she had laid her eggs. She can be 25% lighter after laying eggs. Blanding's are meticulous landscapers and can take 1.5 hours covering the nest and rearranging the grass and leaves.

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Bryan and John use twigs to mark the edges of the nest.

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The nest is secured with a thick, metal screen to protect it from predators. 2031 thinks she's still on the nest and is covering the ground behind her with dirt.

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The screen is anchored with large staples to keep out predators. In a couple weeks the nest will be outfitted with thermal data loggers which will help Bryan know when the eggs are ready to hatch.

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Almost midnight, 2031's work done. As a reward she got a free ride across Virginia Road. She'll send overnight visiting the swamp there before continuing on. Hopefully she will cross Route 62 without problems


The whole evening was exciting. There was the intrigue of who was where and whether they were nesting. It was like being let in on a secret. While most everyone ended their day and headed to bed, we got a special glimpse into part of the circle of life. That alone would have made the night one of my most memorable experiences.

An appetizing side dish on the evening was when we were up in the tower. The night air was warm. The large chorus of frogs drowned out the typical man made noises. Below us in the reeds fire flies danced in a luminous ballet.

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A 6 second exposure made by placing my camera across the corner of the tower. The long exposure makes the sky look brighter than is actual was.

2 comments:

  1. I learned a lot. Thanks for posting this interesting experience.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Larry,
    This indeed was a wonderful evening. It was a great learning experience for all gathered.
    Best,
    Susan Erickson

    ReplyDelete