The spring has kicked off to a wonderful start with our spotted turtle surveys at populations across Ontario. The weather has unfortunately been cramping our style, since the late cold spring meant we had to enter some of our sites through snowbanks. However, we bundled up and headed in anyways, and the cold certainly didn’t slow the turtles down at all! One site which is new to us this year has been especially exciting, as we met an old female who was last caught during a radio-telemetry study in 1993. At that time, she was already an adult, and was missing a limb. It was a thrill to find her still hanging out in her tiny pond, missing limb and all – and to find that she is exactly the same size she was in 1993! Another site where we have worked before also held some wonderful surprises for us this year – several new, unmarked turtles, in a tiny population which had looked ready to collapse based on the previous years’ survey results.
Once things warmed up a bit, we switched gears. For the last few weeks we have been surveying softshell turtles and other species at two sites in southern Ontario. The most exciting but also most complicated of these sites is a river in which softshells have been repeatedly seen, but never studied. As a result, no one knows how large (or small) this population is. We have been using a combination of methods to assess softshell turtles in this river – but again, the weather has made things complicated! The water level in the river has been rising and dropping dramatically, sometimes overnight. To make sure our traps don’t get submerged (this can drown turtles trapped inside) we have built new flotation devices for our traps (which now look snazzier than ever). Unfortunately, the river has remained very high and the water is flowing at top speed, which makes it extremely difficult to catch anything. Because of the cloudy, cool weather, turtles are not emerging to bask and so basking surveys are difficult. On top of that, the river is so full of silt at the moment that it is impossible to see farther than a few centimetres into the water – so we are crossing our fingers for more turtle-friendly weather and a return to normal water levels! In the meantime, we are very excited when our traps fill with turtles.
We are also in full preparation for the upcoming nesting season. We have disinfected and prepared all our nesting equipment and are looking forward to that first female emerging from the water and trekking up a bank somewhere, ready to carefully dig her nest and lay her eggs. It’s been such a cold spring that nesting will probably kick off a little late this year, but we’re eagerly waiting and we’ll let you know as soon as we get our first nest!