From May to July western painted turtles emerge to nest. As part of our effort to conserve the species here in the Fraser Valley with the Wetlands Wildlife team, we brave mosquitos and blackberries to monitor the nesting turtles. Females are identified by notches we add to their shells. We keep track of who is coming up to nest and, when we can, take shell measurements and weights from the turtles to track their growth and wellbeing.
One night I was nest monitoring and one of our amazing land owners – seriously, we wouldn’t be able to monitor the turtles as extensively without their cooperation – told me there was a turtle nesting by his barn. I headed down to search for the turtle and sure enough there she was, right where I had been told she would be. At first I stayed a ways back to give her space but soon I got closer and closer. I’d never had the chance to watch a turtle dig her nest so closely. Usually there are several turtles to keep track of at any one time but at that moment she was the only one that needed my attention.
She wasn’t bothered by my presence and soon I was sitting right behind her. I could see her dip her right foot into the muddy hole. She moved her foot back and forth and then pulled it out, bringing a pile of mud with her. She did the same with her left foot. Back and forth and back and forth until the hole was pretty deep. We were getting comfortable with each other so I decided to lend a helping hand. When she took her leg out, I put my spoon in and pulled out some mud. She wasn’t bothered and together we worked on digging her nest – leg, spoon, leg, spoon.
I helped her dig for a while and I was hoping I would see her lay her eggs but she wasn’t happy with the depth of the hole yet and it grew too dark for me to stay. I had to leave her to it. It was a really cool experience. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to watch the whole process from start to finish one day.