Sunday, October 01, 2006


The helping hand: from nest to peat moss to marsh.

One day old snapper on the way to the marsh.

Baby map turtle about to be released into the marsh.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Snapping turtle eggs in peat moss bed.


Final Score: 19-19

This past weekend we discarded the un-hatched turtle eggs, ending our turtle mid-wife experience.

In the end we hatched and released 18 snapping turtles and one map turtle. Two turtles died in the hatching process, one map and one snapper. The rest of the eggs are now composting.

The map turtle eggs did noticeably worse than the snapping turtles. Besides not hatching as well, they were more obviously collapsing and not progressing from an early date. Maybe they did not like the moist peat moss environment. Maybe they were more delicate and did not take well to our early temperature fluctuations. Maybe this is one reason why there are more snapping turtles than map turtles.

We were unable to find anyone with good advice on hatching map turtles which also did not help. Most said just do the same as with the snappers. We probably need a better plan.

Overall we are happy with the results. 50% into the water, even if one was eaten promptly, seemed like a better result than likely if left alone. But we must remember that this is an illegal activity, not to be tried at home. At the same time, it helped more turtles survive and it was a good bit of P.R. on the importance of turtles.

We will now wonder, every time we rescue a turtle on the road, if it started in our living room: a nice thought. Thanks for joining in our journey, Brianna and Ross.

ps. We will post some pictures of the baby turtles over the next few days - saty tuned.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


16 and Counting

It is an amazing and exciting happening. We now have 16 snapping turtle babies that have graduated to the real world of the marsh. This is over 50% of those collected and there are 10 to go.

It has not all been safe sailing. One little baby was barley released when it found out that it will be a few more years before they are no longer prey. It was just crawling across a lily pad when a bull frog lunged towards it. There was a great splash and no more turtle.

There is more to this story. When the one meets it froggy end, we were letting two others go. One of these had not moved since we spotted found it outside its egg shell. We wondered if it had died. When it was put on the edge of the marsh it just lay there for a few minutes. After the bull frog attack it waited a few more seconds and quickly dove into the water.
We are still waiting for any sign of life from the map turtle eggs, but still have hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


It’s Twins – and More to Come

I know that it is supposed to take at least 60 days for turtle eggs to hatch, but I was becoming a bit dubious. On August 10, millions of years of survival training once again prevailed despite human interference.

Almost exactly 60 days after the eggs were laid they started to hatch. Last Thursday, while checking on the clutch I noticed that one of the eggs had some black ‘dirt’ on it. I did not have my glasses and went to gently clean it off. It moved. With the benefit of assisted sight the ‘dirt ‘turned out to be the head and front legs of a small turtle. It has now broken most of the shell and is very active but still has not started to wander around.

Yesterday, the egg I was sure had rotted hatched. A coupe of weeks ago this egg started to ooze an amber jelly. It seemed to me a sure sign of ‘not doing well’. Luckily Brianna would not let me throw it out. When the shell broke open yesterday the baby turtle was moving but covered in a large amount of a viscous liquid. By this morning most of that was gone and it is looking much healthier. Brianna has told out photographer neighbour that she may have to call her in the middle of the night if the turtle leaves its shell. Luckily for all of us, Brianna sleeps better than I do.

The two eggs that have hatched are snapping turtles. There is no sign of life in the Map turtle tub but our optimism has increased. It is all we can do to keep from checking on them too often. When they are mobile it is into the marsh and we will consider this midwifery project at least a partial success. Still 26 snappers and 7 map turtle eggs to go.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Snapper Off-Road Technique

The two tubs in the living room covered in quilts with “Caution Turtle Eggs” signs have become a bit of a conversation starter. It may just be our friends but most are active in, or at least sympathetic to, assiting turtles crossing the road. A common problem is what to do with Snapping turtles: especially those really big, moss covered ones that can jump, turn 180’, and deliver an extremity threatening snap when approached.

After numerous funny, dangerous and often marginally successful attempts we have found on off-road technique that works fairly well. During the season when we expect to find snappers on the road we carry an old towel: in a pinch a newspaper works just as well.

Approach the turtle from behind and drape the towel over the turtle making sure to cover the head. Now quickly and firmly grab the turtle with two hands about half way down the shell. Being firm is very important. As soon as they are grabbed they will strike and the force is considerable. But they can not see. The head jabs forward safely away from you. Lift the turtle and carry off the road. They are heavy and snapping but other wise easy to carry.

A major draw back to this technique is that snappers are malodorous. The towel will smell and it is not pleasant. A plastic bag to put the towel in helps. A major benefit of this method is that it is fast. On a road with traffic this is a major plus.

I should also add that the towel works well with water snakes. They have an on-land temperment similar to snappers and do not take kindly to help no matter how well intentioned. Swooping the towel in the air over the snake will send it as fast as possible to tall grass. I think it mimic’s an incoming raptor and triggers ancient reflexes.

All is stable with the turtle eggs. Brianna especially loves the smell of the damp peat moss when we open the containers to check on them.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Dog Cages for Turtle Eggs

These are pictures of our most successful attempt at stopping predation of turtle nests. These cages have been up for a month. They are dog cages held in place by rocks. Both of these protected sites were laid by map turtles. Does anyone know if the scent eventually goes away and they can be removed? I worry a bit about the small turtles not being able to make their way under or through the cage.

On June 27 we still had map turtles laying in this lane way. On that day we also saw our 4th stink pot turtle on land. They have not been observed on the nest, but I think it is a safe assumption that that was the reason for their onshore visits. Since we have never seen any up close and personal before this is a banner year. All four have been around Mitchell Creek Bridge.

Two of our map turtle eggs developed significant indentations; they were collapsing in on themselves and the shells were soft. They have been discarded. We still have seven map turtle eggs and twenty eight snapping turtle eggs that are looking well. Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Turtle eggs at bottom of creek?

We have added a second heating pad: now each tub has its own. When set on low these seem to be creating an even heat which is about 28 degrees Celsius around the eggs. There is some daily variation which we try to manage manually by lifting quilts. When we start having hotter nights and days we may be able to turn the heaters off all together.

We will post pictures of the set up this week.

Two Questions: How much air do the eggs need? I have read different accounts. Some suggest that there needs to be fresh air on a regular basis because the eggs need oxygen to thrive, others have said leave the eggs in a sealed tub, which over time would starve the eggs of oxygen. Does any one have any comments?

Second, when swimming today in Mitchell Creek we found two eggs that looked like map turtle eggs on the bottom of the creek. Does any one know what the origins of these might be? Does the mother ever drop eggs in the water? There were no carcasses on the bridge, but we did consider that they might have been left over after a road kill: any other ideas?


A turtle laying its eggs being wateched over by a large bird that wants to come and eat the eggs.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Folks, don’t try this at home – It may be illegal

An employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources commented on this blog that raising turtle eggs at home may be illegal – but first what is happening to the eggs.

We had our second casualty this week. One of the eggs in the map turtle box collapsed in on itself. It was probably the stink pot turtle egg, which was tenuous to begin with. The rest seem to be holding their own. I am leaving the lid propped open for air circulation and to keep the condensation down. The humidly is still about 90% in the tubs.

The map turtles continue to lay eggs. On our way to a swim yesterday we saw one making her way up from the bridge to a prime nesting area. She was on the side of the road. We carried her kicking, and I am sure silently screaming, over the road. On the way back from the swim (about 45 minutes later) she was heading back to the water. Again she was one the side of the road. We carried her down and she rapidly swam off.

The communication from the MNR employee, comment on the previous entry, suggests that this turtle "mid-wiving" is in contravention to numerous laws regarding endangered species. I have put a call into find out if this is true and will up date as information becomes known.

My knowledge of the endangered species legislation is at a more macro level. I certainly support the concept and would not want to be in violation of this law. My understanding is that if anything it needs to be stronger. Numerous environmental organizations have criticized it for only being able to make recommendations. It does not bind the government to any course of action to protect endangered species.

My second thought is that we are fighting to preserve a habitat that has nurtured endangered species but the laws do not seem to be able to stop the raising of the Mitchell Creek Bridge. Yet, if the rumour is true, the law makes it hard to try and save eggs that had no chance of survival.

The irony is that one of the threats to these eggs is the actual bridge construction that will damage the turtle’s habitat.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Stink Pot at the Bridge

This stink pot turtle was found at Mitchell Creek Bridge a week ago. The past week has been a busy one for turtle rescue in our area. The painted turtles were out in force on the local roads. Many begrudgingly accepted assistance with the trip to the other side.

A warning to those who try taking painted turtles off of roads. When they are picked up they tend to expel a significant amount of liquid. I am not sure where this comes from, but if they are held away from the body it does not end up in your shoe.

We threw out our first turtle egg this week. It developed a small crack and became mouldy.

The big challenge has been keeping them hot enough, but not too hot. The temperature range has been between 25 and 32 degrees Celsius. Also, trying to keep them humid has proved a challenge. We have had considerable condensation inside the crates. To reduce the humidity we have been propping the lids open with pieces of wood. Excess moisture was rung out of the peat moss. So far we have kept the operation fairly low tech. We will only know the wisdom of this in the fall.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The Mitchell Creek Bridge Controversy

The Bridge over Mitchell Creek is in need of repair. It was built 70 years ago to cross a marshy, stump filled wetland that drained Desert Lake. Subsequent to its construction the creek was dredged and made passable for small boats. Two years ago the township and its engineers, with the support of the local residents, proposed a simple replacement of the bridge’s superstructure. Essentially, this meant lifting the girders, planking and railings off the abutments, which were still sound, and replacing them. This repair would not change the environmental configuration around the bridge and it would not involve in water work. It provides us with a structurally sound bridge for another 70 years and would provide a slight increase in navigability for smaller boats: the bottom of the replacement girders would sit a few inches higher than the existing structure.

This proposal passed all the necessary regulatory hurdles but one: Navigation Canada said the bridge needed to be one and a half meters higher than the current structure. This would mean a radically different structure and increased boat traffic on the creek.

The primary risk to the turtles comes from raising the bridge. This will necessarily mean significant in-water work, an alternation to the shore line and to the routes away from the creek that the turtles follow. These concerns are in addition to the potential harm from increased boat traffic and the increased size and character of boats that would be able to use the creek when the bridge is raised. Wake, log removal and disturbance of the bottom are likely outcomes.

The economic benefits from raising the bridge could also be negative. The creek is a prime wilderness canoeing location in southern Ontario and an access point to Frontenac Provincial Park, a wilderness park. Two outfitters rely upon people who use Mitchell Creek for these reasons. Changing the nature of boat traffic on the creek would alter this experience and potentially harm these businesses and the Park.

The documentation of thriving stinkpot turtle and map turtle populations in the creek, both of which use the existing bridge site for access to egg laying areas, increases our concerns about environmental harm. The existing configuration of creek characteristics and the environment at the bridge site seem to be working well to support these populations: any significant alteration could easily harm the benefits that exist. This seems a needless risk considering the limited, if any, gain from raising the bridge by a meter and a half.

Local residents, the local Member of Parliament and supporters across the province are fighting this arcane ruling grounded in legislation from 125 years ago. We have won an environmental inventory of the creek which will be part of the internal environmental assessment process of the federal government. We are still hopeful that the township might simply be allowed to replace the bridge and not have to comply with a federal regulation that makes no sense for this location.

Mitchell Creek is a 3 kilometre long creek that runs between two lakes neither of which has any other navigable waterways into or out of them. Less than 50 cars a day cross the bridge and it provides access to a relatively small permanent rural population and summer cottagers.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Map Turtle Eggs

It never rains it pours. Certainly that described the weather on June 9, the day our turtle adventrue started. As the day progressed it became wetter and wetter but the turtles seemed to like it. One of our neighbours came and photographed the snapping turtle excavation and informed us that there were two map turtles laying eggs in her lane.

A short walk in the rain found the turtles. We watched one finish digging her nest and saw the eggs laid. She had situated her nest dead center in the lane way. Out came another tub and more peat moss. This nest was easily found and 10 elongated white eggs were carefully placed in the tub.

The other nest was just off the road. To protect it from predation we used a metal dog crate and filled with stones. Red flags were tied to the structure by another neighbour to keep cars from hitting it.

Just when we thought we thought we might get out of the rain yet another neighbour directed us to a carcass of recently run over stink pot turtle. This was good and bad. It provided further evidence of a healthy stink pot population in the creek, but however healthy it is it is now one less. There was still one egg with the carcass that now joined the map turtle eggs nestled in peat moss.

Both containers of eggs were taken to our living room placed on a heating pad near the hot water radiator and covered with quilts. Thus ended a long, wet, chilling but exciting day and started our summer adventure as turtle mid-wives.


Snapping Turtle Eggs

June 9. It was a grey and drizzly day. I, Ross, had arrived home late the night before from an engagement in Ottawa and finally roused myself to take the dog for her morning run about 0830. Approaching the bridge crossing over Mitchell creek I noticed a large snapping turtle, one of the really big moss covered ones, dug into the side of the road: on the other side of the road there was a stink pot turtle.

The stink pot is our smallest indigenous turtle and threatened in Ontario. The bridge has been a center of controversy for the past couple of years so the presence of a stink pot was significant. (More on the bridge controversy in a moment).

I interrupted my run to contact the team doing an environmental inventory of the creek. They needed to come out and document the presence of the stink pot. To make sure the turtle stayed around it was placed in a pail: she was not happy about this. By the time the assessors arrived and pictures were taken Brianna had arrived to stay the weekend.

We agreed to try and find the snapping turtle eggs. The nest site was close to the bridge where significant repair work was likely to be done latter in the summer. Also the literature says that turtle eggs on road sides, if they survive the racoons and skunks, get too hot and dry to do well. It seemed to be environmental “OK” to take the eggs.

The finding proved harder than anticipated. The mother had dug half dozen holes in the side of the road. After exploring four or five we found the smooth white shell of an egg about 4 inches below grade. Carefully we excavated the nest. The eggs were lifted out and placed on a bed of saturated peat moss in a large tub. Care was taken to maintain the orientation of the eggs: we tried to keep the up side up. In all we dug out 28 ping pong ball sized eggs.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?