Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Turtle Traffic

     It's that time of year, female turtles are looking to lay their eggs. In order to accomplish such a feat, females leave their aquatic realm and venture into what is sometimes, for them, less familiar territory on land. In the city and developed areas this can be a problem, humans have built roads and turtles do not get along well with cars. It is a huge problem for turtles, especially at this time of year, many perish when crossing roads and trekking to find a suitable nesting site.
     In my 5+ years of commuting via bike through Prospect Park, I have often seen (and have even been called to help with) mother turtles either going to or coming from laying eggs. I specifically left for work early today so I could hopefully photograph the turtles of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Prospect Park has in all of its waters, the popular pet and invasive, red eared sliders, which are highly visible and also nesting. I was hoping to see a common snapping turtle, and I did! I escorted her along and had some wonderful chances to teach people about her and her kind while doing so - enjoy her adventure below:
I literally walked into the park and right away saw a dark, slow-moving, hunched looking figure, I knew right away this was what I came for! I know that walk because when I was first dating my husband he allowed us to pull over to help an even larger snapper than this one across Route 104 in NY somewhere between Rochester and Oswego. When he asked if I wanted to help the turtle, that's when I knew he was a keeper! 
This girl has already crossed one pedestrian path and is just about to cross the bridle path here. She is still freshly covered in duckweed.

Many people don't realize a few things: 1. Turtles are reptiles, not amphibians - they may be amphibious, but so are ducks. 2. Turtles like all reptiles must lay their eggs on land, unlike amphibians the egg's shell is calcified and prevents it from drying out. 3. Common snapping turtles are native, they belong here and have always been here, unlike the red eared sliders.
That long tail, aside from the fact that this turtle can snap (and will), is what gives away this animal as a snapping turtle. It's Southern cousin, the alligator snapping turtle gets even larger- so large in fact that it is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. Still, many on lookers were astonished at her size, and surprised when I told them that she could still grow a bit more.
Thankfully Prospect Park drive is closed on the side she was on in the morning. I could have picked her up and helped her, but I didn't want to set an example that doing so in the park was okay, So I just walked alongside her. I slowed bikers down  and even asked a cop car to slow down - they smiled and waved, which I thank them for. 
Just about there!

She tried digging in a few spots but the soil was so compacted. I love turtles, and I don't see any ugliness. But the more I sat and watched, I felt like I was being transported back in time. Turtles and their kin have survived on earth for the last 200 million years, and we are finding even further back than that too
Attempting to dig with her rear legs, to no avail.

Her first dig site attempt, can you find her?
Being of the size she was, chances are this girl has been doing this for a few years now. Turtles tend to mature late in life, in comparison to many other animals. A turtle like this could easily survive for 50 years or more if undisturbed. Once this large, she has very few predators or hazards to look out for, mostly just people. She may lay 20 eggs or more, of those she is lucky if one survives to adulthood. Baby turtles fall prey to egrets, herons, and raccoons. But once fully grown they eat anything they can catch including ducklings!

With that leaf on her back, I personally see a stegosaurus...
Onto pedestrian Path #2, now moving closer to Prospect Park West... and my bike.
Why go around when you can just go under? 
     I want to also share that this turtle is a wild animal. Except for her escort across the street I did mind my distance, I used a 300mm lens, so that I could be afar and not disturb her but still was able to watch and photograph her. In my observations I noticed a few things that worried me. People did offer to pick her up, to which I said there was no need; I understand the need to want to help, but we should not ever interfere with nature unless there is immediate danger towards the animal. Not many know how to properly handle these turtles and many times injure themselves and/or the turtles. Many dogs were also off-leash, Prospect Park has off-leash dog hours but in specific areas, not where this turtle was. A dog who may wonder could injure the turtle or get injured itself, not to mention this is all right next to a major road, and an exit to that road and the dangers there for a dog are immense.
     I did have to leave the turtle after observing it for an hour - I had to be at work! To ensure safety of the turtle and park goers, I made sure to contact people who could help. A huge thank you to my friend Mary Beth and her friend Marty, who went to look for and provide safety to this animal.
     If you ever are on the road and see a turtle crossing, help when it is safe, because you are not going to be helpful if you too get hurt, don't ever put yourself in danger- call the professionals! Always help the turtle in the direction it is going, they are tenacious and on a mission to go in the direction they are headed, to bring them backwards will mean they will turn around to head back in the way they were originally headed. If you don't know what to do, contact your local animal rescue or wildlife rehabilitators, they will know what to do or provide you with guidance.
     If you would like to observe nesting turtles, they are most active in the early morning, but remember to mind your distance so the turtles can do what comes naturally! Happy Herping!

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