May 182017
 

My passion for nature began with turtles. Catching these wary reptiles was one of my favourite pastimes as a child. I was especially proud whenever I managed to bring home a snapping turtle, keep it for a day or two and show it off to my friends and family. I was therefore pleased to learn that the Ontario government has finally decided to ban the hunting of this increasingly rare species. This is a huge step forward for turtle conservation and a victory for science-based decision making. Like all of Ontario’s turtles, the snapping turtle cannot tolerate additional losses to its adult population. The hunt was not sustainable, especially on top of other pressures such as habitat loss and road mortalities.

Snapping Turtle digging nest on roadside (Danielle Tassie)

In late May and June, turtles are searching out nesting sites, such as the fine gravel of road shoulders. This is when people most often see turtles. However, turtle eggs stand a very poor chance of surviving the 90-day incubation period. Predators such as raccoons and skunks usually discover the nests within a matter of hours, dig up the eggs and enjoy a hearty meal. They leave behind the familiar sight of crinkled, white shells scattered around the nest area.

Roadkill, too, is a major cause of turtle mortality, especially at this time of year. Even worse, many of the turtles killed or injured are females on their way to lay eggs. Killing pregnant females not only removes reproductive adults from the population, but it also means all their potential future offspring are lost as well. Always drive carefully and keep an eye out for turtles on the road.

Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre

Sadly, numerous turtles continue to be hit by cars or injured in other ways. This is where the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) comes in. Located at 1434 Chemong Road in Peterborough, the OTCC has been working since 2002 to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and their habitat. It is the only wildlife rehabilitation centre dedicated solely to providing medical and rehabilitative care to Ontario’s turtles.

Home to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, the OTCC operates a  hospital, which treats, rehabilitates and releases injured turtles. From an average of 50-80 turtles in the early years, the Centre now receives about 500 turtles each year as more people across Ontario learn about its work. The OTCC also carries out extensive research in the field and runs a comprehensive education and outreach program. The Executive and Medical Director is Dr. Sue Carstairs, who is an authorized wildlife custodian with over 20 years of experience in wildlife medicine.

Because so few turtles ever reach sexual maturity – females don’t even reproduce until the age of 18 – each adult turtle is part of an extremely important group. This is why it’s so important to rehabilitate as many injured turtles as possible – especially females – and return them to the wild. According to Dr. Carstairs, the most recent figures show that 1400 eggs are required to replace just one mother snapping turtle. However, as long as turtles can avoid threats such as road traffic, they can live and breed for a long time. It is believed that snapping turtles have a lifespan of over 100 years.

The OTCC is supported by a province-wide network of veterinarians and wildlife centres, including more than 30 different “first response centres”. Over 100 volunteers then drive the turtles from across the province to Peterborough. In this way, the “patients” are admitted to OTCC quickly for ongoing care. Once stabilized with fluids, painkillers, antibiotics, and wound management, each turtle is x-rayed to check for internal injuries and to see if the females are gravid (pregnant). If so, they are usually induced to lay their eggs.  With deceased turtles, the eggs are removed surgically. In both cases, the eggs are then moved to a nest container and incubated in the turtle nursery. Most hatchlings are quickly released in the marsh or pond closest to where their mother was found. However, babies from eggs that hatch late in the fall are kept over the winter and released in spring.

The public education facility at the OTCC on Chemong Road, in Peterborough – Drew Monkman

Because a turtle’s shell is made of bone, putting a fractured shell back together is orthopedic surgery. A number of different methods are used, depending on the type of fracture. Internal injuries, however, are the most life threatening. Like other injured animals, turtles go into shock, which means that timely care is of the essence. Other common medical interventions include repairing fractured jaws, removing fish hooks and treating everything from infections to pneumonia.

Drew Maxwell, a volunteer at the OTCC holds newly-hatched snapping turtles. The Centre treats injured turtles from around the province, many of which are injured after being hit by vehicles. – Drew Monkman

Education

Because education is the key to turtle conservation, the OTCC offers a number of carefully tailored presentations both off- and on-site. Audiences range from kindergarten students all the way to cottagers associations. Their Chemong Road location houses a 1000 square foot education centre. It is home to non-releasable education turtles, interactive displays and a great gift shop. Visitors can enjoy behind-the-scenes viewing of the hospital, the rehabilitation centre and adorable baby turtles! The education centre also includes a new outdoor area with ponds, trails and informative signs.

What you can do

1. If you come across an injured turtle, take note of the exact location where you found it. Place the animal in a plastic container with a secure lid and wash your hands. Call the OTCC at 705-741-5000. The Centre is staffed seven days a week from 8 am to 8 pm. NOTE: Never attempt to treat any sick or injured animal, no matter what it is. In the case of birds and mammals, contact a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre by going to owren-online.org

2. If you encounter an uninjured turtle in the middle of a road and traffic conditions are safe, gently move the animal in the direction it is travelling. Snappers can be coaxed across using a shovel, board or big stick. Never pick up a turtle by its tail.

3. If you know of a road that is particularly dangerous for turtles, contact your local councillor or other elected official to see if warning signs can be erected.

4. Do not dig up nests to protect the eggs. If you are concerned about predators, you can build a turtle nest cage. Instructions can be found at torontozoo.com. Search for a pdf called “Turtles on your Property”. Remember to keep an eye out for hatchlings from late August until snow. Hatchling painted turtles sometimes overwinter in the ground and appear in spring.

5. If you are a lakeside property owner, keep your shoreline as natural as possible. Leave an un-mown buffer of vegetation that extends at least 10 metres deep back from the water’s edge. Leave any fallen logs that lie on or close to shore.

6. You can help to conserve turtles (and other reptiles and amphibians) by reporting your sightings to monitoring programs such as the Ontario Reptile & Amphibian Atlas at Ontarionature.org

7. The OTCC exists primarily thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, which assist with turtle care, outreach and fundraising. If you are interested in volunteering, visit the website or phone 705-741-5000.

Ontario’s turtles

Ontario is home to eight species of turtle, six of which can be found in the Kawarthas. The only species that are not found locally are the wood and spiny softshell turtles. No less than seven of our province’s turtles are now listed as Species at Risk.

1. Midland painted turtle: This is our most common and widespread species. It is named for the bright yellow, orange and/or red streaks on the head and neck.

2. Snapping turtle (at risk): Easily identifiable by its often massive size and the serrated edges at the rear margin of the shell, the snapping turtle is most often seen in May and June when it is nesting.

3. Blanding’s turtle (at risk): This species has a  dome-like shell and bright yellow throat. It is still quite common in the Kawarthas.

Blanding’s Turtle – Rick Stankiewicz

4. Musk turtle (at risk): This small, often algae-covered turtle, frequents shallow bays. It rarely leaves the water.

5. Map turtle (at risk): The shell of this large but wary species is covered by a network of map-like lines. The head and neck are streaked. They are often seen sunning themselves on the rocks of large lakes like Rice and Stony.

6. Spotted turtle (at risk): Small and secretive, spotted turtles have a smooth black shell with conspicuous bright yellow spots. There have only been a handful of confirmed sightings in the Kawarthas in recent years.

7. Wood turtle (at risk): This semi-terrestrial species spends most of its time on land in summer, inhabiting fields and forests near streams. Its shell looks like a piece of wood.

8. Spiny softshell turtle (at risk):  This is a highly aquatic species found mostly in the Great Lakes and in large rivers. It lacks the horny plates on its shell that most turtles have.

Ontario also has one non-native turtle, the red-eared slider, which is superficially similar to the painted turtle. It is sold in pet stores. Unfortunately, disenchanted owners continue to release sliders into the wild, where they represent a threat to native turtles.

Shell-abrate!

To celebrate the banning of the snapping turtle hunt, the OTTC will be hosting a fundraiser in Toronto on June 15. The event takes place at Torys LLP, located at 79 Wellington Street West. Tickets are $95 each, but come with a $45 tax receipt. There will be a short documentary on the Centre’s work, a silent auction, interactive displays and a chance to meet OTCC’s ambassador turtles!

To learn about all OTCC happenings such as regular open house events, visit ontarioturtle.ca.

Apr 262016
 

About two weeks ago, in the northeastern part of Peterborough County, I saw the following species. APRIL 14: Hubble Road – 3 Eastern Comma butterflies; Sandy Lake Road – 1 Eastern Comma and 1 Mourning Cloak. APRIL 15: Charlie Allan Road – 6 Compton Tortiseshell;  Galway/Cavendish Forest Access Road – 4 Eastern Comma, 2 Mourning Cloak, 2 Compton Tortiseshell and 46 Painted Turtles; Cedarwood Drive – 1 Compton Tortiseshell; Pencil Lake Road – 1 Mourning Cloak; Lou Philips Drive – 1 Mourning Cloak

Jerry Ball

Mourning Cloak - Maple Cr. - Apr. 2014 - Drew Monkman

Mourning Cloak – Maple Cr. – Apr. 2014 – Drew Monkman

Compton Tortoiseshell - Wikimedia

Compton Tortoiseshell – Wikimedia

 

Eastern Comma - Terry Carpenter

Eastern Comma – Terry Carpenter

 

Apr 262016
 

I went out for a walk on April 20 at Beavermead and Roger’s Cove in the beautiful sunshine. In Roger’s Cove, I found a patch of violets in bloom, on the right side of the trail near the locks.
Carrying on towards Beavermead, I saw a Common Loon fishing in the bay. I also spotted some Coltsfoot blooming nearby. Finally, I walked over towards the creek on the left and saw two painted turtles basking together on a log in the creek. But my favourite sighting has to be the one that I look forward to seeing every year, which is a large patch of blooming Bloodroot, which is in the wooded area creekside behind “The Cabin” chip truck.

Happy Trails,
Catherine Paradisis

Bloodroot - Drew Monkman

Bloodroot – Drew Monkman

Coltsfoot - Drew Monkman

Coltsfoot – Drew Monkman

Jun 272015
 

Today (June 26) my daughter, Cathy, and I decided to take my aluminum boat into the marsh wetland in front of my trailer at the Woodland Campsite near Buckhorn. We were looking for any possible photo opportunities. We arrived at a small clearing in the cattails and while bemusing a cedar tree trying to grow from a submerged stump, discovered a turtle at the base of the cedar basking in the sun. We allowed the boat to drift closer and discovered the turtle to be a Blanding”s Turtle.  It was not as skittish as the Painted Turtles tend to be and stayed put during the picture taking.

Barb Evett

Blanding's Turtle - Barb Evett

Blanding’s Turtle – Barb Evett

Jun 012015
 

On May 30th, about 4:30 pm, our first Painted Turtle laid her eggs in the sandy soil on the side of our driveway. She arrived about 3:30 in the pouring rain and made two attempts to dig a hole in the large gravelled turning circle, but the surface covering proved too difficult for her so she finally made her way up the drive to look for a more favourable site. She must have been very tired after all that exertion!

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Painted Turtle nesting (Rick Stankiewicz)

Painted Turtle nesting (Rick Stankiewicz)

May 312015
 

Last evening (May 30th) I saw two good sized Snapping Turtles up from the Otonabee River into our neighbourhood (Hazel Cres., OSM Twp.) First of the season and a bit early, as usually it’s the first week of June before we see them out and about.

Rick Stankiewicz, Keene

Snapping Turtle - Rick Stankiewicz (2007)

Snapping Turtle – Rick Stankiewicz (2007)

Snapping Turtle on roadside (Danielle Tassie - 2008)

Snapping Turtle on roadside (Danielle Tassie – 2008)

May 162015
 

Today, May 16, I saw two tiny Painted Turtles (hatchlings) on the Trans-Canada Trail east of the bridge at Lily Lake in the west end of Peterborough.

Sophie Monkman

Note: Baby Painted Turtles hatch out of eggs in the fall but don’t actually emerge fromj the ground until the following spring. They spend their first winter in the “nest.” All subsequent winters, however, are spent at the bottom of a pond or other body of water. According to Wikimedia, “The hatchling’s ability to survive winter in the nest has allowed the Painted Turtle to extend its range further north than any other Northe American turtle. The  turtle is genetically adapted to survive extended periods of subfreezing temperatures with blood that can remain supercooled and skin that resists penetration from ice crystals in the surrounding ground.”  D.M. 

Painted Turtle hatchling - Wikimedia

Painted Turtle hatchling – Wikimedia