Sunday, August 23, 2009

Deer and Turtles

I live in "deer country."

When the sun goes down, I watch out for deer leaping across the highway in front of me. I've never hit one, but Tom has. Fortunately for him, he was in his old GMC Jimmy. He didn't get hurt. His car had only minor damage (he lost the "G" in the GMC logo on his grill). The deer didn't survive.

Deer collisions are not unusual in Buffalo County, Wisconsin. Deer are plentiful out here, and they are big. In fact, according to Field & Stream, our neck-of-the-woods led the nation with more than 300 record-book deer taken during hunting season, almost twice as many as the nearest competitor.

The first car-deer interaction I had out here in Wisconsin was a doozy.

It was early spring. I was across the Chippewa River, over by Arkansaw (an unincorporated community about three miles west of Durand, Wisconsin)  when I noticed an odd-looking deer off in the distance, standing in a freshly tilled cornfield. It seemed to have over-sized, deformed hind legs. As I got closer, I realized it wasn't a deformity. It was twin fawns!

I was still a good distance away when I stopped and parked along the side of the road. Tom and I wanted to watch the trio. But then a car came up behind me and zoomed down the road. The doe spooked and bolted across the road and into the woods, leaving her two newborns behind in the field.

I knew the doe would come back for her offspring eventually, but this is a heavily trafficked road. I felt conflicted: Let nature take its course?

Nope, I had to get the fawns to the other side of the road with the doe.  Moving the first fawn was relatively easy. I just scooped it up, walked across the road and put it down in the tall grass by the woods. As I walked back to get the second one, I noticed a couple of cars parked behind mine. The occupants were watching my drama.

The second fawn was smaller than the first - a runt. I picked it up and held it to my chest. I could feel its heart beating a mile a minute.

Then it did something unexpected. It let out a plaintive "bleet."

That stopped me in my tracks.  At first I wasn't sure the noise came from the bundle in my arms.  But of course, deer can vocalize.

I put the little guy down next to its sibling. As I headed back to my car, I heard a voice from one of the cars shout: Way to go!

What a difference from today's experience.

Same situation - different species: turtles. Two of them, just yards apart. One on the shoulder of the road, the other cowering mid-way across.

This time, I didn't hesitate. A big black Ford Explorer going the speed limit - at least 55 mph - was headed right at the reptilian "bump" in the road. I pulled my Prius to the shoulder, pushed the "park" button and ran to the little turtle.

It was in the worst location - right in line with the driver-side wheel.  But all the driver had to do was swerve a little bit to his right.

I was too late.  I waved at the man, and motioned him to move to the right.

He didn't.  The turtle was a goner, and I didn't want to watch.  

I cringed as the tire hit the edge of the turtle's carapace.  Out of the corner of my eye I watched.   Like a golfers "chip shot," the impact kicked the turtle up in the air.  It landed across the road, in the grass.

I sprinted up to it, expecting the worst. But when I got there, the little guy had pulled out its legs and started to scoot off into the woods - his shell and body parts apparently unharmed.  A miracle!

Then I turned my attention to the other turtle, who was waiting for me just up the road. I ran over, picked it up and after waiting for traffic to pass, plunked it down on the other side of the highway.

A car slowed down and the woman driving it asked: need some help?

Nope. Just helping a turtle get across the road.

"Good for you," she said as she drove off.

No, I thought, good for the Western Painted Turtle.

Western Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta belli

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