Thursday, April 15, 2010

Turtles Hatching at Weaver Dunes

I woke up this morning with the urge to get a serious dose of prairie.  I hadn't been over to Weaver Dunes in a couple of years - and it was time to fill my Prius with Minnesota gasoline (15¢ per gallon cheaper than the price in Durand).

So ...  Tom and I headed over to Kwik Trip then took the scenic route south through the Dunes.

We saw some great birds - a female Northern Harrier, Eastern Meadowlarks, Killdeer, Horned Larks, Vesper Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhill Cranes, Wood Ducks, Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebes, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, Tree Swallows, Field Sparrows, Great Egret, Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant and 2 Ospreys!

And we had big fun with the Prius and my iPod (using BirdJam to confirm the identity of the sparrows).  I played the calls through the Prius speakers.  It was amazing to see a female Vesper Sparrow doing her "come hither" breeding behavior - quivering on the road in front of the Prius.  And when I played the Horned Lark song, a gang of them in the attack mode, literally surrounded the car.

But it was the turtles that made the trip unforgettable - and we didn't see any until the ride back home. 

It was 2:30pm and 75º when I saw the first - a brown lump on the center yellow "no passing" line.  Turtle rescue time!  I pulled the Prius off the road and looked both ways before I hopped out.   Luckily, for the turtle, there was no traffic.

I picked it up and took a couple of photos.  A Wood Turtle.  I waited for it to pull out and show it's limbs, but no dice.  Then I did what you're supposed to do:  I put it on the side of the road - in the direction it was headed.

I hopped back in the Prius - feeling good that I could do something for this creature, but also disheartened, knowing the turtle-vehicle collision season is about to begin.

Then I saw this sign:

I had to stop, turn around and take a photo - how ironic, I thought.  It wasn't until I got out of the car that I realized how ironic it actually was.

As I got out of the car to take the photo, I noticed this little lump of a turtle crossing the road.  It was the first of a dozen Western Painted Turtles I saw on the road on my way home.  I couldn't help myself:  I had to stop for each and every one.  Turtle road fatalities are an issue everywhere.  Take a look at this link.

How small were they?

The size of a quarter!

Why were so many of these little reptiles crossing the road today?
It must have been a hatching.

But wait, don't turtle eggs hatch in the summer?
Painted turtles lay their eggs in late spring and early summer.  The eggs incubate for about 70-days and hatch in early fall. However, instead of digging out of the nest, the hatchlings remain hidden underground - in the natal chamber - over their first winter, living off the remains of a large internalized yolk sac.  They emerge in the spring - today at Weaver Dunes.

The little ones were heading towards the marshes.  Amazing!

There was however, one very large Western Painted Turtle sitting in the road too - heading in the opposite direction - towards the mighty Mississippi.

Big or small, I don't know how they survive any vehicles coming at them at 55mph.

But I did my best to save a handful of them.

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