Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Along the River

I've been a little back logged in terms of keeping the blog up to date, mostly due to schoolwork and field work with the CMU biology department. But last week, I had a few hours in the afternoon on a couple days to go walk a stretch of river that I usually do in hopes of seeing some wood turtles active for the first time this season. The sparse cover at this time of year makes them particularly easy to spot basking on decently warm afternoons near the river bank, a few years ago I saw nine of them in a small area with Curtis Hart early in the season. On this day, I was not disappointed and found this big female in a small rocky creek which feeds into the river.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

I usually don't see females much outside of the spring and fall in Michigan, likely do to their dispersal for the summer months. While tracking wood turtles last summer in the northeast, our males usually stuck pretty close to the stream corridor all summer while our females wandered great distances in order to lay their eggs and forage away from the stream corridor for the majority of the summer months. This is likely the same pattern wood turtles here in Michigan follow as well, and these girls won't be moving off until early May. 

I've stated my opinion of my bias towards the appearance of wood turtles in the western part of their range over those which occur in the eastern part of the range, and this photo illustrates why. The vibrant, radiating yellow markings on the carapace seem to be more pronounced in the wood turtles out this way. I covered differences between these two variants in this blog post. Not too long after photographing the wood turtle, I stumbled across this gorgeous female garter snake.

Eastern Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

A very large gravid female, well over the 30" mark and pretty ornery for a garter snake, she was certainly impressive. This snake had a beautiful tangerine orange coloration to its lateral stripes which extended onto its completely orange ventral surface.

After getting out of class the next afternoon, I decided to return to the same area to check for more turtles out on the move. It didn't take terribly long, as I spotted another large female on the move along a fallen tree near the river bank.

After a quick photo with her, we parted ways and within fifteen feet of where she was sitting I spotted another female just coming out of the stream to bask. It's not uncommon to see several wood turtles utilizing a small area to bask, while tracking turtles last summer in New Jersey we found four of our telemetered turtles within a small area in early May.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

This individual was extremely vibrant and the photo does not do her justice. I ended up seeing a total of six wood turtles between a few sites during the week and it seems spring is finally starting to take hold here in the north. I always enjoy seeing this species and look forward to returning to the northeast this summer to work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on these guys once again.


  1. Nice photos! We were able to see Wood Turtles and Spiny Softshells along the Chippewa River on Saturday. Two lifers for us!


    1. Awesome! What spots did you kayak to/from?