TURTLE NESTING SEASON
Nicolas Bousquet is the author of the following article. At the moment his major project that he is in charge of is a study of the wood turtle :This includes participating in the surveys; active protection of adult females in a gravel pit; nest protection; developing measures to protect all the turtles and maintaining the activity in the gravel pit; limiting the propagation of the Japanese knotweed in the designed wood turtle habitat to maintain a good quality of habitat as well as teaching classes to CEGEP and University students in the field about the wood turtles.
Despite a rainy and rather cold spring, the recent rise in temperature and the sunny weather are causing the turtles to become active. The warmth is a signal for them to come out of their hibernation in the riverbeds. Soon the three species of turtles, the painted turtle, the snapping turtle and the wood turtle of our sector will be visible during our outdoor activities or on the road! At first, they will be looking for some sunshine and will come out of the still very cold rivers and ponds to facilitate their thermoregulation.
Then, the laying period begins, which will last from the end of May to the beginning of July, but it is particularly in June that the majority of the turtles will be active for the laying. The adult females will seek sand and gravel, or a mixture of both, exposed to the sun to make their nest and bury their eggs. They may therefore go to the side of the road or onto footpaths or cycle paths to nest and thus become very vulnerable. In fact, every year we note turtle deaths along the edges of these structures, often adults, but sometimes also hatchlings that have emerged from their eggs. The passage from the aquatic environment to the terrestrial environment and vice versa for egg-laying is therefore an issue for the survival of adult females every year.
How can we help them to remain safe and sound during this period?
Simply by remaining vigilant! Whether you are driving, walking or cycling on structures bordering lakes, rivers, ponds or wetlands, you can remain vigilant to the presence of turtles and react appropriately in the event of their presence. You can slow down and let the turtle go on its way and warn other motorists of its presence for example. In an immediate emergency, you can help it cross, always in the same direction it was going. It is important not to put the animal back in the water or move it to another location. You can also take a photo and report its presence on the website www.carapace.ca.
It should also be noted that the wood turtle is present in a few rivers in the Eastern Townships and is designated as vulnerable by its provincial status. Populations have suffered a recent decline and some are recovering with difficulty. The wood turtle is particularly vulnerable to injury and mortality on roads and by agricultural and forestry machinery, especially because of its very terrestrial nature. Since it is the most terrestrial of our turtles in Quebec, it is exposed to these pressures for longer than other species. Moreover, the degradation of its habitat does not help its cause, nor does the presence of predators that destroy nests, such as raccoons! Despite the efforts of local organizations and actors, the situation remains precarious for several populations in the Eastern Townships. In fact, since turtles in general are slow growing and slow to reproduce, the recovery of these populations takes several years… when it is possible.
However, there is hope! Habitat quality is an essential element in the recovery of declining species and many local organizations are working to maintain and conserve these quality habitats. There are also several actions underway to better understand the specific threats affecting our wood turtles in order to better correct them!
Nicolas Bousquet, biol.,
Coordonnateur de projets terrain