At The Land Between we have wonderful staff members and volunteers who dedicate their time to protecting the region’s turtles. Today I am going to give you a sneak peek into what a day in the life of a field technician looks like. It’s different every day, and the name of the survey game is flexibility!
What We Do:
Conservation technicians work in pairs 5 days a week and conduct road surveys and wetland surveys. Essentially, we are looking for turtles, frogs, and snakes. “Ewww” for most people, but fun for us because we are very dedicated to this work. For road surveys, we drive slowly along roads with high turtle mortality rates. When we are driving and come across a wetland, we will safely pull over and walk along that wetland looking for turtles, frogs, and snakes.
Our survey schedule depends on weather and temperature. If it’s not raining, we start around 4:30. If it is a rainy morning then we will head out at 8 am and if it continues to rain throughout the day, we take a late afternoon break and then go out surveying again. Sometimes we have been out until 2 am with nesting turtles. These are very long days for us, but we know the work is important so we do it gladly. If the temperature reaches below 12 degrees turtles won’t be out so if a day is ever that cold, we usually spend it catching up on data entry or writing blog articles like this one.
What we do when we find a turtle:
If the turtle is on the road, we will pull over safely and then help it cross the road in the direction it was moving to…unless it is nesting. If nesting, when the turtle is finished she usually heads back to the wetland from where she came.
If the turtle is basking on the side of the road we will first make sure that it isn’t nesting. When a turtle is nesting you must never bother it because it could get spooked and might not finish laying.
If we find a nesting turtle, we will stay with it until it is done (Hence, the 2 am nights mentioned earlier.) Once the mother is done we will weigh and measure her and then excavate the nest. We have received specialized training in excavation and TLB has permits to excavate nests.
When we find a turtle that is not nesting or finished nesting we will weigh them, give them a special name, measure the carapace (upper shell) and plastron (lower shell), then we take a photo with a special code including the turtles’ name, age/sex, action (i.e. basking/traveling), and the date of capture. We will also write 2021 on their plastron (belly) so we know if we ever get a recapture. If you ever find a turtle with 2021 on it contact us at The Land Between. Once we are done processing the turtle, we will release it back in the direction it was going but safely off the road- and again, it if was nesting, we help her to the wetland behind her. Otherwise, after the turtle is moved, we will watch the turtle until we are certain it isn’t going to head back onto the road.
Our staff is vigilant in sanitizing equipment between each turtle we process to ensure diseases won’t be spread.
Sometimes we get calls from members of the public when they see a turtle on the road or nesting and if one of our teams is close by, they will head over to help.
Whenever we find a nesting turtle it is very exciting. Especially when it is a Blanding’s turtle since they are a more threatened species. If we find a turtle that has just started nesting it means we may be watching it for a few hours. The turtle needs to pick a spot they like, dig deep enough to lay her eggs, and then cover it back up. When the turtle is done laying, we will capture her and process her and then we will excavate the eggs. Turtle eggs are usually predated within the first 24 hours of laying! We excavate eggs and record the nest’s location, in high risk areas such as roadsides or driveways, to help avoid predations, giving them a much higher rate of survival. Once hatchlings emerge from eggs (in our incubators) they can be released where they were laid or at the wetland/water area nearest to their nest location (this helps to ensure that they avoid being injured on the roads or eaten by predators).
Once a team has completed their route they will head back to The Land Between headquarters (if their route is close by) where we have an incubator set up to keep the turtle eggs. The eggs will be transferred carefully to a container with vermiculite, weighed, then put safely into the incubator. All data, including the nest ID, coordinates of the nest location, and details are recorded carefully.
Once the hatchlings start emerging in August, the team who excavated the nest has the privilege of releasing the hatchling back to the closest wetland to where they were found. Also, we call anyone who helped us save the nest to be witness to the release. So cute!
Every day is different. Some days may be slower and end at 10 pm and some may be longer and end at 2 am. We let the turtles determine it and we are good with that!
If you would like to learn more or become a Turtle Guardian you can visit the Turtle Guardian website here https://www.turtleguardians.com/the-land-between-ontarios-turtle-country/
Written by: Nadia Pagliaro, Conservation Technician