How is it that something I feel like I did yesterday is already two weeks ago? Oh well, better late than never I guess.
I have done various posts about the Blanding's Turtle conservation work I do. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference devoted solely to this species. As with any group work focusing on an endangered species you tend to swing between being wildly inspired to keep on doing what your doing and being hugely depressed at the seemingly impossible odds you seem to face to preserve this species.
I won't bore everyone with an account of the numerous lectures, I'll just skip right to the fun stuff - the field trips. On the first day we visited Nachusa Grasslands. This is a huge, beautiful rolling expanse of restored prairie.
There have been numerous reptile species sighted here but we were on the lookout for one particularly elusive little gem, the Ornate Box Turtle.
And, as you can see, we were lucky. This delightful little creature is listed as threatened in Illinois so it really was a privilege to be able to see one in it's natural environment.
This little female was carefully examined and aged at approximately six or seven years old. When we had all admired her she was replaced gently back into the clump of grass where we had found her.
Our second field trip, at the end of the conference was to the Richardson Wildlife Foundation. This is a piece of land that has been bought up over several years by a private individual.
It was initially intended to be a private hunting area but over time the owner came back from the dark side and now focuses on conservation of the species on his land and restoration of the native habitat.
There have been a few sightings in recent years of Blanding's Turtles on this land so a couple of days before we arrived the resident ecologist had been kind enough to set up a series of turtle traps in the various wetland areas.
These are fairly basic, humane contraptions that are anchored semi-submerged and baited with tinned sardines (!) and are extremely effective. Of course they are also totally indiscriminate and will lure in anything with a taste for sardines! - like gargantuan catfish
Or very cranky Snapping Turtles
But most commonly, Painted Turtles
In fact one trap in particular held enough Painted Turtles that we all got one for our group photo!
One Snapping Turtle had managed to force its way out through the side of one of the traps and get stuck so by the time we got it, it was having a serious sense of humour failure!
And was just about ready to amputate any fingers that got too close
We did manage to extricate it without anyone loosing any digits though
When we released it, it did stay around long enough to pose for the cameras!
Eventually our patience was rewarded and the real stars of the show put in an appearance.
Two mature, relatively unmarked female Blanding's Turtles.
As these were previously unrecorded individuals the first priority was to get a DNA sample from each of them so a small amount of blood was drawn from each turtle. One of the problems of working with endangered species is very often with a greatly reduced population comes the inevitable issue of a lack of genetic diversity so it is important that a genetic record of every known individual is kept.
As neither of the turtles were equipped with radio transmitters we also needed a record of identity for each of them. The most effective way of doing this is to take a photograph of the plastron.
Then, just because they are so beautiful we took a picture of their more photogenic angle!
Then we released them back in the same spot from were they came and watched them quickly slip below the waters surface and go back to their precarious existence.
I really do hope that this charming and elusive creature will be around the Midwest for a very long time to come.
I came away from the conference with a very long 'to do' list and the cautious hope that maybe we can save this beautiful turtle species.
Photo Credits - CJT & J Forberg
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