I have posted previously about the conservation project I am involved with for Blanding's Turtles. Today was our first opportunity to go out to radio track some of the turtles that have emerged from hibernation in the past month or so. After the soaking we got at the bioblitz this past weekend I was very relieved to see clear blue sky and sunshine when we set off this morning.
In October of last year, as part of our ongoing restoration work in conjunction with Du Page County, we released a number of hatchling and headstarted turtles. One of our headstarted turtles had been fitted with a radio transmitter so we were hoping to find it and also several older females.
Here is Jamie all kitted out in her chest waders, equipped with the antenna for picking up the radio signals and the control box to set the frequency - lets go track down some turtles!
There is definitely a knack to hearing the fluctuations in the signal beeps but we soon were on the trail of our first female and as the beeps got louder we eventually tracked her down. Each turtle is checked for any signs of injury or ill health and also to see if they are carrying any eggs although it is still a little early for that at the moment. We then take a GPS reading of the exact location we picked her up and then release them again. This will be done every week at this time of year until they are found to be gravid. When they are, they are taken to the outdoor pens where they will be left to lay their eggs in safety without predation. When they have laid their eggs they will be returned once more to the wild.
We tracked down five different females, all of whom were strong and healthy. As you can see from the picture above, two distinctive features of the Blanding's Turtles are the very yellow chin and throat and the seemingly permanent smile :)
We also checked several baited traps. These are set to catch turtles that do not have radio transmitters so that extra data can be collected.
Any turtles found in the traps are checked over, GPS coordinates taken and then released. If it is a turtle without a radio transmitter then a photo of the plastron (underside of the shell) is taken for future identification.
In amongst all the turtle tracking we saw numerous Northern Leopard Frogs Rana pipiens and also hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles.
Our final treat of the day was to track down the headstarted turtle with a mini radio transmitter that we released last October. The transmitters on the big females last twelve to fourteen months but the smaller ones needed for the headstarted turtles only last for roughly six months so we were really pushing our luck with it by now. At first there was no evidence of a signal and we were on the verge of giving up but then we picked up a faint beep. We began tracking and although it took us a long time we eventually managed to narrow it down to a small area. We then all knelt down in the muddy water and started searching around in the mud...........
And there she was! Our little baby that we had nurtured and cared for at the Museum for over a year. We were all delighted to see her and she was passed around all of us so that we could each have our photo taken with her. She had successfully come through her first hibernation and appeared to be fit and strong - she even smiled for the camera!
I believe this is what is known as job satisfaction :)
Photo Credits - CJT
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