May 5, 2017
Finally, a beautiful morning without fog and both Larry and I were available for a canoe outing. Beginning of April would have been a better time to go canoeing to see all the migrating waterfowl, however, between the weather and busy schedules, Larry and I didn’t get out in April. There are still things to see in May. It was about 6:40 am when we pulled into the area by the bridge, the canoe landing; we decided to go up McCarthy from there.
We stepped out of the truck quietly, not yet letting Hank out or unloading the canoe. Swimming in the water only a little ways out was a beaver. Only its dark brown head stuck up above the water. Each time I see a beaver I count it as a precious gift. At first it was facing our direction – big nose, half way under the water; rounded bear-like ears just above the water; small, gentle eyes – aside from it being wet, it looked like something you could cuddle, like a teddy bear. It turned, giving us a side view. From the side it looked plainly like a beaver, with the better view, its head clearly looked like a rodent head rather than a bear – more elongated instead of round. I could see part of its back but the rest of it was just below the water surface. The water whorled around its body, clearly indicating where its body and tail were. It turned back toward us again, and then it noticed us. It didn’t consider us too much of a threat, so it didn’t slap the water with its tail but it quickly slipped under the water and didn’t resurface any where we could hear or see it. Once it disappeared, Larry let Hank out of the truck and we proceeded to unload the canoe.
The beauty of the lake was awe-inspiring. The sky was perfectly reflected in the water giving the water a deep, dark blue color at a glance. Trees were also beautifully mirrored in the water. As always, the relaxing power of being out on the water in the canoe could be immediately felt in the release of tension from my body.
“Can you get a picture of the young wild rice plants?” asked Larry. I did my best but I really need a CPL filter to sharpen the image. Larry was a little surprised how much the young plants had grown already. The vegetation along the edges of the water was greening up quickly. Trees were not yet completely decked out in summer leaves; the leaves were still small and developing. New cattails provided a dazzling green to the area. The lake channel was open water, the wild rice had not grown tall and thick enough yet to fill it in leaving just a small passage through it, as it would be later in the season. Larry glided the canoe up the “main” channel with ease. Geese bobbing on the water far to the left began honking, making all sorts of ruckus as we drew closer. I admired their graceful bodies as we passed. Some people think they’re irritating, I find them majestic. There was a pair of Canada geese and further away from them was a lone goose. The sun illuminated the large birds beautifully – still the golden hour. The bulrushes were growing thick and green too. Many trees on the bluffs still had to leaf out so the bluffs weren’t very colorful yet. We continued gliding gently up the channel. Across a strip of rushes, we spotted another pair of Canada geese; they were nesting on an old muskrat house. They talked amongst themselves but weren’t too bothered by us. High up in a tree ahead of us, on the right, perched an immature eagle. Its feathers gave it a mangy, scruffy look; its white feathers only just starting to come in. At first, I thought the pair of geese weren’t disturbed but then they took off northwestward when we drew a little closer. Once they flew off my attention returned to the young eagle. But it too thought we were getting too close. With a magnificent display of strength and agility it took to the air as well. Even in its scruffy juvenile stage it’s an incredible bird. It didn’t go too far away, it perched once again in the trees up ahead where the tree covered land juts into the water a little bit. Again, I was just amazed by the grand size of the marsh. I marveled in the loveliness of the trees springing to life, the new baby leaves shimmering brilliantly in the morning sun. Larry pointed out turtles here and there, hovering near the surface – I spotted a few turtle noses before they disappeared. We’d passed the islands and come into the big open area where the yellow water lilies, years past, have grown abundantly. The lilies were growing well too, but so far only a few leaves stuck up above the water. With the vegetation not so thick, the canoe sliced through the water with ease. I spotted another Canada goose standing on a muskrat lodge behind a wall of rushes and cattails.
As we went along through the lily patch, I looked down into the water. “A fish! I saw a fish! A big one!” I was just so thrilled to have actually seen a fish.
Larry identified the fish, “Northern pike”.
We neared the trees in which an eagle sat; I think it was a different eagle because it had a white head. As always, I delighted in the snags sticking out of the water. We saw a few muskrat houses but not as many as Larry would hope to see. The bluff closer to us was greener than I first thought. Across the marsh a little ways, I spied another bald eagle perched in a tree. Larry took us beyond the lily patch a ways before turning the canoe around to start making our way back.
Back in the lily patch, “Is that two turtles ahead to your left?” asked Larry. I scanned the water ahead, not seeing anything that could be a turtle or two. But then I saw it, with further guidance from Larry. They looked like a rock or stump at first.
“Yes, there are two turtles together, mating. Big turtles!”
“Blanding’s turtles,” Larry responded. He eased the canoe up alongside them. Unlike the other turtles we’d seen, these didn’t immediately disappear under the water as we neared. Larry put his paddle down and reached his hand into the water to grab the turtles.
“Sorry guys for interrupting you.” Larry apologized to the turtles as he pulled them out of the water and apart, holding one in each hand. I turned around to take a look at the turtles. He held them so they were facing me but angled their bodies downward encouraging them to stick their heads out. Their tell-tale yellow necks were clearly visible. Hank looked at them eagerly, hoping they were something for him. Larry scrutinized their shells. (Larry is a scientist, former employee of the DNR and knows how to properly handle turtles; please, do not pick turtles up or separate mating pairs. He only disturbed them to further teach me about the turtles to aid in my ability to write about them.)
“I think so.” I turned my camera and zoomed in on the shell.
“I need to tell him we saw it.” (This was another reason he disturbed the turtles – Pappas has been studying the turtles in this area.)After I took a few photos, Larry gently released the turtles into the water. Hank was disappointed they weren’t for him.
We continued across the lily patch but not heading the way we came. Instead we headed for the other channel on the other side of the cattails and rushes. Larry spotted a lone swan over there that piqued his interest. He eased the canoe closer and closer, pushing through the vegetation, seeing how close we could get to the swan before it had enough. “He’s getting a little agitated, “remarked Larry, continuing to move closer. “I’m going to get close enough to get him to fly so you can get a photo of him taking off.” He moved the canoe closer yet; I had my camera at the ready. The heavenly bird turned around, with wings flapping, running on the water, splashing, it glided into the air – gracefully transitioning from walking on water to gliding in the air. I took three photos of the process but unfortunately they’re all a bit out of focus. The white feathers of a swan are dazzling – like they’re glowing. Its head was stained orange red from pulling up vegetation from under the water. The swan was gone, but I think he landed again not too far up the lake. (Again, our intrusion was minimal; we didn’t completely chase the bird away and it was for educating purposes. Larry and I are very careful to not disturb the animals too much that they’re completely disrupted. We both have the utmost respect and love for these creatures.) A pair of eagles sat side by side in a tree some distance away from us.
Soon my attention was pulled to the vegetation under the water, curled water lily leaves, long stalks shooting up from them with a ball at the top that in a week or two would open into yellow blossoms. The shapes and patterns of the various plants form a wonderful mosaic beneath the water surface. Larry continued to glide the canoe along not having to paddle too much. Trees grew on narrow islands on either side of us. Larry said, “More of them have senesced. [Due to stress].” A little kingbird perched on a branch of one of the trees that may not be alive. It flitted away as we got close. We came to the spot where we’ve seen a muskrat a few times, we didn’t see any this time. I was a bit disappointed. The channel bent sharply to the left. We rounded the bend. The bridge was ahead of us. I’m always sad to return to the bridge. However, instead of landing right away, Larry carefully steered the canoe under the bridge. We didn’t go down Schmoker’s though. He turned the canoe around before we got to the willow leaning over the channel. We completed our canoe outing in an hour. I was thankful for the chance to get out in the canoe again but sad to leave the water.
Wednesday night, I was lying on my bed reading when Mom walked in with an ice cream pail. “Here’s your turtle”, she said as she set it down on the edge of my bed next to me. I’d had a rough couple of days, I had spent the day before feeling very sad and low, on Wednesday these feelings kept coming back periodically throughout the day. So at the first mention of me taking in a turtle, I wasn’t so enthused. It felt like yet another burden, one more thing to needing care. Yet, as I held the turtle in my palm, feeling its tiny feet tickle my skin, I marveled at this precious and beautiful creature. Its arrival coming the day it did, I realized the turtle was a gift from God reassuring me that I am known, thought of and loved.
Our friend, Larry, found the Blanding’s turtle hatchling near Weaver. The turtle was missing part of its shell, he though it hatched without its shell forming completely. Larry refers to it as the “pant-less turtle”, which is a very good way to describe it. The bottom part of the shell is missing about where the turtle’s waist would be if they had one. This deformity has left the back legs and tail completely exposed, leaving the turtle very vulnerable. Larry asked if I would raise the baby turtle since it wouldn’t survive on its own. He also said not to feel bad if the turtle didn’t survive.
The bright yellow chin and helmet- shape profile are generally distinguishing characteristics of Blanding’s turtles. Its carapace, the top of the shell, is dark blue to black, with faint yellow spots and bars. It has a large, yellow plastron, the underside, with the anterior hinged which enables the turtle to pull the front edge of the plastron tightly up against the carapace, providing additional protection. The head, legs, and tail are dark brown or blue gray with tiny light brown or yellow dots. The hatchlings have an undeveloped hinge.
Blanding’s turtles are found in southern Ontario and the Great Lakes States westward to western Nebraska and as far south as Illinois. There are a few populations dotted across New England. Their range in Minnesota is substantial, however large populations are known from only a few localities. Blanding’s prefer open areas, near slow-moving and shallow waters with mud bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation. Extensive marshes bordering rivers provide excellent habitat. They overwinter in the muddy bottoms of marshes and ponds.
These turtles are diurnal, spending a lot of their days, as early as April, basking in the sun and foraging for food. Blanding’s eat a variety of foods including frogs, crayfish, slugs, insects and some vegetation. Males court the females in late spring. At the beginning of June, females travel up to a mile to find suitable nesting sites in sandy areas; at this time numerous females can be seen crossing roads. (Drivers near prime turtle habitat should drive carefully and slowly at this time of year.) The nests are dug by the female using only her hind feet. After depositing the eggs, she may rest nearby before starting her long trek back to water. In September, hatchlings break through the brittle shell using their egg tooth, called a caruncle, and emerge from the nests. Like their mothers months before, they often must take long overland treks to find water. Nests and hatchlings fall prey to skunks, raccoons and predatory birds. Blanding’s are mellow, inoffensive creatures; they do not attempt to bite but instead pull up into their shell. The world is a very harsh place for these turtles, not only do they have to watch out for predatory animals but humans also have made survival for this species difficult. Swamps and marshes continue to be drained for economical use, destroying ideal turtle habitat. Another major threat to turtles is the automobile. Tragically, despite turtle crossing signs, numerous turtles are killed during migration. It angers me that most deaths appear intentional. Why kill a harmless, inoffensive, extremely fascinating creature like a turtle? It is sickening that there are people out there that are so careless and heartless. A person driving in turtle habitat, especially with turtle crossing signs, should drive slowly and carefully, even stopping a vehicle to gently move a turtle to the side of the road. The most crucial time of year is in the months of June, September, and October.
This species of turtle was named after William Blanding, an early naturalist from Philadelphia. A Blanding’s turtle was found to be at least 75 years old. Larry told Mom that if our turtle survives it could out live all of us. Blanding’s turtles are classified as threatened in Minnesota and therefore are given total protection.
Although wild animals should not be kept as pets, this case is an exception; the turtle would not survive on its own and Larry, being a biologist who formerly worked for the state’s DNR, asked me to undertake this task. I have been blessed with lots of nieces and a few nephews some of whom live on our farm and the others visit frequently; these children are curious and awed by the natural world. Raising this turtle will allow me to further instruct them on the wonderfully creatures we have living on this planet with us and to continue to imprint a love for all of creation on their eager minds.
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that a couple of the kids were able to meet the turtle. My siblings, Aleesha and Isaiah, were the first to meet it, they were also quite fascinated by this tiny animal. Isaiah knelt down for a closer look and Aleesha provided us with a name that could be used for either a boy or girl, which is Jordan. Soon afterwards, Isabel and Alexis came in and met the turtle. They plopped to the floor next to its pail. I was delighted to observe them as they observed our turtle, Jordan. I was greatly entertained with their talk about Jordan. They asked questions. Their eyes were lit and sparkled as they talked, darting from the turtle to me. Isabel very cutely, wished she had a pet turtle, with her index finger up and lips slightly puckered. She also wondered if the turtle liked little people (meaning children). I told her they were the first the turtle met so I wasn’t sure. Alexis talked of helping catch insects for the turtle to eat, her eyes ever glowing. As they talked excitedly about Jordan, suddenly Isabel mentioned seeing a bigger turtle in a large bucket earlier this summer. Alexis told Isabel that she hadn’t seen another turtle. However, Isabel was indeed remembering correctly for she was able to see the painted turtle I rescued in June before it was released. I validated what Isabel remembered, “Oooh, the painted turtle I found.” Isabel asked who painted it. I was quite tickled by the question. I responded, “God did, to make it beautiful. And it is called a painted turtle.” There was so much more that they said but I am regrettably unable to remember it all, however I enjoyed every moment with them near the turtle. Later, Alexis brought Therese over to see the turtle. Therese, being a little older, asked even more questions about the turtle and about turtles in general. Within an hour, and just shortly after getting home, Malachi came in asking if he could see the turtle. Nate saw the turtle too, he called it an amazing turtle. I smiled and agreed that it was indeed an amazing turtle. Their response to the turtle was a balm; I was filled with joy by these wonderful children who were eager to learn all I had to teach them about nature. I am indeed blessed and was given a great gift through this turtle and my siblings’ children.