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BoxTurtle Morning

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

I've found two so far this year: box turtle nests, freshly made, and immediately dug out, usually by skunks, opossums, or raccoons. Even crows will dig them out. The pliant shells, like bits of white plastic, scattered. You would walk right over it, and wouldn't think a thing of it, unless you live in a place where there's never any litter, and you stopped to investigate. With every year that goes by, finding these licked-clean eggshells breaks my heart more. Between predators and deaths on our dratted roads criscrossing their home ranges, box turtles cannot catch a break. 

So from mid-June through early July, which is egg-laying season for box turtles, I pace the mown paths that hold the perimeter of my meadow and bisect its center, looking for fresh nests, trying to find them before the predators do. Aided by their sense of smell, mammalian predators are much better at this than I am. Fishy-smelling protein awaits just an inch below the surface.

So on the morning of June 28, 2022, when I found THIS in the path, I was beside myself. I'd never seen such an obvious nest, the loose, crumbly excavation tailings to the left, and the mud freshly globbed on 

complete with adorable clawprints from the egg producer herself, as she carefully tamped down her excavation. Can't you picture her doing it??

And on the upper path, on the same morning, another nest!! 

Little footprint, like a tiny elephant foot with claws...

Here are the tailings she dug out.

On finding two turtle nests in the same morning, the direction of my day took a wild-mouse turn.

Off I did tread, to the garage. There, my predator-baffling accoutrements awaited on their designated shelving. Raccoon baffles, house sparrow traps, turtle nest cages, all gathered together in the Great Garage Cleanout of 2020. There are things you must have on hand for just such emergencies.

I grabbled what I needed

called mah best fren Curtis, and headed back out to the meadow as the sun rose higher in the sky.

I pounded stakes into the ground to secure the cages over the nests

then trudged back to the house for heavy insurance.

I knew the stakes wouldn't be enough to stop raccoons, so I went back up the meadow to fetch cinder blocks with which to weigh the cages down.

Here, I'm caught on my trail cam with a 63-pound pack full of concrete. From this experience, I know without question that I am not built for hiking the Appalachian Trail. Because I would certainly have at least 60 pounds of gear, food and water, and though I am strong, I know I'm not strong enough to haul all that I need.

Just to live in the country is more than enough.

When I got to the first nest with the 63-pound pack on, I had to drop to a sit and roll on my back like an upended turtle to get it off! Lord have mercy. Glad the trailcam didn't witness that!

I weighted each cage, careful to keep the nests exposed to the sun.

Curtis snoopervised. I think he worries about me more as we both get older. :)

Box turtles choose their nest sites carefully, assessing the soil and sun exposure and who knows what all else in their choice. They need sun to heat the eggs, and they prefer my wide mown trails to thick meadow. On the trails, they have a prayer of getting through the vegetation to be able to dig an egg chamber. But there, they're also much more exposed to predation. So I help where I can. I was over the moon to protect two nests this year. Predators 2, turtles...?  I won't know if the eggs made it until probably October, or maybe even next spring, for the eggs incubate for three months, and the babies sometimes hatch and overwinter in the nest. It's a long, long waiting game to find out. 

In case you're wondering, the cage grate is large enough (1 1/4" square) to let the babies out without a problem. That is absolutely vital! You can't cage a nest and then confine the babies when they eventually hatch! Nor can you monitor it closely enough to prevent their expiring inside the cage before you get there.

I took a cooldown walk to the orchard, which is largely too shady for turtle nesting, and found a female Io moth resting on one of my beloved milkweed plants.

She looks like a dead leaf, until you gently tease a wing aside, and she startle-flashes you with giant eyes! (naturalist parlor trick-- you're welcome)

At orchard's end, the butterfly weed I mow around and prop up with sticks was in full bloom.

The indigo buntings I'd been monitoring had finally fledged on Day 10. Hooray!!

As I walked up to check the patio crack for Fak, the copperhead,
I found this.  
I'd scratched our initials and our anniversary (9-11-93) into the concrete.

I forgot I'd ever done it. 

And now here we are

 and aren't,

 and I found two turtle nests in the same morning.

It was a good day in the country.

E. B. White



Rat snakes also love those eggs. One summer’s day not too long ago my husband and I came upon a female box turtle layering her eggs at the edge of a gravel parking lot at the beginning of a bike trail we were headed for. When we got back a couple hours later there was a 3 foot rat snake working hard to get into those eggs. Flinging it into the woods (sorry I felt I had to do something) didn’t deter it. It came back and we left in sadness.

I love these stories of hope! I’ve only seen one box turtle near us. That was several years ago, and it was precariously close to an area mowed by one of those big mower monsters. I hope to hear of a positive ending to this endeavor.

Love the information about the box turtle; I always learn something new from you.
On another note, we received our first issue of BWD today and Wayne hasn't put it down. Earlier there was a question about interest in a print of the cover; what is the status of that inquiry? Thanks, Roveen

@Wayne Ridgeley, WV, Great to hear from you and Wayne, Roveen! Check out the About the Cover section in the back of the magazine. You can order a print of the cover art at right now! Thanks for asking!

Thanks for writing something uplifting for us to read this day. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Great post. Thanks for this. I have a lot of box turtles on my property in Athens County and have been learning about them. Saw a pair mating this spring. Now I know how to spot their nests.

I also love the great information about the box turtle and how you protected two nests this year! Awesome inspiration! That motivates me to do more for wildlife around where I live. Thank you Julie!

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