Saturday’s expanded snapping turtle program includes other nature activities for kids
By Alison Rooney
Rising early to catch the annual “Snapping Turtle Walk” presented by Constitution Marsh at Boscobel is well worth it, as these ancient creatures, native to this area, never fail to fascinate. This year’s program, which takes place this Saturday (June 16) has been expanded beyond the traditional presentation by Marsh naturalists which consists of a show-and-tell talk about the turtles followed by a walk around the Boscobel grounds searching for the obscured nests where the turtles come each spring to lay their eggs. Those same naturalists will be conducting a bird walk, along the woodland trail, in quest of songbirds, and there are likely to be “some really nice birds to be heard early in the morning in late spring,” according to Marsh center director Eric Lind. The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum is a first-time participant, offering a pond-side exploration and a nature scavenger hunt directed at younger children.
Bringing along four to five turtles each year for demonstration purposes runs contrary to Eric Lind’s usual principals of respecting these creatures by leaving them alone, but he feels that the educational component is worth it, on a one-time basis, and he points out that the turtles are not captive, and are released back into their habitats later in the day. Seeking to rectify some of the misinformation out there about snapping turtles, Lind answered a few questions from Philipstown.info.
Philipstown.info: What about this region makes it such a welcoming habitat for the turtles?
Lind: The Hudson River Valley has a wonderful diversity of turtles; there are 12 native species in the region, several of which are quite rare and in fact the region ranks highly in the world in terms of diversity of turtles. They all need our attention in order to thrive. Some of the species co-exist, while others are isolated and are drawn to the specific habitats they need. Some are aquatic; one species, the terrapin, is restricted to the lower, more salty, parts of the river; and some are terrestrial species, like box turtles.
Philipstown.info: How long have the snapping turtles been here?
Lind: In evolutionary development turtles go way back. They are native and quite common and don’t have really specific survival requirements like other species. They’re very widespread, not of serious conservation concern, although they suffer from the same predators as other turtle species, namely man. Not only from being hit by cars while crossing the road, but in other states they are now being collected and exported as a food item.
They survive well here because of their approach to life: they’re tough, rugged organisms; they’re not that specialized, and eat a lot of vegetation, carrion — they can actively hunt. However they do acquire a lot of contaminents from the river, mostly PCBs; they live a long time and accumulate toxins. Once over a certain size there is nothing hunting them, no predatory birds because they’re too big. But just because they’re strong and adaptable doesn’t mean they should be ignored — don’t take them for granted.”
Philipstown.info: Has Constitution Marsh conducted research on the snapping turtle population?
Lind: Yes, we had a long term tagging program in which female turtles were tagged through a system of holes drilled through the back edge of their shells. Coding with these holes helped identify individual turtles to see if they chose the same nesting points each year; we also did counts. A while back there were easily over 500 female snapping turtles in our area.
Philipstown.info: When, and why, do the turtles usually emerge?
Lind: It’s dependent on temperatures, and in a typical season that means the first couple of weeks of June. This year a warm spell in May brought some out the last week of May. But generally they spend the first two weeks of June looking for nesting sites, although it can be earlier if they’re in a pond setting. In terms of nests they look for a place to dig which also gets some sunshine — that’s why they love Boscobel’s mulched gardens and the wooded area along the trail at the Marsh. We don’t know why they make their specific choices, but it always involves a dig-able surface in which to bury the eggs. A lot of eggs get dug up and eaten by skunks, raccoons and other predators, but enough survive to maintain a stable population.
Philipstown.info: What else should we know about snapping turtles?
Lind: There’s a lot of misinformation out there: “…they’re dangerous, they can bite your arm off…” They can bite fiercely, but they have limited options — they don’t make decisions like we do. It’s important that we don’t make a judgment about an animal based on their habits or the way they look. They’re not oddities that should be feared or taunted. Think objectively about what this animal is, and what our approach should be. They do require respect; they are strong and want to be left alone. And we largely do that — except for a couple of hours during the snapping turtle walk!
The cost for Saturday’s program, which begins at 7:30 a.m., is $18 for adults, and children 12 and under are free. Purchase tickets in person, over the phone or online at the Boscobel website.