By John Francis
It’s halfway through the nesting season for the Bruce Peninsula’s turtles and National Park employees and community volunteers have placed nesting boxes around 30 clutches of eggs. This represents approximately equal numbers of the peninsula’s two turtle species: Midland Painted Turtle and Snapping Turtle. Parks Canada reptile and amphibian specialist Tricia Robins hopes to have twice that number of clutches protected by the end of nesting season.
Last year, with the help of more than 40 citizen science volunteers, the National Park “On the Road to Recovery” program protected more than 100 egg clutches in and around Bruce Peninsula National Park. Volunteer numbers are down somewhat because of COVID-19 so fewer clutches of eggs have been reported this year. Under the program, the park will provide nest boxes and support for any turtle clutches on road allowances or private land north of Dyers Bay Road. (For people south of Dyers Bay Road, Robins says, Parks would offer phone support, plans for boxes, encouragement and technical know-how.)
To report a turtle nest or get help in protecting a turtle nest, or to volunteer with the recovery program, call 226-974-0261 or email [email protected]
“On the Road to Recovery” has four elements: turtle nest protection, wildlife exclusion fencing (such as the black cloth barriers you see where Hwy 6 passes through wetlands), eco-passages (wildlife tunnels under roads) and public education. An excellent example of exclusion fencing and eco-passages can be seen on Dorcas Bay Road near Highway 6.
Without human intervention, turtle nesting success runs around 10%, Robins says. When protected by nesting boxes, success is close to 100%.
The main predator of turtle nests is the raccoon. “They patrol the nesting areas,” says Robins, so volunteers have to get a box in place before the neighbourhood coon passes by. The eggs usually hatch in September and the exit hole in the nest box aims the young turtles toward the nearest wetland.
If you see a nesting box still present late in the fall or through the winter, this is not sloppiness — it’s deliberate. Midland Painted Turtle eggs sometimes delay hatching until the next spring. They can freeze and thaw without sustaining any damage.
The natural nesting habitat for both of our species of turtles is well-drained sandy areas near wetlands — mainly beaches and dunes. Unfortunately, if you’re a turtle the shoulders of roadways around culverts look absolutely perfect. This puts both nesting females and newly-hatched young in danger from traffic.
If you see a turtle on a road, it’s in danger. Adult turtles know where they want to go, so you can help by just moving them across the road in whichever direction they were heading. Baby turtles should be aimed towards water.
Midland Painted Turtles are easy to move, as are baby snappers. Adult snappers, not so much. If you see a lot of them, you might carry a shovel in your trunk as a tool.
If you have to handle a large Snapping Turtle by hand, do not grab the tail — this can injure the turtle. Grab the back of the shell and slide your hand under the belly from behind. This might be less daunting than usual this year — everybody has Lysol wipes in their car!