Rob's Blog Archive

May 13, 2012

The Turtles Are Back










It is the first sign of spring at Silly Lake, the return of the turtles.  In fact, return is a misrepresentation---they never leave.  They wait out the cold seasons by hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond.  Only when we start getting warmer days during which they can bask a bit in the sun do they reappear.  Spring.

Western painted turtles, Chrysemys picta bellii, find a particularly friendly habitat in Montana’s lily ponds.  My pond, Silly Lake, is big enough to show up on a U.S.G.S. topo map, shallow enough to provide good mud to winter in everywhere, and its surface remains above the waterline even in dry years.  It’s not unusual for me to spot ten to twenty turtles out sunning themselves on logs that surround the pond.  For the record, they’re all named Fred.

My first encounter with the beasts occurred during my first summer at Silly Lake.  I was just leaving my house for a short jog.  The animal was on my driveway, probably 50 yards from the water.  Wanting to do the right thing I dutifully picked it up and put it back in the pond.  I then went to read up on the species.  As I read, I realized that, to the extent turtles emote, I just pissed this animal off.  Even juveniles can venture a couple of miles over land.  The 50 yards between my pond and my driveway was nothing.  Moreover, they spend a large portion of their non-hibernating time sunning themselves.  By kind, the two favorite spots on my property are logs rimming my pond and my driveway.  So all I did was take an animal doing exactly what it wanted to be doing and place it in the cold water of my pond----exactly where it didn’t want to be.  Always good to endear yourself to the locals.

It has been a couple of weeks since I spotted my first turtles of the season.  A bunch were sunning themselves on several logs floating at the edge of my pond.  My pond isn’t wilderness, but I enjoy the fact that it supports local wildlife.  The onset of spring is when this is most apparent---the turtles are not the only change that says it’s spring.  The tamarack have almost all of their needles back and while the leaves on the aspen are not yet full sized, they are more than simple buds.  And of course, birds of various sorts glide around the pond.  Geese, mallards, and mergansers are all frequent visitors.  Most seasons, I’ve had a mating pair of hooded mergansers and, eventually, their chicks floating and diving in my pond. 

And, of course, there’s spring weather.  Thunderstorms are considered a harbinger of spring by many Native American cultures.  Like my first turtles of the year, the first thundershowers of the season have also come and gone. 

The lakes in the high mountains are still frozen, but in the lodgepole forest around Seeley Lake, all the ponds and lakes have been clear of ice for nearly a month.  Changing seasons is very different from where I grew up in Los Angeles where seasonal variation ranged well within the norms of moderate spring and fall days here.  Happily, the only season here I don’t like is the last two weeks of November--- not even a full season.  Days now are very long, everything is green, streams are very full and noisy.  In only weeks, the parade of wildflowers will begin.  The turtles look pretty darned happy to me.

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