Background: The BMNHC covers for the work of Aleta Karstad and Frederick W. Schueler,
seeking to explore, conserve, and communicate understanding of
landscapes, their living communities, and their natural history and
biotic diversity, through art, scientific research, conservation of
populations, data, & specimens, publication, and collaboration with
individuals & organizations with similar goals.
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PREAMBLE: Late in the spring of 2006, we were alerted to the threat the proposed maintenance yard of the Ottawa Light Rail Transit (LRT) project might pose to populations of the creatures we study. The attention of those studying the threatened areas was drawn to Emydoidea by a passage in the Environmental Assessment for the LRT project: "No threatened (THR) wildlife was observed by Ecoplans Limited. However, according to the background information reviewed, one species listed by SARA as a federally threatened (THR) species (Blanding's Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii) has been recorded in the study corridor. Blanding's Turtle is also a provincially threatened species designated by the MNR (COSSARO). The records of this species are element occurrence (EO) records from the MNR, most of which are historical. Nevertheless, a letter provided by Shaun Thompson, MNR Kemptville District Ecologist, indicated that Blanding's Turtles are potentially still present in the study corridor."
Relatively wild areas near cities are always complex to understand, because they've been subjected to different human influences than those in the countryside, and their history varies on such a small geographic scale. The wetlands and woods between Lester and Hunt Club roads are a very diverse mosaic of contiguous habitats: shrub swamps that would be plausible summer habitat for Blanding's Turtles; vernal ponds extending into swamps, low woods dominated by alien Earthworms, sandy woods with a relatively intact flora, open sandy Monarch Butterfly fields where Turtles might well nest, grassy tracksides, the non-freezing North Pond where Turtles are said to hibernate, and woods south of there with a depauperate understorey beneath large trees.
The problem with rare species, and the paradox inherent in the system of depending on them to protect habitats from destruction, is that, since they are rare, it's hard to find them. In the case of rare Turtles, without a massive effort or exceptional luck, observations must be made when individuals are basking, or when they cross roads and can be captured or picked up as roadkills. There's also the danger that individual turtles may be waifs released from captivity, rather than representatives of a reproducing population.
THE SEARCH: The search for the Lester Road Blanding's Turtles began in earnest after most of the spring basking period had passed, and patrols of the nesting areas along Lester Road turned up only Painted and Snapping turtles.
Cheryl Doran "was one of the two people that saw the little Blanding's Turtle [on 2 June 2006]. Aleta and Fred told us what temperature to look for (cold nights, promise of a hot day), what time of day to find them (morning 5:00 am). I talked a friend and colleague into coming out with me at 5:00 am to find turtles with a dark shell and yellow throat. We parked the car beside the railway tracks and proceeded to walk along Lester towards the long marsh between Lester and the Airport Parkway. At the first cattail marsh there was a turtle swimming on top of the water. I never saw the turtle's neck as she was swimming away from me, but what I saw was beautiful yellow spots on the turtle shell. She swam above the water for about 4 - 5 feet. The shell was high. I stood there with my mouth wide open, and my camera around my wrist (good place for it, I know). I had seen pictures of the Spotted Turtle on the internet. You don't get much of an idea of size from a picture. I never saw a picture of an Emys blandingii Turtle before. I didn't know they had yellow freckles, and before that day I never knew turtles could swim above water. Not much of a herpetologist am I? I tried for a few weeks to relive that moment (waking up at 4:45), armed with a camera in the 'on' position, but the weather was never as perfect." (in e-mail, 8 Aug 2006)
This sighting encouraged the searchers, but while it could be of no other species, it obviously wasn't sufficient evidence that a population existed here. BMNHC parties searched the area on 29 May, 13, 15, 19, & 23 June, and 10 & 12 July, but we never saw a single basking Turtle of any species. We held an information event on 19 June, which introduced many residents of the neighbourhood to Blanding's Turtles, but through the summer neither bicycling youth nor Dog-walking adults encountered an Emydoidea.
On the morning of 16 September, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority held "their semi-annual 'Sawmill Creek clean up.' Members of SaveOurGreenspace volunteered to clean the Tributary along Lester Rd. We chose that spot because that was the area where we found the Blanding's Turtle on June 2, 2006 at 5:15 am. Unfortunately we also picked up 5 road kill turtles in front of the wetlands beside the CPR ROW tracks.... Three were found right beside the tracks (usual spot), and two were found by Pat, my neighbour at the marsh (south side) closest to the Airport Parkway. Pat threw the carcasses in the wetlands, I was unable to retrieve them, but her best guess was two Painted Turtles. I kept the three others (two were Painted, the other one, I have no idea), and a road kill bird for you. They are currently in the garage on a shelf." (Cheryl Doran, in e-mail, 26 Sep 2006) These were pooled with an additional five Turtle roadkills picked up there by Cheryl on the afternoon of 17 October.
I have examined these remains, and find four Chrysemys picta (Painted Turtles, 1 adult and 3 juveniles, 2 of these assembled from halves, 4 roadkills were found here in the spring), one juvenile Chelydra serpentina (Snapping Turtle, 1 juvenile roadkill in the spring), and the presumed juvenile Emydoidea blandingii depicted below.
There are two scutes remaining on this weathered plastron, they both have the dark central spot of Blanding's Turtle. It seems to me that the shape of the posterior plastron is right for Emydoidea: flatter and thinner than the posterior plastron of the Spotted Turtle, our other species that might have a pale spot-scuted plastron. It's possible to see the plastral hinge behind the anterior remaining horny scute, and the centre of the plastron is clearly unossified there, as one would expect at the hinge of a juvenile specimen. The anterior fragment may pertain to another animal: I doubt that my opinion on this will change after I've compared this with specimens at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
"From what I could see, it is a Blanding's Turtle." -- Raymond A. Saumure, Ph.D., Mon, 30 Oct 2006
Please e-mail me if you have an opinion about the identity of this specimen, think more photos would help you decide on its identity, or would like to examine the specimen. - fred schueler. 29 October 2006.
cf Emydoidea blandingii. 1 juvenile, DOR, specimen. CD06Sep160900/d
Canada: Ontario: Ottawa-Carleton Region: Ottawa: Lester Road Wetland/2.0 km SSE Walkley Rd/Airport Pkwy. MAP:31G/5, UTM 18TVF 494.5 200. 45.33369N 75.64478W
16 September 2006 TIME: 0900-1400.
COLLECTED BY: Cheryl Doran & family Field#: CD06Sep160900/d
HABITAT: small Typha/dead tree marsh at arterial street, surrounded by Salix/grass swamp; old dry 50 mm wide plastron, 2 adherant scutes with dark centres. Found in the course of roadside garbage collection. "I kept the three others (two were Painted, the other one, I have no idea)" by e-mail, Tue, 26 Sep 2006 10:55:05 -0400 (EDT) This may also be among 5 turtles from here added to the collection on 17 October.
Determined by: F.W.Schueler; Site accuracy: 100m alg road; Coordinates from: GPS:LL-WGS84,UTM-NAD27C/eTrex; EOBase entry: EOBOBS FWS/2006Oct26/1748:24; source: FWS/biography/as entered/EOBase; record last modified: FWS/2006Oct26/1820:53.
Bishops Mills Natural History Centre
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