Much excitement at the FWG on Tuesday morning, when we discovered that a much-watched nest was open.

by Sandy Garland

A turtle nest cage consists of a wooden frame with a wire grid over the top to prevent digging. It’s placed over the nest with wedges under the edges to allow hatching turtles to escape.

In June, an FWG visitor had reported seeing a large Snapping Turtle laying eggs in “left field” at the baseball diamond. We had asked for such reports because we wanted to protect nests and do what we could to ensure their success. We immediately installed a “cage” to prevent racoons from digging up the eggs, then spent the summer casually monitoring the area. All was well.

By the end of September, we started to wonder whether the eggs were still viable. At one point, I carefully dug down through layers of clay until I found the first egg – beautifully white and seemingly healthy. I covered it again and kept fingers crossed.

Yesterday (Tuesday, October 1), I was at the garden to work with three Canada Conservation Corps interns engaged by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and loaned to the FWG one day a week. As we set off to plant Joe-Pye Weed, I checked the turtle nest as usual and saw a hole! Hooray!

And how incredibly lucky that interns Kristin, David, and Donovan had just been working with the OFNC’s David Seburn on the CWF’s turtle project. David has been locating Snapping Turtle and Blanding’s Turtle nests all summer, marking some with protective cages or retrieving eggs when necessary and incubating them instead.

Hatching eggs (you can see a hole in the topmost one) and a baby turtle (bottom centre).

Trying to get out.

The interns knew just what to do. They very gently pried dirt and stones loose from around the hole. Before long they uncovered empty shells, intact eggs, and a baby turtle! They lifted it out and handed it to me to warm up in my hands. Soon I could feel it gently moving. In fact, the one David was warming (photo at top of page) became so active, we later released it into the pond.

And off he goes into the wide world.

Most of the babies still had yolk sacs attached to their stomachs – a bit like a largish belly button. Others were still inside their shells, but could be seen moving slowly to get out. We gathered all, including two unhatched eggs and brought them back to our resource centre.

Turning the heat up in the building, we boiled water – because that’s what you do when babies are being born. Practising what she learned at the CWF, Kristin cleaned off the hatched turtles in warm water, then wrapped each carefully in a damp paper towel and tucked them into a bowl – creating what looked like a dish of wontons.

Gently washing dirt off the hatched babies – mostly to keep them from breaking the yolk sac as they move around.

Swaddling the babies in damp paper towels keeps them confined until they finish absorbing the yolk sac – important nutrition – before they take to the water.

Armed with instructions from David Seburn, I brought the turtles home overnight. Several escaped from their swaddling and had to be rewrapped, but otherwise all was well. I am keeping the hatching ones damp, with eggs sitting on damp soil. I’ll take the active ones back to the FWG this morning to release in our pond – a happy ending to a summer-long vigil.