**Not a bird post.**
So apparently there is more to this world than birds. (What?!) One of my classmates who shares an interest in birds, currently researches demographics of painted turtles and musk turtles at the School of Conservation in northwest NJ. I’ve been invited to help with the data collection. Or enticed… there have been offers of witnessing territorial battles between Ospreys and Bald Eagles as well as exotic warblers. (None of which I saw today.)
After class on Tuesday night, we headed up there to handle a turtle emergency. A turtle emergency being defined as not having enough time to process turtles and return them to the pond. We worked there until 12:30 am. Whee!
I got to go back there again this morning to help with collecting and processing. When we arrived, bright and early (8ish, but it was a 90 minute commute!) it was still in the 30’s so we processed turtles collected last night before heading out on the lake.
In many ways, field research is some of the best work there is. (In many ways, I can see why people think the spending on science and research is extravagant.) If you saw us, canoeing all about the lake, we looked peculiar. We had 2 canoes, but 1 GPS and 1 temperature sensor. A quality field GPS costs significant money (1000s). The canoes were constantly together and separating, together and separating as we roamed around the lake as we had to return to the other canoe each time they caught a turtle.
How does one catch a turtle? Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this part of the process because I was leery of taking my camera on the lake without knowing what I was getting into! I had heard stories of mishaps and near collapses. If you have two people, one person steers, and the other portrays a figurehead, or George Washington (who I suppose is also a figurehead in many respects), stands at the prow and points. The pointing is generally in the direction of a spotted turtle (not a species). The steer-er, in the steer, navigates the boat there, then the pointer switches roles and becomes a turtle catcher. While either sitting or standing, they need to use a net with along handle to scoop up a turtle who will try to run away or burrow into the mud.
We did this for about two hours, before heading inside to process the 25 turtles we collected. Processing entails recording lots of information including size, mass, shell characteristics, and collecting a genetic sample. If these were birds, you pluck a feather and done deal. Since they have no feathers (silly things), we either need to do a bucal (mouth, saliva) swab or a coacal (anal) swab. That was my fun job. The final steps entail marking them and photographing them. That’s where the title of this post comes in. We actually paint codes onto them so we can easily spot them from the canoe and identify them in the database.
After all the collection is done, they are returned to the lake until the next time we catch them.