Death Comes to Wapalanne

**Graphic Image Below**

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Friday saw my return to Lake Walapanne at the School of Conservation for further adventure in turtle research.   Unlike Monday it did not begin raining upon my arrival, so things were looking up.  That was soon to change….

The plan was to set up traps in preparation for the herpetology program being held there for the next two weeks.  We hiked up the trail toward Spring Cabin, the rustic retreat of the D.E.P.  which was both rustic and remote.    Along the trail we set up minnow traps.  Returning to base camp, we finally located the missing funnel traps and headed back out to set the snake traps.

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

On our way back down the trail, we heard what sounded like a bewildered or very alarmed child in the daylight, but what could pass for a gruesome murder by the dark of night.  Hear for yourself.

Afterwards, we altered the plan and decided to check the basking traps via canoe before walking the perimeter to the check the hoop traps due to the chancy weather.   As we headed to the northern portion of the lake, the clouds began to roll in.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

While the rain threatened, the thunder held off.  From all the traps, we collected a total of…… 1 turtle!   Which despite the lousy number, is actually very good news because data is data.

We processed BIO, the Painted Turtle.  Seriously, that was her name and when it came time to return her to the lake, it was pouring!   I drenched my loafers. (This was apparently a hard lesson to learn as I’ve soaked two pairs of shoes in 24 hours  Three pairs of shoes in 48 hours.).

Afterwards, we went to dinner.  When we came back, the other instructors for the Herpetology and Forensic Insects workshop were there.  So we went on a walk to insect the carcasses that were placed out to entice insects.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

Apparently all the years of watching TV crime and forensic television allowed squeamishness to stay far from me!  The instructor placed 3 carcasses out in coyote traps (to prevent bears from feasting).  That night we walked to the three bodies to inspect the earliest arrivals.  The fly pictured above was in the process of laying eggs – you can see some just to the left – they’re the yellowish color in between the teeth.  As we poked and prodded the cow, the fly was indifferent.   Even touching the fly produced no observable change in behavior: she kept moseying down the tongue looking for an appropriate place for an egg dump.  During this process, I was also kicked by a dead sheep as these large animals are awkward to maneuver, especially when thawing!  But none the less it was a cool experience.

*Published in 1885, Wapalanne means “the stream whereon is the bald eagle’s nest” courtesy of Indian Local Names: With Their Interpretation By Stephen Gill Boyd.

Painting the Painteds

**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!

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The lake at the School of Conservation.

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.

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Musk Turtle. They smell and bite. Birds are much better.

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.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

The turtle team at work in the lab.

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.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool waiting to be released.

Processed turtles are collecting in the pool, waiting to be released.

After all the collection is done, they are returned to the lake until the next time we catch them.