Nesting Neighbours

Visitors to Douglas Fluhrer Park will notice the turtles basking on the logs in the Cataraqui River during the warmer months, but for the past two summers people may also have noticed pieces of mesh screening nailed over depressions in the ground in various locations around the park. These covers are to protect turtle nests or suspected nests from predation. Likely predators of turtle eggs are skunks, raccoons, and foxes. During May, June, and July, a dozen volunteers took turns visiting the park in the morning and again later in the day, several times a week. This summer, as in the previous summer, they covered over 100 nests or suspected nests. Despite a late start to the summer weather, and the upheaval in the park during trail construction last year, it appears that Fluhrer Park — especially the stretch where the WSE would go — is a favourite nesting area for painted, snapping, and northern map turtles. A paved road would certainly make it impossible for them to nest here.

Twice during the summer, students Aaron Sneep and Dayna Zunder from Queen’s University came to the park to record the gps coordinates of the nests. You can see the map showing the locations of the nest covers here (the covers have since been removed). Turtles may dig decoy nests (holes that they’ve peed in) to throw off predators, and it’s hard to tell the difference, so that’s why some of the holes were recorded as “suspected nests” — but we are confident that most were real nests.

Furthermore, as one of the volunteers who visited the park weekly to look for nesting turtles, I was struck by the fact that for every nest I covered there were a number of nests nearby that had already been predated. A predated nest is a hole surrounded by broken shell, which looks like bits of popped white balloon. This observation leads me to believe that there are or were many more nests in the park then are registered on the map. It was also observed that very few covered nests were excavated by predators, so the covers appeared to be helping.

It’s possible that tiny turtles will be hatching now, and will be moving through the park. Keep your eyes peeled — and send us photos if you happen to be lucky to catch the moment.

— Anne Lougheed