Aylesford-area field survey lends data to wood turtle research

Nancy Kelly
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A group of nine community members and staff members of the Clean Annapolis River Project met at Oaklawn Farm Zoo July 22 to conduct a visual survey of the surrounding area for wood turtles, a species at risk.

The search of a nearby cornfield and along South River yielded only one sighting. It was Hannley, a 16-year-old male that has been tracked by CARP since 2013 when he was equipped with a radio-transmitter. He is one of five wood turtles currently being tracked by CARP as part of its wood turtle research and outreach project, now in its third field season.

CARP is a charitable, community-based, non-governmental organization focused on enhancing the ecological health of the Annapolis River watershed, which covers an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometres between the north and south mountains from the Caribou Bog area east of Aylesford to Digby. It is the third largest watershed in the province.

Organization spokesperson Katie McLean explained the wood turtle has been listed as endangered because its land-based habitat brings the potential for more contact with humans, particularly with vehicles in the mating season.

Unlike snapping turtles and painted turtles, wood turtles prefer to live on land.

“Although they do travel along the river corridor, they are fond of nesting along the side of roadways and spend a lot of time foraging for food on land.”

Wood turtles are characterized by bright orange colouring on their neck and chest and have bark-like shells.

“They are experts of camouflage. That can be good when it comes to predators, but not so good when it comes to lawn mowers,” she added.

CARP officials expect to have three years worth of data from site monitoring and visual surveys compiled during the winter of 2015 and hope the project will continue beyond the original three-year timeframe if funding is renewed.

McLean said project leader, Sarah Walton, plans to continue coordinating group surveys throughout the summer and encourages those interested in participating in the study to contact the CARP office, located in Annapolis Royal at 532-7533 or via email at carp@annapolisriver.ca .

Public sightings of wood turtles are also welcomed as they assist in ongoing research efforts.

“Currently two nests that we are monitoring were phoned in by the public,” pointed out McLean, adding in the past three years the project has gathered momentum thanks in part to tips and input from the public.

Organizations: Oaklawn Farm Zoo, Annapolis Royal

Geographic location: Aylesford, Annapolis River, South River

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