By Erin Snook, SVT-Americorps Community Outreach Coordinator
The goals for the Great Turtle Search were: 1) to reach out to local communities and involve neighbors in conservation by providing an active learning opportunity, and 2) to survey common and rare turtles living in the Desert Natural Area (including SVT's General Federation of Women's Clubs of Massachusetts Memorial Forest
in Sudbury and Marlborough) to gain a general sense of turtle presence.
From April to June, we conducted 15 formal turtle surveys that brought over 130 volunteers into the Desert Natural Area. With advice from turtle experts, we focused our search on areas where we thought we were most likely to find turtles. On most of the surveys, volunteers were able to find turtles, especially when they were held on warm, sunny mornings. The majority of the turtles seen were painted turtles
(Chrysemys picta). The official count on painted sightings (those recorded on data sheets by survey leaders) is 16, but we know from anecdotal accounts that the number was much higher; probably closer to 50. The occasional snapping turtle
(Chelydra serpentine) was also seen and several turtle nest sites were documented in sandy areas. There is a video of a nesting snapping turtle on Nature Sightings
When the project began, we knew that the likelihood of finding rare turtles (Massachusetts Species of Special Concern: eastern box turtles
, wood turtles and Blanding’s turtles; and spotted turtles
, recently de-listed Species of Special Concern) was not great. They are true to their “rare” status! However, we worked to set up surveys in the prime habitats for these species and encouraged our dedicated volunteers to spend as much time in the Desert Natural Area as possible. Previous scientific studies have shown that, more than large numbers of people, a high number of man-hours produces the most rare turtle sightings.
I am currently working on a report of our project and findings that I will send to the conservation landowners of the Desert Natural Area. Landowners can use this information as biological data to take into consideration as they plan the management of their properties. When healthy populations of rare species are determined to exist on a property, landowners often choose to manage/increase habitat that supports the particular animal. Rare species reports
have been sent to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. More information on habitat management can be found in the May, 2011 report by NHESP, “Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Plan for Massachusetts”
Sudbury Valley Trustees may decide to conduct additional turtle surveys in 2012, but they will likely be on a smaller scale.