Finally, warm weather is here. I’m out in “the field” looking for the long awaited signs of spring, and they are all around this time of year. Nests of all kinds of critters, birds and rodents, can be found at every turn, and the little nature walks I take with my daughter are like the sojourn of the Corps of Discovery to a four-year-old. I know that there’s no way that half of what I say can possibly stick with her, but it’s clear that I’m planting the seeds of a naturalist and weeding the garden of wonderment, so it’s all worthwhile to me.
We poke into anthills, dip into streams of tadpoles and check under rocks for crayfish. There are baby field mice, hairless and pink and their eyes not even open, garter snakes escaping the brush pile and crown jewel of spring discoveries, a lone fawn. Most people who find a fawn alone in the woods or the tall grass assume that it’s abandoned, and that’s not at all the case. Nature has given fawns a special defense against predators (besides those spots that act as a very effective camouflage) and that is fawns have almost no scent. It’s for that reason that the Doe will routinely leave the little one alone and try to draw predators away in the springtime. When the fawn gets a little bigger it tags along with momma and can evade those wiley coyotes by running away. So, when you find a lone fawn, stop and back out immediately. Anything you do to try to help it will almost certainly lower its chances of survival. Don’t be a fawn-napper, back out immediately!
There’s another place we like to visit, for a very specific reason. There’s a wash in a ravine on the east branch of the Black River where I used to hunt squirrels every opening day of the season. Pines line both sides of the ravine, so it’s not the best place for squirrels, but there’s something else. For most of the year there’s a gentle trickle of a little stream that runs through it, eventually down to the Black, but by late August it’s dried up leaving a moist, shady spot turtles love. Walking down the dry creek bed I’d always turn up a few empty turtle shells because although the turtles loved it there, the raccoons love turtles too! I’ve watched crows and hawks pick at turtles for hours trying to get inside the shell, but raccoons are the only critters that seem to have the combination.
The fact is, even though they have that nifty shell, turtles are pretty much defenseless once they are found. Maybe you’ve heard the one about the turtle sitting on a fencepost? The joke goes it’s like some politicians in high office; You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong there, he can’t get anything done while he’s up there, and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down!
Actually, that’s just about how helpless turtles are. The only thing they can do is pull their head in and hide.
If you’re looking for turtles your best bet is naturally near water, but they can be found in the tiniest of ditches or even on high ground when they make a nest and lay their eggs. It seems my dogs are constantly finding little snappers like the one in the photo, and fortunately I haven’t had to cope with any bites, yet. Should you be lucky enough to find a turtle nest, be careful not to disturb it. Most eggs are round, slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball and they may have soft, leather-like shells.
If you’re inclined to pick up a turtle and take it home, think again. No live wildlife (and that includes turtles and fish) may be kept legally in Ohio. If you really need to keep one, go to a pet store or better yet, just visit it in the wild. If you’re one of those few who wants to take a turtle home and make soup, I myself would advise against it. Getting the meat out is not as easy as you might think, its preparation requires real culinary skill and its flavor is what you might call an “acquired taste”, usually best when drowned in sherry sauce!
But, ok Grizzly Adams, you just need to get some turtle meat, you’re going to have to wait a while. The taking of turtles and frogs is illegal until the season opens on July 1st, and then the season allows only Snapping and Soft Shell turtles 13 inches and larger to be taken. How? That will have to wait for another Friday, I’m out of space! GET OUTDOORS! -Byron