Archive for April, 2015


Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Spotted Turtles #206 & #207 Changed from 2014 to 2015 

On April 11th we recaptured adult Spotted Turtle #206 at 11:15 in the morning at a SouthCoast bog.  At 3 in the afternoon we recaptured adult Spotted Turtle #207 at the same bog.  We were surprised at the changes illustrated above that suggested a transformation from female to male gender characteristics.  One such turtle would have been a deep puzzler, but two turtles, one after the other, proved a real shocker to the Turtle Journal team.


Typical Male Spotted Turtle #119 (April 2015)

Typical Female Spotted Turtle #131 (April 2015)

One of the defining characteristics of spotted turtles is gender dichromatism with females flashing a bright colored chin and neck, and males sporting a dark, drab chin and neck.  Yes, there are other gender signs, such as the thick, large male tail, the more posterior location of the male anal vent, and the male concavity of the plastron’s abdominal scutes.  Still, color difference is a quick and easy indication of gender.  All of these gender characteristics are illustrated in two images immediately above for Male #119 and Female #131.

So, when those color characteristics change for an adult spotted turtle, or two adult spotted turtles, in a single year, it gets our attention.

Spotted Turtle #206 April 2014 and April 2015

We first observed and marked Spotted Turtle #206 at the SouthCoast bog mating aggregation on the morning of 6 April 2014.  We next saw this turtle 11 April 2015 basking with female Spotted Turtle #150. #206 had experienced a significant growth spurt and had changed its chin and neck color.  We confirmed this turtle’s identity by its individualized marginal notches (its number), as well as photographs of its carapacial scute shapes and the positions of its yellow dots.

Spotted Turtle #206 Plastron April 2014

In April 2014 we assessed this turtle as approximately 6 years old based on size and on annual growth lines.  #206 measured 8.71 centimeters straight-line carapace length, 6.69 centimeters maximum width, and 7.76 centimeters plastron length.  The weight was 96 grams.

With an orange chin and neck, we noted her gender as female, but in the observation remarks, the recorder wrote, “Female with big tail.”

Spotted Turtle #206 Plastron April 2015

When we saw #206 next on 11 April 2015, this turtle had transformed its chin color to drab darkness and its neck color to dark, as well.  The growth spurt proved substantial.  The straight-line carapace length increased to 10.14 centimeters (nearly 1 1/2 centimeters), the width measured 7.51 centimeters, and the plastron length reached 8.78 centimeters.  #206 weighed 128 grams (a 1/3 increase).  We observed a concavity in the abdominal scutes and an apparent male tail.  We assessed #206 as a male spotted turtle.

Spotted Turtle #207 April 2014 and April 2015

We originally observed Spotted Turtle #207 on 6 and & 7 April 2014 swimming in the SouthCoast bog.    We gauged the age of #207 at approximately 9 to 10 years based on annual growth lines and size. We next saw #207 on 11 April 2015.  This turtle grew about 10% in the last year.  As with Spotted Turtle #206, we confirmed #207’s identity by its individualized marginal notches (its number), as well as photographs of its carapacial scute shapes and the positions of its yellow dots. She also had lost her left rear limb below the “knee” joint.

Spotted Turtle #207 Plastron April 2014

Chin and neck of Spotted Turtle #207 were colorful orange with no detectable abdominal cavity.  We assessed #207 as female. The turtle measured 9.11 centimeters straight-line carapace length, 6.90 centimeters maximum width, and 8.17 centimeters plastron length. #207 weighed 114 grams.

Spotted Turtle #207 Plastron April 2015

When we observed #207 on the afternoon of 11 April 2015, chin and neck had turned charcoal black and a slight concavity had appeared in the plastron’s abdominal scutes.  The tail seemed larger and thicker. We assessed #207 with full male characteristics.  He stretched 10.03 centimeters straight-line carapace length, 7.44 centimeters maximum width, and 8.81 centimeters plastron length.  #207 weighed 130 grams (a 14% increase since April 2014).

Spotted Turtle Study Kit

We continue to monitor the delayed emergence of spotted turtles in this SouthCoast bog due to the record smashing winter and the late spring.  Each turtle that we observed last year, our first season at this particular bog, was individually marked, so that we can follow its progress upon recapture.  We will examine recaptured turtles very carefully to determine whether other adult spotted turtles have changed their secondary gender characteristics, especially the signature female spotted turtle orange color of their chins and necks.


Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Male Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Brings Branch to Rebuild Destroyed Nest

A great blue heron pair flew back to the Marion rookery yesterday, April 11th. As we noted in earlier postings (See Great Blue Herons Return to Rookery), winter storms completely destroyed last year’s nests. So, this heron couple has begun to rebuild their nest from scratch.  With the placement of each new twig and branch on the nest, they reinforce their loving bonds. Nest building is exquisite in the delicate beauty of its aerial ballet, and tender interactions between the heron pair are more than a little moving.

Montage of Great Blue  Heron Nesting Rebuilding


We present the entire sequence in still imagery below.  Each photograph can be clicked for a high resolution version.  Enjoy!

Female Great Blue Heron Awaits Return of Male

Male Great Blue Heron Collects Branch for Nest Rebuilding

Male Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Male Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Returns to Nest

Female Great Blue Heron Greets Returning Male

Male Great Blue Heron Returns to Nest with Branch


Female (Left) and Male Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Rebuild Storm Destroyed Nest

Each image can be clicked for a high resolution version in a new window.

American Toad Mating Migration on SouthCoast

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

 American Toad (Anaxyrus/Bufo americanus), April 2015

Darkness, drizzle and fog descended on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts Friday night.  The Turtle Journal team bounced over deep potholed backroads to assess amphibian mating activity in local wetlands.

Mating Chorus of Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs and American Toads


Leaving lights and civilization far behind, the volume and shrillness of mating calls intensified as night engulfed us like an eclipse.  Spring peepers trilled mating invitations at frenzied pitch; wood frogs croaked and gurgled amphibian love songs in blank verse.

American Toad En Route to Mating Pond 

As the muted beam of our headlights blurred through the mist, we sensed more than saw an army of wriggling, hopping shapes darting across the pathway, zigzagging from dense woodlands to rain-flooded bogs.  We stepped outside and scooped up a specimen who stared back at us with face, eyes and expression that mirrored a diminutive alien.  An army of aliens, Eastern American Toads, headed for spring mating.  As American toads splashed into the bog like summer campers dashing to the old swimming hole, another, more subtle chirp joined the symphony, punctuated by a shrieking ululation.

Buckets of American Toads Leapfrogging to Mating Ponds

Despite thick fog and relentless drizzle, with flashlights in hand we cleared the roadway of a few buckets of American toads and helped them join their brothers and sisters in an amphibian night to be remembered.  For us, too, Friday proved a memorable event, rare and powerful to witness an army of “aliens” marching through the wetland darkness.

Early Spring Critters Battle Lingering April Chill

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) in SouthCoast Massachusetts

We suspect that most folks associate spring frog emergence with the chirpy soprano voice of the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) and, no doubt, they are a delightful sign of the changing season.  So far, we have heard a few isolated peepers in this far too cold April, but not yet in a concentrated volume that would herald SPRING with a capital S.

Haunting Wood Frog Chorus from St. Patrick’s Day, 2012


To our ears, though, bursting springtime is more aptly reflected in the explosive chorus of croaking wood frogs, whose voices are more akin to a heavy metal band than a soaring falsetto choir.  The video clip above comes from March 17th, 2012, and illustrates the profound difference between gentle peepers and raucous wood frogs.

Camouflaged Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)

As we patrolled a local bog on Monday, we almost literally stumbled over this well camouflaged wood frog, hopping from woodland wetlands to mating aggregation.  Sue Wieber Nourse fortunately spotted the frog as Rufus the Turtle Dog and Don Lewis blithely strolled on by.

Wood Frog Croaks Magically

As Don examined the wood frog, it croaked magically, echoing the insistent calls emanating from the nearby mating aggregation. Snapshot documented, we quickly released the frog to hop into the murky wetlands and join the boisterous band.

11-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) #131

By this time in April, we should see dozens of spotted turtles mingling in local mating aggregations.  Instead, we have captured a total of four spotted turtles, two males and two females, all of which were basking for heat or transiting from woodlands to bog.  Air temperatures have lingered in the 30s and 40s, and the water still has icy patches.  The forecast calls for more of the same until Friday, when finally we may see some salamander action … with any luck.

Female Spotted Turtle (Note small, thin tail and bright, colorful neck)

Also on Monday, we captured female spotted turtle #131 basking along the bank of the future mating aggregation.  We first captured this female on 2 May 2014.  Since then, she has gained 11 grams and has grown by about 3 millimeters.  She currently weighs 185 grams and her carapace stretches 10.66 centimeters straight line length, making her a very healthy young lady.  You can determine her gender by her thin, small tail and her bright colorful neck.

Rufus Discovers Male Spotted Turtle

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Male Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) #1220

Male spotted turtles gradually continue to emerge from woodland swamps and wetlands where they have spent the long, long winter burrowed under mud, scum and debris.  They’re heading to spring mating aggregations in local bogs.  Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse found the first SouthCoast spotted turtle on April 1st and the second male on April 2nd.

Rufus the Turtle Dog Patrols Grassi Bog Path

This afternoon, Rufus the Turtle Dog led the Turtle Journal search as she patrolled the Grassi Bog path with the temperature poking into the low fifties.

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I Smell the Whiff of Turtle Swamp Scum

While her eyesight may not rank on the same scale as an eagle, no other creature surpasses her canine sense of smell.  With tongue leading the way, Rufus clearly detected the odoriferous scent of a spotted turtle that had just spent six months buried deeply in swamp and pond scum.

Rufus the Turtle Dog Alerts the Team

Confirming the turtle as she approached within eyesight, Rufus alerted the team of her discovery and stood guard until we arrived on scene.

Carapace and Plastron of Male Spotted Turtle #1220

Male Spotted Turtle #1220 was “naturally” marked by dings along his carapace marginals.  Today is the first time we’ve observed this specimen, which measured 4.25 inches long and weighed 7 ounces. You can clearly identify his maleness in the plastron photo on the right, spotlighted by his large, thick tail, the concavity in the middle of his abdominal scutes, and his dark drab colored neck.