The Eastern Box Turtle’s Spring Arrival

 

Eastern Box Turtles are waiting for the sun.

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soaking up rays!

Some times I wonder if I am the only one that sees them. They march silently from the woods along the road.. recently awakened from a long winter sleep by the warm spring rains… slow in coming this year, but the sun is calling, daylight has increased making the sun warm enough to raise body temperatures enough for the digging to start. Hatchlings, often after staying in their nest all winter are beginning to see sunshine for the first time in their life. The Eastern Box turtle begins a new year in its unique and ancient way of life.

Last spring, as I traveled along a busy road in Western Hanover County, Virginia, I straddled a newly hatched turtle scurrying as fast as he could across the road. By the time I got turned around and back to where the turtle was, the wet spot on the roadway was indistinguishable.There was a lot of traffic that day.. Did anyone else even see the little guy? Did the person who flattened him even know what they had done? Did they care?

 Watching the Roads…

One eyed Sam

One Eyed Sam survived a lawn mower accident.

Often I will see them on the back roads, drive 100 yards, while my inner dialogue tells me it wasn’t a turtle at all.. not being one to get it out of my head, ..I eventually turn back to see the leaf, pine cone or scrap of wood that I was sure was a turtle.. They will be out soon .. the temperature of the days and the rising humidity will bring them out, so be prepared.

I see less and less of them every year. as the community gets developed around me, and the traffic continues to rise, the ones that I had helped crossed the road every year have been lucky to survive. Very few of these survivors are seen now, hopefully they have found more interesting things elsewhere in their habitat of 2-10 football field size areas that are etched in our resident turtles brain. They know every water hole, every berry patch,where the best place to find worms is and where the best place to hibernate is. Like a bird flying south, the uncanny homing instincts in box turtles often puts them in great peril when they are taken away from their territory or their territory is destroyed, and they try to find it. The Eastern Box turtle needs our help now. Land in central Virginia is at a premium, and due to the extensive sprawl and ease of travel, most of the land from DC to Raleigh, NC  is easily accessible  and prime for development. This rare and unique land, which follows the fall line of the Eastern United States, offers a lot to its residents, both four legged and two, and

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What will you do to help?

should be carefully evaluated and preserved for future generations. Humans it seems, have forgotten that these ancient reptiles are dinosaurs and their ancestors lived here 250 million years ago, and  If there is one thing that turtles know how to do, it is being a turtle and surviving. But, if we continue to destroy habitat at the alarming rate that we currently  do, these small relatives of the dinosaurs, will disappear totally from our planet.

The extinction of the Dinosaurs

 

Reptiles and Amphibians are amazing indicators of our planets health, and they are currently suffering from diseases that are thought to be caused by pollutants in their environments. Recent findings are showing that viable populations are being wiped out in the wild from viruses that are not fully understood or treatable.

Recently, I read a post from a friend that listed all the stress factors in her life. The list began with her work, followed by family, pets, and lastly her turtles, whom she commented, actually were responsible for reducing her stress, and the time she spent with them was the happiest and most peaceful of her day. I know we can’t all be turtle caretakers, but I do believe that we all should take time to appreciate the world around us, get out into the woods, notice the harmony of the trees, the rivers, the wind and the earth, and do what we can to protect and preserve this amazing planet for our grandchildren before it is too late, and PLEASE, try to notice the turtles walking along the road, trying to cross, and maybe stop and give them a hand… for these little dinosaurs have seen and survived a lot, I am sure if we take the time, there is so much to be learned from them.

High Speed Rails are Anti-turtle

Box turtles are in trouble. . .

Specifically, the Eastern Box Turtle that is found in Central Virginia.  75 years ago, local children playing  in Hanover County could spend a summer collecting and marveling at these gems of the forest. In the woods around their homes, they could collect more than 100 in one summer, and then let them go back to the woods to be turtles. The genetic diversity in colors and shell patterns was like gathering snowflakes under a microscope, No two were alike.box turtle train tracks

50 years ago, as communities sprang up among the woods, and more and more trees were logged to fuel the need for building materials, habitats disappeared.  An occasional lone turtle was found wandering around the new developments, looking for the habitat, the food sources, and the water holes he used to know. A curious child would pick him up and marvel at the way he closes himself up in a box, how the colors of his shell blend perfectly with the light and shadows under the old remaining oak tree, and at the way he carefully  peeked out of his shell as he slowly opens the hinged flap on the bottom, almost like a door, to see if the new intruder is friend or foe.  The Child leaves him to run to the house to get the others, and returns minutes later, to find the turtle has disappeared and is nowhere to be seen.

25 years ago, in neighborhoods where fields are farmed, trees are logged, dogs run loose and the automobile is a necessity, the Eastern Box turtle is a rare site. Fortunately, Central Virginia is a land of rivers and along rivers habitat survives. Private lands, kept by those who grew up finding turtles still offer hope of surviving habitat for small populations of turtles, but this too is quickly disappearing as generations change and land is sold off. The Eastern Box Turtle has all but been forgotten.

vulnmod-statewide

Red is already developed, yellow and orange highly vulnerable to develpoment due to ease of travel. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/vaconvisvulnerable

Indiscriminate  building, logging, farming and clearing has damaged our planet to the point of global distress. Land is a resource that we cannot replace and our continued abuse of it will affect the lives of generations to come.  What will it take for us to see that with every project that we undertake we destroy more natural habitat which puts us deeper and deeper into the destruction phase of our planet?

Virginia is certainly not immune to the destruction of habitat.  From the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the shores of the Atlantic, the center of our incredible diverse state is one of the most exploited and developed areas in this country. According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the counties that run north and south along the 95 corridor are highly vulnerable to development. Yet, this area of Virginia is one of the most unique areas in this country, the  Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line.

The Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line

Runs parallel with Interstate 95 through Virginia. This Fall Line is a zone rather than a narrow line and the rapids and waterfalls

The Fall line runs through the center of Hanover, Henrico and Richmond.

The Fall line runs through the center of Hanover, Henrico and Richmond. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-communities/ncoverview

created by the change from hard bedrock to the soft sediments of the Coastal Plains provides a large diverse environment for many inhabitants. These irreplaceable lands, and the rivers that run through them, provide benefits in terms of open space, recreation, cultural and historic relevance along with natural resource protection, water quality control, and economic benefits associated with these functions.

In the last 15 years, more development has taken place in Virginia then in the previous 400 years. As the pressure of a growing population increases, land conservation must become a prominent consideration in all future  planning at the local, regional and commonwealth levels if we are to preserve land for future generations.

Long term or short term fix?

recmodel-state

Green areas represent Virginia Recreation Lands needs assessment, 2015, Notice the lack of green space in Hanover, Louise, Henrico and surrounding counties. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/vaconvisrec

I ask you,  As our now antiquated infrastructure corrodes into disrepair, is it in our best interest to even consider the necessity of building new rail lines that bypass the real issue of our decaying  network?   Who will benefit from a High Speed Rail  anyway?

Any Project that is worth building, is worth considerable thought and planning, not just for us,  but for all future generations to come. There is so much more to be gained by preserving what land we can  for all the inhabitants in the center of this beautiful state. Please, before we go forward with  destruction in the name of progress, consider the legacy we could leave by initiating a program where we rebuild our great country by updating our infrastructure with new and modern technology, that is ecologically  and environmentally friendly, and  preserve land and waterways for generations of all inhabitants,  especially those that have been here for more than 250 million years, the turtle. It is time for the healing to begin.

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