Thursday, April 16, 2009

Help wanted to tally up turtles on reservations

By Bethany Bray
Staff Writer

The Trustees of Reservations are looking for a few volunteers willing to come out of their shells.

The nonprofit, along with the state department of conservation and recreation and natural heritage and endangered species program, is looking for local citizens to help survey the turtle population of Ward Reservation and Harold Parker State Forest.

The two properties, which both span Andover and North Andover, are a potential habitat for eastern box and Blanding's turtles, two species rare to Massachusetts. It is not known how many of the two species live in the more than 4,000 combined acres of Ward and Harold Parker - and that's where the volunteers come in.

This spring, the Trustees of Reservations is launching a turtle census, of sorts. Once they know how many rare turtles are in the areae, the information could be shared with other wildlife and conservation organizations to protect the local turtle habitat.

"We're losing these species for several reasons, and good stewardship would be maintaining these population ... It relates back to biodiversity, making sure we protect biodiversity and native species," said Chris Ward, Andover/North Andover management unit superintendent for the Trustees. "(The survey) is a measure of the health of the ecosystems that we have present on our properties, and will inform our management decisions and actions in the future."

Turtle survey volunteers should have a keen eye and an interest in nature. They'll be recording turtle sightings, going off trail to the numerous vernal pools, wetlands and ponds on the two properties.

Turtles are most visible on warm, sunny spring days, when they sun themselves, just as people love to be outdoors, said Ward.

The eastern box turtle is listed as a "species of special concern" and the Blanding's turtle as "threatened" by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Species classified as threatened are declining or rare native species which are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Special concern species are native species that have been documented to have suffered a decline that could threaten the species if allowed to continue unchecked, according to the program.

Volunteers for the Ward Reservation and Harold Parker State Forest turtle survey program can be of any age, said Ward, and can volunteer as little or as much time as they like. Two training sessions for turtle volunteers are planned for April 18 and 25.

Several turtle "experts" from conservation and wildlife agencies will be on hand, training volunteers on how to identify Blanding's and Eastern Box turtles, their habitats, distinguishing characteristics and habits. Chris Bowe, a local naturalist, will bring several live turtles he is rehabilitating for attendees to observe, said Ward.

Folks who attend training sessions this month do not have to commit to volunteer as part of the survey project, said Ward. The Trustees hope to have completed results of the turtle survey this summer, said Ward.

"We don't want to eventually lose our populations that we have," said Ward. "The condition of turtles' habitat really affects them, as well as human interaction, invasive species and other factors. All our actions, or lack of action, impact these habitats."

Volunteer as a turtle census-taker

The Trustees of Reservations are looking for volunteers to help survey Ward Reservation and Harold Parker State Forest, documenting the turtle population

  • Get started by attending training programs on April 18 or April 25 from 9 a.m. to noon at Ward Reservation, Prospect Road
  • For more information, call 978-682-3580 or email
  • Directions are available at the Trustees website,
  • If attending with a larger group, such as a Scout troop, please call ahead to RSVP


Here are some specifics on the two rare turtle species that might be living in Harold Parker State Forest and Ward Reservation

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina

  • "Species of special concern" in Massachusetts
  • Small, terrestrial turtle ranging from 11.4-16.5 cm (4.5-6.6 inches) in length
  • Active from March through October
  • RANGE: From southeastern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Michigan, Illinois and Tennessee. Although eastern box turtles occur in many towns in Massachusetts, they are more heavily concentrated in the southeastern section of the state.

HABITAT IN MASSACHUSETTS: Inhabits both dry and moist woodlands, fields, thickets, marsh edges and stream banksSClB

Blanding's Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii

  • "Threatened" species in Massachusetts
  • Mid-sized turtle ranging between 16 and 22 cm (6-9 inches) in shell length
  • Most distinguishing feature is its long, yellow throat and chin, which makes it recognizable at a distance
  • Active March through October
  • RANGE: Found primarily in the Great Lakes region, extending to Kansas. Several smaller, disjunct populations occur in the East: in southern Nova Scotia, in an arc extending from eastern Massachusetts through southeastern New Hampshire to southern Maine, and in the lower Hudson Valley of New York. These populations (with the exception of N.H.) are all listed as threatened or endangered at the state or provincial level.
  • HABITAT IN MASSACHUSETTS: A variety of wetland and terrestrial habitat types, including seasonal pools, marshes, scrub-shrub wetlands and open uplands. Habitat use appears to vary according to the individual and the amount of precipitation, with more upland utilization during dry years; wetlands are used for overwintering during their inactive season

Source: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

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