NAFTRG Autumn Surveys

by Eric Munscher 

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In mid-September the Turtle Survival Alliance's North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) conducted another exploratory survey of several southeastern/south-central Pennsylvania stream and wetland communities for a new potential long-term chelonian research site. With the focal species and habitat requirements being that of the North American Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), this potential study fits within the model of the other TSA-NAFTRG sites in that it would include the study of an assemblage of sympatric emydid species. In addition, and in maintaining the tradition of collaborations, this new study site would be a joint effort of the Turtle Room and TSA-NAFTRG. 

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chris havel with his bag of turtles at county line bbq 1
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This September's survey was comprised of several chelonian specialists, including the TSA's Executive Director Andrew Walde, NAFTRG Director Eric Munscher, the Turtle Room's Director Steve Enders, long-term NAFTRG member Andy Weber, the Turtle Room members Chris Leone and Anthony Pierlioni, as well as Joe Pignatelli, a certified bog turtle biologist from New Jersey.

This past April several sites were surveyed, with two noted as having potential for viable wood turtle populations, finding eight and three turtles in them, respectively. These two sites were the focal point for this autumn's survey. Despite the realization being quickly made that our survey weekend was scheduled for too early in the fall, as the diurnal temperatures were deemed to be too warm for the wood turtles to be back in the water from their terrestrial summer locales, we were fortunate to find three new wood turtles at the larger of the two sites. We were, however, unable to find any turtles at the smaller site. In addition to these two previously surveyed sites, we were introduced to two local herpetologists in this region of Pennsylvania who took us on a tour of a local state park, as they expressed that a robust turtle population could be located in this area. Evidence of a nesting area adjacent to the wetlands and stream body was also observed with the finding of several dozen hatched/pre-dated nests. 

The TSA-NAFTRG and the Turtle Room collaboration will once again survey the larger of the two original sites that did produce wood turtles on this and the previous survey, as well as the newly surveyed site in early November. The temperatures in that month should be cool enough for the turtles to be relegated back to the streams for courtship and brumation. It is our hope that one of these two sites become our long-term population monitoring site, with an effective commencement of April 2017.

Also in September, the TSA-NAFTRG kicked off our new long-term Texas site, Bull Creek. We found out about this site by colleagues who sent videos to us showing a feeding phenomenon that has been happening at the County Line BBQ restaurant for years. The video shows hundreds of turtles of multiple species swimming up to the restaurant dock to be fed bread.

A small team from TSA-NAFTRG including Andrew Walde, Eric Munscher, Chris Havel, Carl Franklin, Melissa Smith, and Stephen Ross surveyed and marked turtles at this site for two days. We captured 221 individual turtles, representing all 6 species that should occur in this kind of habitat for this region of Texas including: Texas River Cooters, Red-eared Sliders, Texas Map Turtles, Eastern Musk Turtles, Eastern Snapping Turtles, and Guadalupe Spiny Softshells. We were blown away by the number of turtles that were in this small stream, reaching at approximately 2,500 feet in length. That, and the hospitality of the restaurant was beyond anything we could have expected. The County Line BBQ treated us on both days to a wonderful lunch and provided drinks to us throughout the sampling effort. We will be extremely happy to continue to work with the wonderful people that run County Line BBQ, as they made an amazing turtle site even better with their interest and generous support. 

The week ended at the TSA-NAFTRG's longest running Texas study site, Comal Springs. With a larger crew than that at Bull Creek, and with the additions of Cody Godwin, Grover Brown, and Brian Bower, we were able to capture and process 317 turtles in two days of sampling. This puts our number at over 4,500 captured turtles (including recaptures) within 5 years of surveys at this site--an amazing site that we will be focusing on publishing our data from in the coming years.