Birthday Portraits: Snapping Turtles

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We were in the midst of watering the garden yesterday morning when my partner spotted it, barely visible against the blacktopped street.

But my partner has a special knack for spotting anomalies,  and the tiny turtle, craning his neck around this way and that for a  complete view of his newly found world, caught his attention.

He called me over, and together we decided to lift the little one out of the street, back into the garden.

Barely more than an inch from one end of its sculpted grey shell to the other, this one had just arrived to the world of sunlight.

Once set down under the shrubs, he quickly disappeared into the dried leaves.


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We both returned to our tasks, murmuring our appreciation for this little turtle and our good wishes for his survival.

But then tiny turtle reappeared, running across the mulch from one bed to the next.

Or was it another one?  This one was moving so fast it was hard to tell.


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But when we spotted a third, and then a fourth; we realized that a nest of turtle eggs must have opened somewhere in the garden.  The search was on.

And it didn’t take long to spot a fifth turtle, just appeared near a small hole under our Hibiscus.


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The hole wasn’t two inches across, nestled near the stems and well hidden in the mulch.

But careful observation soon revealed a tiny head, and two tiny eyes adjusting to sunlight for the first time.

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Watering now on hold, I settled in near the hole, camera focused, hoping to photograph the moment when this little guy crawled out into the world.

But these creatures are smarter than you might expect. 

And he was very aware of the great human giants too near beside  his sipapu.  And cautiously, he waited. 

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Too long, because soon another head popped up behind him.  There was obviously a que of turtles waiting below.

So Mr. Cautious dropped back into the hole, and Ms. Adventurous took his place at the opening; weighing her options.

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I kept the camera focused and ready, taking birthday portraits from time to time, but waiting for the moment of emergence.

My partner suggested that I needed to back off.  My body suggested I not stay bent in position  too long.

And Ms. Adventurous suggested she had all day long to begin her journey.

We chatted.  We both encouraged her, and gave her lots of parental advice about staying in the garden, and hiding well, and how she would find plenty to eat here.

Listening attentively, she still waited.  And yet another head appeared.  My partner wandered away, and I moved back a ways further  from the hole, and slightly out of their line of sight.

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A birth must not be rushed, and patience finally was rewarded as Ms. Courageous climbed the rest of the way up onto the soft mulch.

Her grey eyes took in her new, bright surroundings, and her gigantic human companion, before she took off running across the mulch.

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Each turtle headed in a different direction, but all must have had some sense of the pond at the bottom of the hill, waiting for them.


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I left the rest of the turtles in peace to emerge in their own time.

We kept encountering our tiny turtles throughout the day.  When we spotted them on the driveway later, we moved them to safer spots in the garden.

Found later on the driveway, my partner moved this turtle to the safety of a pot so I could take another photo.

Found later on the driveway, my partner moved this turtle to the safety of a pot so I could take another photo.

These are snapping turtles, Chelydra serpentina, common throughout Virginia.

We spot them from time to time in the garden and throughout the community.

Although their reputation is fierce, we must have uncommonly gentle ones here.

We’ve never encountered an aggressive one.


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The baby turtles disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as they appeared.

We hope they found their way down to the ravine and pond, where they can hunt and find shelter.  There are plenty of wild spaces for them to live and grow in safety.  As omnivores, there will be plenty for them to eat year round.

It will be at least a dozen years before these turtles reach maturity, and they may still inhabit the garden a century from now.  Turtles are extremely long lived, if they reach maturity, with very few predators.

We’ll have our eye out for them, now.

This Box Turtle was waiting for me in the lower garden when I arrived, later, to water.

This Box Turtle was waiting for me in the lower garden when I arrived, later, to water.


They can join the box turtles and the blue tailed skinks; the toads and tree frogs, as welcome denizens of our Forest Garden.


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Toad, found laying her eggs in the garden yesterday morning.

Toad, found laying her eggs in the garden yesterday morning.

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