Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An afternoon walk in the 'burbs

I set out to photograph dandelions in all their invasive glory. I ended up with a snapping turtle in my hands!

Life has taken me to many places: rainforests, urban jungles, rural hillsides, and now, the suburbs.

American Robin, suburbanite

One of the major differences from Rwanda, Ecuador, and New York City (the places I've been for the last 5 years) is that there is very little walking involved in the suburbs. Most places here are far enough away that walking is impractical at best and the low population density dooms public transit. Nevertheless, I have been pushing myself to leave the house, forget the car, and take walks. Today I walked about half a mile to some areas with thousands of dandelions.

Red-winged Blackbird

After I had snapped all my shots of dandys, I was reflecting on the birds I had seen (no binoculars for this walk). I had seen American Robins, Blue Jays, an American Crow, a pair of Northern Cardinals, a male House Finch, three Red-winged Blackbirds, several European Starlings, a Mourning Dove, and a Red-tailed Hawk. Usually there are Black-capped Chickadees around, but none wandered by this afternoon (nor did Common Grackles or House Sparrows). I have been hearing Killdeer occasionally and have seen them a couple of times so I peeked over a fence to an abandoned farm (completely encircled by suburban expansion and no doubt awaiting a similar change). Sure enough, one was exploring a drained pond bottom for invertebrates.


When I turned from the Killdeer, I saw a woman standing in the turn-in road to a neighborhood, just off the main street. A dark greenish blob was on the ground, and I yell-asked from the other side, "Is it a snapping turtle?" She shrugged, so I waited for the traffic to clear and galloped over. It was a snapper. I grabbed its tail and moved in from the road to a grassy median. Another woman stopped her car and came to see the excitement. She put her hand near the shell, and it snapped at her, sending her jolting back. I explained that the only safe way to move this guy was by holding its tail and keeping it away from your body. She grabbed a box from her car for me to place it in and offered to take the turtle and I to a nearby pond to let it go.

Eastern Snapping Turtle

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, female snapping turtles may leave their ponds or other permanent bodies of water to find good places to lay eggs after they breed, while any snapping turtle from a dried-up pond will leave to find a new home. I am not sure how to determine the sex of a turtle, but at the Killdeer spot where there used to be a large pond, an ever-shrinking puddle remains. It's possible this turtle was seeking better real estate. I don't generally like to interfere with animals; they know better what they are doing than I. However, many snapping turtles are killed by cars every year and there is no suitable habitat in the direction it was heading. We let it go in a decent-sized pond that had lots of aquatic vegetation and will presumably make a better home than the neighborhood swimming pool.

No place for a snapping turtle

Later, as I walked back just three houses from my walk's end, I heard a familiar song and looked up. It took me a moment to spot the bright American Goldfinch singing in a short street-side tree. I whipped out my camera, before a loud honk startled me and sent the bird flying. I had not realized I stopped in a driveway and an SUV wanted to get out. Toto, we're not in Rwanda anymore; we might just be in suburban Kansas City.

No comments:

Post a Comment