Conservation Team at Sunset Valley, NB (Photo by NCC)

Conservation Team at Sunset Valley, NB (Photo by NCC)

An unexpected yet successful turn of events at Sunset Valley

Painted Turtles at Sunset Valley (Photo by NCC)

Painted Turtles at Sunset Valley (Photo by NCC)

For painted turtles, summertime means enjoying the warm weather sunbathing and navigating great places to rest. Because they are cold-blooded, moving around takes some extra time and effort for these turtles. They have to be mindful of their surroundings and watch out for any dangers, including vehicles.

With beautiful and distinct yellow and green stripes on their heads and red-bottomed shells, painted turtles inhabit wetland areas like the beautiful Sunset Valley. But painted turtles were not what the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) New Brunswick conservation team of Allison Patrick, Beth Brooks, Nicole Fowler and Ben Kummer were looking for on their trip to the Sunset Valley. The goal was to find wood turtles, but things did not go as planned. 

About an hour away from Fredericton, Sunset Valley creates the perfect habitat for wetland- and forest-loving wood turtles. However, even with the ideal environment, there was no sign of wood turtles during this year's bat monitoring survey. Due to the decline in their population, wood turtles have become very tough to spot. But to their surprise, the conservation team successfully observed  27 painted turtles, including several from the bottom of a local swimming pool.

Beth, an NCC conservation intern, notes that "painted turtles are in a less sticky situation than wood turtles in terms of population levels and habitat availability” and are more commonly found. However, the dangers of roadkill and accidental farming incidents are still present, making crossing roads and discovering new rest stops risky for turtles in general.

If you see a turtle on a roadside, Beth suggests caution when helping them:

  1. If possible, find what species the turtle is; try posting a photo on iNaturalist app.
  2. As adorable as turtles are, unfortunately, their skin carries salmonella. It is recommended to avoid directly touching the turtle unless it is in danger, and make sure to wash your hands aftewards.
  3. If you find a turtle on a quiet lane or roadway, you can wait or keep a lookout for vehicles while the turtle crosses. If the turtle is in danger, gently pick it up by the shell (with gloves) and place it on the other side of the road, in the direction it was heading.
  4. Lastly, never release the turtle into salt water.

A day in the field is not entirely limited to observing changes on the land or rescuing turtles. Days spent at NCC’s nature reserves are full of exciting encounters. On this lunch-time trek, the team had another surprising discovery; a bat peacefully resting in a log. Thanks to iNaturalist, the team identified the animal as a big brown bat. If you find a bat, avoid touching it, as their bites might carry rabies. Bats enjoy resting during the daytime, so if you come across one on the ground, the animal is likely injured. In the case of a visible injury, you can call the appropriate agency, such as the Atlantic bat hotline (1-833-434-BATS (2287), and they will walk you through the handling process.

This bat discovery was uncommon because of how highly vulnerable bat populations are in North America. Spotting a big brown bat shows the value in protecting natural areas because of the declining bat populations and their importance to a healthy ecosystem. While big brown bats play a role in controlling the mosquito population and balancing biodiversity, they face several challenges. Fewer flying insects as a food source, and the presence of white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection, have both impacted the bat population.

In addition to finding incredible, uncommon species, the conservation team encounters constant challenges on a regular field day. Navigating a three-dimensional world using a two-dimensional map proposes some challenges. It can be hard to measure the depth of pools and streams or determine the thickness of vegetation. As a result, the team may come across challenging routes when travelling, which provide opportunities for learning and creative thinking. For instance, while at Sunset Valley, the team had to be creative when walking through a river. Sometimes the routes were only accessible through climbing cliffs and other paths that required heavy gear or, in some cases, a boat! Beth and her team used their problem-solving skills and quick thinking while looking for the right path to reach the next survey point.

Sometimes, learning opportunities present themselves as unexpected twists and turns. Thankfully, the team always travels in groups and receives clear guidelines from their supervisor. As Beth explains, "these situations are challenging, but they are not totally unexpected. We have to constantly adapt our plans to avoid obstacles."

The field day came to an end with another beautiful surprise. A hairy woodpecker greeted the team by popping its head out of the nest. Despite elusive wood turtles and a challenging route, finding 27 painted turtles, observing an uncommon big brown bat and photographing a hairy woodpecker with its chicks made the trip a successful and fascinating day of field work.

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