Thursday, May 2, 2013

“What if I had never seen this before?”


At our Illinois Master Naturalist class a few weeks ago, the instructor had us walk around the room reading nature quotes from a few notable authors.  We were told to pick one of the quotes and prepare a short presentation to give to the class about what the quote meant to us.

I jotted down a couple of my favorites, but wasn’t quite sure which one I’d use for my presentation until this past week.

When researching what kind of turtle we spotted when on our hike with the godkids last week, one article by the Shedd Aquarium of Chicago on Blanding’s Turtles was most instructive.  It said to contact local habitat managers if we spotted one, so that’s what I did.

I went to the Lake County Forest Preserve’s website and filled out their “Contact Us” form.  The next day, Wildlife Biologist Gary Glowacki emailed me the following response:

"Despite intensive monitoring at Cuba Marsh we have no records of Blanding's turtles there.  That is not to say it's impossible because there is plenty of good habitat there but it would be a very significant discovery."

He asked if I could send him any photos I may have taken, so I sent them along with a marked up trail map of exactly where we spotted the turtle.  Yesterday, Gary emailed me back:

"Very exciting, that is most definitely a Blanding’s Turtle!!!  It looks like an old female by the shape of the dome. I have actually been working on a recovery program for Blanding’s turtles and would love to collect some data on this turtle and attach a radio transmitter so we can track her movements (and hopefully find some more).”

As excited that both Gary and I were about this news, equally exciting has been my goddaughter’s interest as these developments have unfolded.  She was pretty thrilled to see any turtle that close in the wild (as her parents tend to take them to city parks and playgrounds more often than larger forest preserves and national/regional parks), but now that she’s learned that her first turtle sighting was an endangered species, it’s really sparked her interest to learn and explore further.

She’s in 6th grade and has been enjoying her advanced placement math, science, and language arts classes equally the same up to this point.  Discovering the first Blanding’s turtle at her nearby forest preserve has now ignited a keener interest in turtles and the natural sciences.

I asked her what she thought we should name “our” turtle and she immediately came up with the perfect name…. Masha  (since the turtle’s home is Cuba Marsh).

So, we now have a mission to get back to the trail and see if we can spot Marsha again.  When we do, Gary has asked that we call his cell phone so he can get there quickly to attach the radio transmitter.  If he can find more of these turtles at the marsh, it will not only better protect their habitat (since they are endangered), but might also help him eventually restore their population further.

Looks like I’ve now got a good real-life example to go with the nature quote for my Master Naturalist presentation:

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself:
What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?”

-- Rachel Carson

Some important lessons that I (and my goddaughter) have learned this week are:

  • Always have a camera with you (and ideally a pair of binoculars too!)
  • Research the unknown animals and plants you encounter on your hikes.
    • The free online Audubon Field Guides are a great place to start (better yet, buy their apps for your smart phone so you can have this info available offline in the field as well!). 
    • Do further searches via Google or Wikipedia to confirm or rule out possible species.
  • Report any significant sightings to local habitat managers
  • Volunteer to help save and protect your favorite natural places or living species!

Marsha and her friends will thank you!


  1. That is very, very cool! And how exciting that you had your goddaughter with you. This is the kind of thing that she will remember forever. Good job! :)

    1. Yes, I sure hope so. Her mother thinks she's allergic to mosquitos and doesn't let her go hiking with me when the bugs are out, so maybe she'll become a wildlife biologist just to spite her mother :-)

  2. Wow! That is so very cool! Very exciting! Rachel rocks. One of my favorite quotes of hers: Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

    1. What an awesome quote Kim! I have to investigate her writings further-- sounds like great stuff!

  3. Cool Beans! And good for you for reporting such an important siting. I spent a weekend one time in Minnesota helping get Blanding's Turtles across some roads so they wouldn't get run over. Sorry to say, the only baby turtle I found to help that weekend was a snapping turtle.

    1. Well, you've been seeing some pretty rare turtles lately yourself! Hope you find some Blanding's up in MN this summer.

  4. Fabulous! Good for you! So exciting!

    1. yeah, just proves that you never know what you'll see out on a stroll.

  5. Wow, how great for you to see this turtle.

    1. Didn't realize it at the time -- just thought it was a common, normal-looking turtle. So, it's good to do the research when you can to see if anything surprising pops up!


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