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Painted Turtles of Point Au Roche State Park in Clinton County, New York

Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)
Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)

Point Au Roche State Park is a beautiful and diverse park with a lot to offer visitors. By visitors we’re talking both the reptile and human kinds.  Not only does the park offer spectacular views of Lake Champlain for park visitors, it also provides great habitat for painted turtles!

Beginning in September 2012, two SUNY Plattsburgh students and Professor Danielle Garneau began their first field experience handling painted turtles. The goal of the project was to compare sex ratio and age structure of turtle populations in both urban, as well as rural ponds in Clinton County, New York. This research is part of the Ecological Research as Education Network’s (EREN) on-going TurtlePop project that is a collaboration among numerous colleges across the country.

Participants perform the same experimental protocol to determine if a greater number of adult males exist within urban turtle populations, and if this is a nationwide trend. The decline in young females is thought to result from their high rate of road kill when laying eggs at roadsides. An additional cause of death for urban painted turtles is an increase in the abundance of mesopredators (e.g., skunks, raccoons, opossum, foxes) who raid nests for eggs. Since starting, the TurtlePop project has offered field research experiences to many SUNY Plattsburgh students.

Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)
Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)

About a year into the project, as participants grew ever more curious, a radio-telemetry dimension was added by placing a VHF transmitter on the top of turtle’s shells in order to monitor their movement around a gold course pond complex (urban site) in the city of Plattsburgh. Findings suggest that city turtles do not tend to wander far from the shores of their pond and commonly used basking sites (e.g., downed trees, rocks).

In the summer of 2015, with the help of Point Au Roche State Park Naturalist and SUNY Plattsburgh Ecology alumnus Gillian Dreier-Lawrence, park visitors and college students had the opportunity to participate in and contribute to this growing collaborative research effort at Point Au Roche State Park. We are learning that Point Au Roche State Park has high turtle abundance; approximately 33 individuals were caught over three months of trapping in the lower ponds. Plans to further investigate the turtle population at Point Au Roche are in the works, as the  large number of turtles found indicate that  the population size at the park is likely quite large, only 11 marked turtles have been recaptured so far!

Post by Danielle Garneau, Associate Professor at SUNY Plattsburgh

Useful websites:

http://www.nysparks.com/parks/30/details.aspx

https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Point-au-Roche-State-Park-116729181851239/timeline/

http://erenweb.org/new-page/turtle-pop-project/

https://www.facebook.com/#!/ErenTurtlePop?fref=ts

Note: All photos were taken by Danielle Garneau and permissions are granted to use in press.

Deciphering Winter Animal Tracks

Have you ever come across animal tracks in fresh snow? Deciphering the mystery of what types of animals inhabit the places we visit can be a fascinating, and relatively simple task if you have some basic knowledge of animal gaits and patterns.

First, it is important to keep in mind that snow conditions can make a significant difference in the way that a track looks. For example, a print may appear quite clear in wet snow, whereas prints in drier, powder-like snow may be harder to analyze because they are not as clearly defined.

The next step is to think critically about the gait of the animal; the manner in which it walks or moves. There are four types of gaits that most animals employ throughout their daily (and in many cases, nightly) activities.

The first type of gait is the most common – the walk. Animal tracks left behind by a walk show alternating evenly spaced prints in parallel rows with a short stride and wide straddle. The second type of gait is the trot.  When an animal is trotting, each hind foot moves at the same time as the opposite front foot. As the animal’s speed increases, the prints are spaced farther and farther apart. Next, we have the gallop, which is the swiftest form of movement for a mammal. Because an animal must expend a significant amount of energy to gallop, it usually won’t employ this method of movement for very long unless it is being chased by a predator. The straddle of a gallop is much smaller than that of a trot or a walk. Lastly, jumping is the most energy consuming gait. During jumping, there is at least one stage where all four feet leave the ground entirely.  Examples of jumping animals include squirrels and rabbits.

animal tracks squirel
Above: Squirrel tracks feature four toes on the front feet and five on the back, with claws visible. When squirrels run, their back feet land in front of their front feet, so this track is evidence that this squirrel was running. This print was left in shallow wet snow, hence the distinct print outline.

 

Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.
Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.

In addition to determining the gait of the animal whose print you are examining, the shape of the track helps to identify what family or group of critter you are dealing with. For example, tracks from animals in the cat family are roundish and show four toes on both the back and front feet.  You won’t see any claw marks on cat prints because cats walk with their claws retracted. Members of the dog family (coyotes and foxes) leave prints with four toes showing on both the back and front feet. You can distinguish these prints from those of the cat family because the print is less rounded, and claw prints are typically visible. Deer tracks are prevalent throughout the state and are easy to identify. These prints are heart-shaped with a line down the middle. Moose tracks are similar in appearance; however they are considerably larger in size. Tracks from members of the rodent family as well as the weasel family can vary widely. Reference the key below for help with these types of tracks.

key-to-animal-tracks
Above: Key for identifying animal tracks. These are just some of the tracks you may encounter in New York State Parks and Historic Sites.

 

 Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Watch this video produced by our friends at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to learn more analyzing winter animal tracks and winter wildlife viewing: http://www.dec.ny.gov/dectv/dectv116.html

Information sourced from the New York State Conservationist (February 2001).

Post by Megan Phillips, photos by Lilly Schelling (OPRHP).