Old mossyback, a snapper with attitude

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — A Common Snapping Turtle, also known by its Latin name Chelydra serpentina, makes an impressive pose as an animal that will stand its ground against all potential predators. This impressive close up of the head of as snapper observed at Green Castle Recreation Area was obtained with help from a telephoto lens. Getting this close to a real snapper may make one of your fingers disappear. The shell, or more officially called the carapace, is often dark brown and has several rows of prominent ridges. It may also be covered with mud and algae. A mat of algae helps to camouflage the reptile while under water. It uses stealth to approach potential prey, like small fish, frogs, worms, ducklings or goslings. At this time of year, it may be possible to see a female snapping turtle excavating a nest in a secluded spot of soil where she will lay her eggs.

SNAPPING TURTLES are out and about, getting on with their Mother Nature assigned duties of living and trying to bring about a new generation of turtles. These impressive animals look mean and yes, they mean business. They are superbly capable of defending themselves from any predator who gets too close. However, they prefer to be left alone, to conduct their duties of living as part of the food chain found in aquatic locations. Finding a snapping turtle at Green Castle would not be unexpected since the 16 surface area lake has plenty of aquatic life to seek out.

A female snapper may lay as many as 80 eggs although a typical clutch can range from 25 to 50. Each egg is about the size of a ping-pong ball. Once an excavated hole in soft earth has been dug with her hind feet, she will lay several eggs at a time, then scrape bits of soil onto them. She keeps repeating the process until all her eggs are laid. A final covering of soil is in order. After that she leaves the area. Time and warm sun energy create the heat to enable the eggs time to incubate. Soil temperature determines if the young turtles will be male or female. And upon maturing inside the egg, young hatchling turtles dig themselves out to the surface, and then proceed on their own to crawl toward water sources.

Turtle ancestry can be traced back to the Paleozoic era of 300 million years ago. Turtles have diversified tremendously to fill any niche where a living could be made. During the Mesozoic era they were one of the dominant animals of that age of reptiles. Families of reptiles and specifically turtles adapted where they could, or for some segment of the evolutionary tree became extinct. Iowa turtles are aquatic for the most part but some live far away from traditional water sources. Other turtles in Iowa have names such as ornate box turtle, painted turtle, red-eared turtle, map, false map, blandings, wood, yellow mud, stinkpot, spiny softshell and smooth softshell. Turtles are time tested survivors.

Following are a few updates for your consideration. A few weeks ago, I noted a photograph of a female ruby-throated hummingbird on her nest, and I suggested those eggs would hatch on or about June 1. Well they did hatch. A return trip to the nest site found those two baby hummers are growing well but still quite small. My long lens was not able to look down into the nest. However, what I did see were two tiny beaks pointed up in the air with just a hint of their eyes above the nest cup rim. They are still very small birds whose bodies are not yet creating crowded conditions. By the end of this week, that can change.

Another update of young birds is of a Canada goose nest. At the George Fuller residence near Haverhill, in his grove, a bald eagle pair built a nest high in a tree this late winter, at least 40 feet above the ground. It appeared the eagles were going to set up housekeeping but for whatever reason, they went elsewhere. This is typical. So what is an aspiring pair of Canada geese to do with a nest already built? Claim it and use it. This past week the eggs of that Canada geese pair did hatch. And at least four of the young goslings were observed following their parents as they walked overland. Those young goslings had no choice but to jump out of that tall nest, fall 40 feet to the ground and have apparently no ill effects from their “first flight.”

It is that time of year again for baby deer to be born. And somewhere, someplace a misguided person will mistakenly think they found an abandoned fawn. No so. Mother deer knows exactly where her fawn or fawns are. She will take care of them, rejoining the newborns during the night time as needed to wander off into parts unknown. Leave all wildlife babies alone. Observe from a distance and enjoy the spectacle.

Pheasant broods have been seen. Yes, those little fuzz balls of light brownish-speckled fluff have survived their hatching. Now following the hen pheasant through tall grasses, field edges of farm fields, and backyard garden settling, they are learning how to find bugs to eat. A warm dry spring season helped pheasant nest success rates. During my country road wildlife forays, I have seen pheasants along gravel roads, drying off from morning dew. When I get close to the road ditch where they walked into tall grass, I wait patiently with camera in hand, waiting for the bird to either ‘explode’ in a flurry of beating wings, or just sneak away. My chances of capturing a flying pheasant are slim at best. But I keep trying to get good publishable images of flying pheasants. Wish me luck in this task.

Memories are good. And sometimes that is all one has of a fleeting mill-second in time. Such was the case last week while I was in my backyard. I was looking up at a crescent moon in the eastern very early morning sky. The sun had not yet peaked over the horizon but was beginning to lighten up the day. While looking at the moon, a pair of wood ducks, silhouetted against the eastern sky, passed by in close formation to each other passing just under the moon. It is that mental picture that sticks with me. Would I like to have had a camera and long lens pointed at the moon at just the right time to have pressed the shutter button while those woodies were flying by? Yes indeed. But that would have been sheer luck. So it goes. I will retain a vivid mental memory of woodies against a backdrop of a crescent moon.

KID’S FREE FISH DERBY at Marshalltown’s Riverside Cemetery will be June 19, from about 8 a.m. until noon. Kids age 12 and younger can compete for nice prizes while they attempt to take hungry bullhead fishes out of the cemetery pond. The local Izaak Walton League has agreed to help make the event a fun day for kids. Prizes are awarded for the smallest fish, and the largest fish, in both boys and girls categories. Bait will be provided. Prizes are from donations from local businesses such as Theisens, Fire House aquatics, Center Street Dairy Queen and the Izaak Walton League. No fishing license is needed for youth. The cemetery pond has so many bullhead fish that getting a fish to bite is almost a guarantee. And that makes it fun.

DUCKS UNLIMITED BANQUET reminder: if you are reading this on Saturday morning, tonight is the gathering of waterfowl enthusiasts at the Regency Inn in Marshalltown. Doors open at 5 p.m., dinner will follow. Lots of games, prizes and auction items. Support wildlife and wetland conservation. You can purchase tickets at the door.

EARTH NOTES TO NOTE: I have occasionally tuned into watching online videos of the active and very photogenic volcano eruptions in Iceland. This natural spectacle of earth’s natural history is a fascinating event. And what helps make it even more watchable is seeing hundreds of people safely watching from adjacent hillsides as flowing lava creeps along the surface in bulging blocks of molten magma. Iceland is an island in the mid Atlantic ocean east of Greenland. Iceland is also part of our earth’s mid Atlantic ridge where the sea floor is spreading as the Eurasian tectonic plate separates from the North American plate. Molten magma from deep inside the earth comes to the sea floor surface, or in the case of Iceland, at the surface. Iceland also has a “hot spot” geologically deep underground that over long periods of time has created the entire island. Many terrific photo series of this volcano named Geldingadalir have been posted on YouTube. Some videos are from drones flying over the red hot lava streaming up to the crater itself and then up and over to look straight down in the boiling caldron of magma. For a few drones operators that flew too low, the last images transmitted were of the drone going down before all melted away. However, professional video segments are helping tell the natural history of earth via live images of a volcano in action. Check it out for yourself.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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