Turtle sightings at Lester Road

Cheryl Doran posted the following to the Nature List on April 26, 2009:

Just a short note to report on the hidden Turtle Sanctuary in the Ottawa South Greenbelt.

Sunday April 19th at 14:30, four Merivale High School students, one parent, and my children were out to turn over logs to look for salamanders and to clean up the wetlands in the area of Lester Rd. It was a sunny day, a bit warm on our backs, so I asked the children to look into the wetlands to see if they could see any Turtles?

One student said she thought she could see a turtle on a log. I asked her to describe the log to me and then used the binoculars to see a Blandings Turtle basking. The children were absolutely thrilled to see a Turtle in its natural environment. The BT moved on the log to look toward the children, but never felt it necessary to enter the water. The girls sat down on a high area to watch and admire the brightly coloured turtle.

Using the binoculars they told me what ‘he’ was doing and what features they can see. They described his chin and throat as being bright yellow – as she showed me with her hand where the turtle was yellow. The girls named him ‘Philip’ and proceeded for the next 35-45 minutes starring at him and admiring his yellow markings. The girls were giggling, ooohhhinnnng and awwhhhhhing as they watched ‘Philip’.

A total of eight of us were witnesses to this Blanding’s sighting. Please note that although the students have named this BT ‘Philip’, we were never close enough to distinguish a gender. They took pictures and plan on registering their find with EC and NHIC.

That makes four consecutive years of Blandings Turtle Spring sightings in the same Federal wetlands.


Saturday April 25th at 10:00 – 14:00, 15 volunteers cleaned up the 1.5km of Lester Rd. During the clean up I explained to the children that they would have opportunities from the road to view Turtles. At one point I stopped to sit down with my son who appeared discouraged at the overwhelming amount of garbage in his area, I explained that I believed the ‘wildlife’ were watching and that they would appreciate the work he was doing. Just then, I looked at the end of that south side marsh to see a rock in the water. I wondered how a rock could sit on top of the water in a ‘deep’ wetland. Then the rock moved. Hoda (a TA from Lisgar) and Eric kept watch over the Turtle as I went back to the car to get the binoculars to admire the beautiful red markings on the Painted Turtle’s shell (11:30 am). The student volunteers came over to admire too. This Turtle was approx. 17-20 cm in length and very cute!

We then crossed the street to look north and found two more Turtles sitting on the same log on the right hand side of the marsh (11:50 am). This time, the children started fighting to use the binoculars as they also caught a snake swimming across the water in front of the Turtles.

As I walked back at 13:30 towards the car, I looked in the southern, western marsh (Airport Storm water management pond) and I found the smallest turtle I’ve ever seen! It was sitting on the stem of a cattail that was lying in the water from last season. I leaned over to admire the tiny Turtle as it jumped into the water. Two children from St. Pius were with me at the time.

After having a shower and changing my clothes, I returned to Lester Rd only to find four cars pulled over on the soft shoulders. I pulled over to ask if they needed help, and they showed me a Snapping Turtle that was (still) trying to cross the road. This one was a very good size with an extremely long tail. Using a blanket, we carried him from the north Lester/ROW tracks marsh to the southern marsh. He happily entered and disappeared in the southern side marsh. A fellow from Little Ray’s stopped to help, and explained that they would have taken him if he needed his shell repaired. He explained to the drivers the reason why the turtle was moving and he too thanked them for their astute attention to this big fellow.

Please note all Turtle sightings were found on Federal Transport Canada lands, in the 1996 Greenbelt boundary.

Postscript 1
The HS girls wrote to MNR and received a response that it must have been a Painted Turtle. I asked the girls what colour the turtle was. They said it was Yellow! There is no mistaking the colour Yellow! They don’t have time to fight with someone in an email, but just think it’s hilarious because “we all saw yellow!! we may not know our turtles but we know what yellow looks like!”.

Postscript 2:
On June 8, 2009, we tallied up the number of Turtle Roadkill on Lester Rd since June 25, 2006. Sadly we have found 54 dead Turtles within approx. 700 m, caused by motorized vehicles. This statistic speaks volumes – both to the number of Turtles that exist in those wetlands and to their fragmented and unprotected habitat on Federal Lands.