Our first few weeks of Wood Turtle surveys in the Hudson-Berkshire region

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A female Wood Turtle basking on a log only a few meters from where I found my very first Hudson-Berkshire Wood Turtle.

Getting to the stream proved to be a challenge – dense thickets of thorny shrubs stood between me and the river, tearing at my legs every step of the way, halting my progress, and forcing me to backtrack several times. While there is no shortage of invasive vegetation back home in Vermont, multiflora rose isn’t nearly as common there as it is in southeastern New York. While I was excited about getting to my first Hudson Valley stream, I was not very excited about needing to fight my way through thousands of branches covered end to end in thorns shaped like cat claws to get there. After half an hour at a very slow pace, I heard the familiar sound of a bubbling brook, which was a very welcome relief. Only one more rosebush stood in my way, and as I tore through the final branch, the stream finally came into sight. Staring right back at me was a Wood Turtle sprawled across a log in the river. A moment later she was gone. 

Meeting the families who live and farm on the land, and showing them their first Wood Turtles, remains a highlight of mine.

Finding a Wood Turtle within mere seconds of getting to a river almost never happens to me, let alone at sites I am not familiar with, so this was a very good sign. Within a few days exploring the area, I realized how special the region is, not only because it supports populations of Spotted, Blanding’s, and Bog Turtles in addition to Woods, but because we were fortunate enough to find some pockets of truly amazing Wood Turtle habitat. To be fair, we visited plenty of sites and found zero turtles, but the good days were very good, and many of the landowners I met with were excited to share stories about all the Wood Turtles they had seen over the years. Better still, those same landowners want to know how to improve habitat on their land – something the turtles really need. 

One of our field technicians, Madie Stein, showing off a few Wood Turtles found a few minutes earlier during a survey.

As we continue to get our bearings in the Hudson-Berkshire region, we aren’t just looking for turtles, but also opportunities to conserve and restore habitat. While I would be content to look for Wood Turtles in pristine settings where the turtles can get everything they need without venturing across roads or into farm fields, there isn’t much we can do in places like that to help the turtles. Highly degraded settings where Wood Turtles are barely holding on and where no amount of conservation efforts can ensure their future isn’t what we are looking for either. So far this season, we have seen extremes at both ends of that spectrum, but we also found places where Wood Turtles have the potential to thrive, but where they need help now. These are the places where we can have a meaningful impact and truly make a difference for turtles in need. 

Even at sites where we could not find any Wood Turtles this year, we still enjoyed our time observing other wildlife. Here, Madie Stein and Giovanni Fiorisi show off a pair of Spring Salamanders.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from our first season in search of Wood Turtles in the Hudson-Berkshire region. After five years of intense survey efforts in northern New England, I had no doubts about my ability to find Wood Turtles, but before even stepping into my very first Hudson Valley stream, I knew things there would be a little different. The plants are different, the landscape is different, and much of the land use surrounding the streams is different. However, the turtles are as endearing as ever, and I am truly amazed by what we have found so far. We still have a few weeks left to the Wood Turtle season, but even if it ended tomorrow, I would think of our first spring in the region as a resounding success. 

A female Wood Turtle found with a face full of slug guts.