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Halton Hills Turtle Guardians to the Rescue

Halton Hills Turtle Guardians are not just about turtles. During a telephone interview, group founder Peter Duncanson mentioned that he had been with several members of the group on the escarpment the previous night ferrying endangered Jefferson salamanders across a road south of Acton.

Of course turtle conservation is the main focus of the group. “Although when you're involved in wildlife preservation, it's easy to morph into different disciplines,” Duncanson said. “But basically we try to take care of the natural turtle species in Halton Hills...Georgetown, Limehouse, Speyside and Acton. Acton seems to be the centre of it because of Fairy Lake.”

Founded three years ago, Halton Hills Turtle Guardians has about 350 Facebook members. But the core, according to Duncanson, consists of five or six members who are willing to stay with a female snapper while she lays her eggs, a process that could take several hours. “This is a key component. Without the help of volunteers like Bev Lyn, Melanie Foxs, Louisa Lamberink-van Wijk, Tiina Duncanson and Larry Lehman, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We wait for the turtle to finish laying the eggs, make sure she gets back to the water safely and we'll put a nest box on top of them,” he said.

“Then we have a group of about 40 people we call the ‘watchers.’ There are people out walking their dogs who see a turtle laying eggs and message us through Facebook or give us a call. They're the ones that we depend on to locate these turtles,” added Duncanson. “If you see a turtle in late May or June, it's probably a female carrying eggs on the way to her nesting ground.”

Last year, HHTG volunteers installed about 35 nesting boxes in the Acton and Georgetown areas. One member is completely devoted to building nesting boxes. Structurally, the boxes consist of a fairly simple rectangular frame made from recycled two by fours, with the covering mesh screen generously donated by Leathertown Lumber.

The boxes protect painted and snapping turtles' eggs from predators. “Painted turtles are smaller, dig a smaller nest and move on. We make fair amount of nests for painted turtles, but snapping turtles are the ones that concern us the most, and they are the species at risk,” said Duncanson. “Snappers have a huge problem reproducing because of urbanization. In June when they lay their eggs, it’s feast time for skunks, possums, and minks. If you see a large snapper it could be 60 years old, but we're not seeing the younger snappers.”

HHTG are busy now watching for turtles crossing roads and moving from their hibernation areas to their summer grounds. The group will get very busy in June as the female turtles are looking to lay their eggs. “When they hatch in September we get busy again,” added Duncanson. “We had a couple nests in Prospect Park last year and one hatched during Fall Fair. We had to ferry all the turtles to the lake; we couldn't take the chance of them going across all the paths.”

The group also works closely with the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, Ont., which currently has 3,000 hatchlings waiting to be released into waiting habitats. HHTG is also part of the turtle taxi network. “If an injured turtle needs a ride in Rockwood, say, we can arrange to get it a ride by relay to the Centre,” added Duncanson.

HHTG is planning on holding an outdoor meeting in May at Prospect Park to create awareness and attract new members. At last year's meeting they released hatchlings into Fairy Lake from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, and Duncanson is hoping to do so again this year. “Acton has become a real turtle town,” he said. “The Town helps us out when they can and people like the work we're doing.”


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