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Turtles of Halton Hills; Council Stepping UP to Protect our Prehistoric Friends

No question about it, Town Council is pro-turtle: from the turtle crossing signs on local roads to the eight protective nesting boxes that Public Works has constructed and installed around town. The signs warn motorists to watch for the slow-moving reptiles, and the nesting boxes are intended to keep predators like skunks, foxes and opossums from pillaging the eggs of the painted and snapping turtles that make Fairy Lake their home.


Nesting egg screens can be easily assembled from 2x4s and chicken wire. Mayor Rick Bonnette liked the idea and asked Public Works staff to construct and place them over vulnerable turtle nests. To date there are eight of these devices deployed around town. They're slated to be removed in the next few weeks when danger of predation has passed.


Turtles nest from late May to early July, and both painted and snapping turtles travel some distance to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch in September and the fledglings scramble to get to the nearest body of water. Curiously, a significant minority of both species hatch in the fall but remain in the ground, and won't emerge until the next spring.


Most Halton Hills residents have a soft spot for turtles. Fellow Acton UP journalist Chris Cassey always moves turtles off the road when she comes across them while cycling. Lately she's developed a bond with a female painted turtle that resides at her trailer park on Dublin Road. “This turtle visited our campsite every weekend since it opened. She decided to lay her eggs on a neighbour's site (as did two others after her). We didn’t build a nesting box. The campground called to see about getting one but they aren’t available for private property. So, we marked the nests with tomato cages and reflectors so no one mows or drives over the nests.”


Snapping turtles are particularly susceptible to getting run over as they prefer burying their eggs in the loose gravel along the sides of roads. According to communications director Alexandra Fuller, the Town works with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority which recommends that grading of road shoulders should be avoided between the months of June to September.


Snapping turtles are also a concern to Acton resident and environmental activist Peter Duncanson. He lives alongside Fairy Lake and has been a turtle-lover for as long as he can remember--he's still got a red-eared slider that he bought for his kids 36 years ago. “There is a fairly good population of turtles in Fairly Lake. I'm seeing lots of small painted turtles, but what worries me is that I'm not seeing any small snapping turtles, just the bigger, older ones,” he said. “This makes me think a lot of the females are getting run over before they can lay their eggs. They are struggling.”


Duncanson applauds Town Council for its pro-turtle initiatives including the “turtle turnaround” that was installed a few years ago on Mill Street West where it meets the southern tip of Fairy Lake. This consists of metal fencing on the south side of the roadway that prevents turtles from reaching the tarmac. Instead, it detours them back into the marsh from where they came. “That section of Mill Street West used to be a turtle slaughterhouse,” said Duncanson. “I haven't seen one dead turtle on that part of the road since they installed the turn around.”


Could Fairy Lake be home to the rare Blanding's Turtle?


(Photos: Ontario.ca)


Duncanson thinks a section of marsh south-west of Acton may be the habitat for a Blanding's turtle, an extremely rare animal that hasn't been found in this area. “I'm sure I saw a Blanding's but I wasn't able to get to my phone in time to take a picture,” he said.


Nature writer and Georgetown naturalist Don Scallen is skeptical of Duncanson's claim but remains open to the possibility. “It's feasible that there might be Blanding's turtles in Fairy Lake, but I've never seen one in North Halton. It's often misidentified.” he said.


There are eight species of turtles in Canada, three of which are endangered, one which is threatened, and even the familiar snapping turtle is considered a species of special concern. Nature Ontario further suggests that all Ontario turtles are at risk https://ontarionature.org/news-release/all-ontario-turtles-now-at-risk/


“I'm glad Council is onside with the nesting program. Turtles are easy targets for road kill because they evolved in the Jurassic era and they know nothing about roads,” added Scallen. “At one time Halton was prime turtle habitat but that's been replaced by urban and agricultural use. North Halton probably had its share of Blanding's at one time. The extremely rare Wood turtle once lived in the Bronte Creek Watershed, but there are none there now.”


Regardless, Duncanson will keep an eye out for the Blanding's while he keeps advocating for the health of Fairy Lake. “I haven't heard any bullfrogs for the last five or six years. I've also noticed fewer garter snakes and not as many toads. Fairy Lake is changing. Right now it's little more than a phosphorous dump because of the geese, and there's no political will to do anything about it,” he said.


However, should you come across a turtle on the road, Duncanson wants you to help it get to the other side, if you can do so safely. “I pull over and put my four ways on. Other motorists will sometimes stop and help, too. Pay attention to the direction where the turtle is going and take it in that direction. A big 20 pound snapper can be intimidating. We no longer recommend picking them up by the tail, the idea is to push it from the rear end and kind of wheelbarrow it forward.”


And did you know there is a turtle hospital in Peterborough where you can ship injured turtles free of charge? “It's called the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre and they do amazing things for turtles that have been run over,” said Duncanson. “They have a network of drivers that will transport turtles across Ontario that they call the turtle taxi. They even want the carcass of snappers that have been run over so they can harvest their eggs,” You can find more informationhere;



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