Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Turtle Adventures on Gilletts Lake

When I was 8 years old my family moved from the city out to a lake  in early May. It was an average sized lake about a mile across and it had a smaller bay atattched to it. My first day at our new home was pretty exciting for a little kid. The first time I looked down at the seawall by shore [it was a cement wall] I saw thousands of mayfly larvae's swimming along the bottom of the wall. Well about 2 weeks later millions of Mayflys were covering out lawn and the birds were trying to stuff as many as they could in their beaks. It was a wild sight. Summer finally came and I got to try out our rowboat. This thing was long and made of pure steel and it was heavy, but i did my best to row it. I decided to go over by the west end of the lake where lots of lilypads were. As I was rowing I noticed what looked like sticks in the water but all the sudden the sticks would go under so i knew it was something alive. I went closer to shore and saw all these beautiful weeds and bushes. These birds with red patches on their wings would swoop down at me cause I guess I was getting too close to their nests. I even saw water snakes crawling along the bushes, I felt like I was on "Wild Kingdom of Omaha". I tried to catch a few turtles but I couldn't grab them fast enough. I was out too far and too deep where it was too open. Soon I learned it was easier to go near shore where all the weeds were thick. I'd row really slow and when I saw a turtle head, I'd slow more and drift as close to the head as I could. When it went down I slowly moves some weeds out of the way and sure enough, that turtle was usually just waiting there so I grabbed him really fast by his shell. Luckily for me snappers were hard to catch or I'd learn a painful lesson. They are mean even as babies. I caught a few baby snappers and when you touch their snout with your finger they bite fast, but its funny cause they are too small to hurt. I just pry their jaw open and take my finger away. My record for most turtles in one day is 16. My biggest turtle was a big old Snapper. I saw some weeds moving so I rowed my boat over to investigate and this huge snapping turtle was tangled up in these weeds. I just grabbed him by his tail and put him in the front of the rowboat. On the way home he started to come near me hissing so I took 1 oar off the hitch and pushed him back to the front. When I got home I rolled him on his back and hundreds of bloodsuckers were in his armpits. So I asked mom for some salt and I poured it on the bloodsuckers and I watched those guys fall off like crazy. I felt as if I saved that turtle's life that day. I was only 12. I like how their tails have ridges on top like an alligator or a dragons tail. Some turtles I have caught have legs missing or a piece of their shell missing from being hit by a propellor but they seem to go on and live despite their handicaps. Some turtles also have moss growing on their shells due to not sunning themselves enough. Most turtles like sunning themselves because it kills little mites and bugs which can cause itching. Also, I thought the turtles with the long fingernails were the females [hey I was only a kid and thinking of how human women like long fingernails] Actually the plastron [belly shell] is concave on males and convex on females. Also the males tails will be fatter and longer than females. The long fingernails are more likely to be males, the long claws attract the females and I guess can be used to get a better grip.                                                                                                                                             I also had quite a blast raising baby turtles during the summer. My first "Turtlearium" was a big round white old mixing bowl from my
Mom's kitchen. In later years I used a 50 gal aquarium. I used our well water because the lake water and too many little organisms that my Mom was afraid might get loose in the house. I had a few tanning rocks for the turtles which were usually about a quarter or 50 cent piece  in size. Painted turtles, Miss Map turtles, leatherbacks, snappers and musk turtles made up the yearly summer assortment. I fed them worms that I chopped up. Afraid they might choke, but their front claws were pretty good at tearing the worm into smaller pieces. They also liked lettuce and flies I caught from the window. After a few weeks I noticed their shells getting dull looking, then all the sudden sections of their shells were falling off and underneath was a shiny bright new shell. It seems they were growing and had to moult their old smaller shell off to make room for their new bigger shell. They grew bigger in a summer I could tell. Every morning when I came down to see them, they would be sunning themselves on the rocks with their necks and legs sticking all the way out. One summer I was allowed to keep full sized turtles in this huge galvanized tub I put in the basement. I kept 7 turtles in there. One named after each member of the family plus grandma. One reason why fall was such a sad time was I had to let my turtles go so they could hibernate. I didnt mind too much, knowing I would catch more next summer!