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Hunting for Head Starts

On a very hot July morning, I headed to Great Meadows to meet up with Dr. Windmiller to do some tracking of the recently released head starts.  We were met by two interns for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Zack and Jarrod, and John from the zoo.  Being a pretty hot day, I thought perhaps hanging out in a pond wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  Dr. Windmiller had brought me a different pair of waders from the ones I wore the last time, and I put them on over my shorts, tucked my camera in the little zipper pouch on the top part of the overalls, and tucked my “booties” into a pair of my old running shoes.  Dr. Windmiller selected two radio frequencies for two Sudbury head starts and we started off to what I thought would be the open water.

Heading into the forest of cattails to search for head starts

So, needless to say, I was quite surprised when we did not head into the open water.  Instead, we headed right into the forest of cattails.  I was amazed at how tall these were and how I quickly felt like I was deep in a jungle.  I didn’t have any sense to where we were, I just kept following Bryan deeper and deeper into the field of cattails.  He would stop and point out various plants to me —  pretty ones such as Button Bush, as well as not so nice plants:  a type of rose that is extremely thorny, and another one called something with an arrow, that could also tear up your arm pretty well.  John held the radio tracker as we headed deeper and deeper towards where the signal was coming from.  We finally arrived at an area where the signal was pretty loud.  John switched the big tracker to a smaller one, and kept on looking.  Shortly, he and Bryan were down on their knees, digging in the mud.  And before long, I was holding a mud covered Blanding’s turtle head start, who did not look very happy to be in my hands.  She kept her head pretty much inside her shell, probably wondering what was going on.  She was weighed, measured, photographed, and then put back into her muddy home.  Bryan took an

One of the found Sudbury head starts

inventory of the types of plants that were around her.  I was surprised that there was really no water where she was found, and asked Bryan about what they would eat in this type of habitat.  It became pretty clear to why the data the students had crunched indicated that the head starts don’t gain a lot of weight here initially.   Zack and Jarrod had picked up the signal of this turtle’s tank mate pretty close to where the head start we had found.  Bryan and John started helping them and before long, about 6 feet from where we found the original one, they had found the tankmate deeply burrowed in the mud as well.  This turtle was much more interested in seeing what was going on.  His head was out, looking around, while he tried to push off my hand.  After his weighing and measuring, he too was put back into his mud bath.

All hands on deck!

We headed back out of the cattails to decide on the next turtle to try and find.  Bryan mentioned to Jarrod to watch out for these “ditches” that contained rather deep, yucky water.  Taking a breather for a moment, we decided what radio signal to go into and then it was back into the cattail forest.  With the hot sun blazing down on us, we traversed through the cattails.  The signal brought us to a small pool of water that was about two feet deep.  The biologists started searching again.  This turtle did not cooperate, swimming all over the little pool.  Zack finally stuck his entire arm into the water and muck and voila — up came turtle number three of the morning.  This turtle had more of the habitat

Zack finally has his turtle!

that I thought they would have.  Again, we went through his measurements and then he was plopped back into the water.  Everyone mentioned that the water was rather cool, so I stuck my legs into the water.  They were right, it was almost refreshing.   One of the things I have enjoyed about these experiences is the opportunity to meet biologists and to listen in on their conversations.  The four of them sat in the water and talked about their research experiences.  Growing up and even in my first career as a Food Scientist, I thought of biologists as the people in white lab coats who worked in labs.  But becoming involved in this project, I have had the opportunity to meet biologists who do many different jobs.  I have enjoyed hearing about the Fish and Wildlife Services interns’ experiences and enjoyed watching Bryan’s mentoring of the younger biologists.  This has been a great learning opportunity for me and maybe in my next life, I’ll come back as a Wildlife Biologist.

Still smiling!

Back to those ditches.  We started going back to the trail.  Bryan and Zack were talking about toads, when all of the sudden, my foot sank into knee high guck and got stuck.  I heard that sucking sound of my foot in the mud.  I called out to Bryan and Zack who turned back and helped me out.  My shoe remained in the muck and Zack leaned in and pulled it out.  His mother would undoubtedly be proud of his manners in helping this middle age teacher out!  As soon as that foot got out, in sunk the other one.  Two shoes were no longer white at all!  I quickly heeded Bryan’s advice to step on the roots, and managed to not get stuck again.

In the parking lot, some of us took off our waders while we determined our next step.  We had been at this for two hours and yielded three turtles.  John decided to take Zach up to see the vernal pools where a third of the turtles were also released.  Up we went to a street, out of our cars, and onto the bike path, where we were quickly greeted by hoards of hungry mosquitoes.  It was funny that in the cattails, there were no problems with biting insects, but this was quite different.  We didn’t track during this trek, but it gave me a pretty good idea of the area and how the turtles would be in a more aquatic environment in this area.  Looking back, probably out of the three release areas, I would envision this might be the easiest place to actually find the head starts.

The spot where Lynn D was released

Back into our cars, we headed to Moore’s Swamp, which Bryan had deemed the most difficult place to find the head starts.  Having been in this swamp on two occasions, I could attest to the rather unstable bottom and the deep water.  We quickly applied the strongest mosquito repellent available and I led the group to where we had left off Lynn D not that long ago.   I pointed out the area, John and Zack turned on their radios, and off we went.  It was pretty apparent that she was not where we left her.  Zack quickly climbed into another part of the swamp while Jarrod, John, and I headed into the swamp to reach a pennisula.  I carefully traversed the knee deep water.  We came on a hill, where the signal was evident, but not that strong.  John led us down a hill to the other side of the bridge where we had let Yertle go.  That was water I was not looking forward to crossing as I remember how deep that was.  John switched to Yertle’s frequency, where he picked up a weak signal.  Into the swamp once again I carefully walked, not wanting to take a face plant.  Out of the water, up another hill, down back through the trees we went.  Finally we arrived at the outer edge of the swamp nearer the cemetery, where both Jarrod and John thought the signal was stronger.  Out the three biologists waded, the water becoming deeper and deeper with every step they took.  I admired their perseverance in looking for Yertle and Lynn D.  However, after a while, it was pretty clear that they were living in pretty deep parts and they wouldn’t be easily caught.  I was surprised at how far they had traveled.  John mentioned how rich of a feeding ground that this is for the turtles and how they must be quite large.  This was the ideal habitat for the turtles, safe from predators with plenty of great food to chow on.  Slowly we headed back towards our cars.  It was 1:00 o’clock by now and 4.5 hours in the blazing sun was enough.  Even though we did not find Yertle and Lynn D, I felt good that we did hear their signal and that they have such a great new home.

This movie will give you an idea of our morning – so enjoy!


Lynn-D: The Newest Resident of Moore’s Swamp

On June 28th, five students, their parents, little siblings, Mrs. Erickson, Dr. Windmiller, and his two dogs Betsy and Squiggles, brought Lynn-D to her new home at the upper part of Moore’s Swamp.  The swamp itself is a little lower in water level than the lower Moore’s Swamp where Yertle was released.  Lynn-D was weighed in (150 grams!), measured, notched, and fitted with her new radio tracker before we took the walk into the swamp area.    Here are some photos detailing her move in day!

Being fitted with her radio tracker

Lynn D on her last morning at the Erickson's house

Lynn D being weighed


On the way to her new home


Mrs. E and Lynn D


Mrs. E, Dr. Windmiller and Squiggles accompany Lynn D into the swamp

Lynn D gets placed into the water


Dr. Windmiller and Mrs. E say good bye to Lynn D




Lynn D's new home


The Release of Yertle

On June 15th, we journeyed to Moore’s Swamp to release Yertle.  Lynn-D will stay with us for several more weeks to get a little bigger.

Here’s some of our movies about this event

By EC19:

By EC2:

by EC18

A Letter to Yertle and Lynn-D from the Blanding’s Turtles of Moore’s Swamp

Moore's Swamp on a Cold January Day

This Wednesday, we will be traveling to Moore’s Swamp to release our head-start Yertle.  Your job on this post is to pretend you are one of the turtles who

Yertle and Lynn-D Hanging Out

live at Moore’s Swamp and write a letter to Yertle and Lynn-D, welcoming them to their  new home.  You can either be a headstart who was released there last year, a turtle who naturally just moved there, or one of the CCHS headstarts who were just released there a week ago.  You should first watch the movie that I just created to help you write this post.

Your letter, which should be two paragraphs in length, should contain the following information:

1.  Information about the turtle writing the letter to Yertle and Lynn-D  

2.  What Moore’s Swamp is like?  What types of producers live around there?  Why are producers an important part of the food chain?  Where do the producers get their energy from? What other types of animals might Yertle and Lynn-D encounter?

3.  What type of weather will Yertle and Lynn-D be encountering.  Think about what the weather has been like over the past week.

4.  What types of activities and fun will Yertle and Lynn-D have once they get to Moore’s Swamp?  What types of food have the other turtles found in Moore’s Swamp?  What do the other turtles do on a daily basis?

5.  What the other turtles are looking forward to showing Yertle and Lynn-D once they settle in to Moore’s Swamp.

6.  Advice for Yertle and Lynn-D from the Moore’s Swamp turtle.  What types of adaptations will help them  survive in Moore’s Swamp?

7.  How have the changes in Moore’s Swamp made it a great place for the Blanding’s turtles?

Please check your letter carefully for any spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and gammatical errors.  This post is due on THURSDAY

Look How We’ve Changed!

Yertle and Bowser on Labor Day

We’ve had Yertle since school started in September and Lynn-D since the middle of March.  During both of those time frames,

Yertle and Lynn-D on Memorial Day

they have changed in many ways.  From little hatchlings, they now look like miniature adult Blanding’s turtles.  Initially, they were eating a few few small turtle pellets, now they are eating earthworms, mealworms, aquatic creatures, and for Yertle, as

many crayfish as he can get his mouth on!  For tonight’s blog, due on Thursday, you are to analyze the following data and answer the following questions.  Remember that you can click on the table to make it larger.  Make sure you use complete sentences in your answer.


1.  How much weight did Yertle gain from when he hatched until June 1st?

2.  How much longer did Yertle become from his hatching date until June 1st?

3.  About how many times larger did Yertle become during this time (hint divide the June weight by the birth weight)

4.  During what two months did Yertle gain the most weight?

5.  How much weight did Lynn-D  gain from when she hatched until June 1st?

6.  How much longer did Lynn-D become from her hatching date until June 1st?

7.  About how many times larger did Lynn-D become during this time (hint divide the June weight by the birth weight)

8.  During what two months did Lynn-D gain the most weight?

On two separate pieces of graph paper, create two graphs:  one comparing the weights of Yertle and Lynn-D and one comparing the lengths of Yertle and Lynn-D.  Your graphs should contain a title, labels, key, and should be done in color.


Live Food!

Our Blanding’s turtles are being introduced to “live” food to start to prepare them for their release in June.  Watch this video of their first encounter with an earthworm and then write a story from one of the turtle’s perspective about this experience.

A Letter from Lynn-D and Yertle

Yertle and Lynn-D Hanging Out in the Tank

For this post, you are to pretend you are Lynn-D and Yertle.  In your letter to our class, you are to talk about what things are instinct for you(what are you born knowing), what you need to learn before you are released, and  come up with a wish list of what foods you would like served at “Spa Thoreau” after vacation.  This should be based on the notes you took during yesterday’s Turtle Talk.  Be creative with your letter!

Turtle Catalog

Painted Turtle from Drumlin Farm

This past Friday, we had three different turtles in our classroom.  For this post, you are to write a thorough description of each turtle.  These descriptions will be used at Turtle Night.

Lynn-D and Yertle, our Blanding's Turtles

Spotted Turtle from Drumlin Farm

Introducing Lynn-D By The Numbers

Yertle and Lynn-D Check Each Other Out

This week, Room 305B welcomed the newest member of our classroom:  Destroyer, a sibling of Yertle and Bowser (their mother is Turtle Number 2033).  Destroyer was very generously transferred from David Winchester and his students from Lynn Classical High School.  In honor of their generosity, the students decided to name the new turtle Lynn, and decided to honor the original name of Destroyer by a nickname of “D”  So, Destroyer is now known as Lynn-D in our classroom.  The two turtles have been getting to know one another.  Yertle has exhibited some of the behavior that Bowser use to do to him, but he has welcomed Lynn-D into the hideaway without any issue (this was a problem when Yertle had a playdate with Mrs. Dillon’s turtles the week we came back from vacation.)  The students are delighted to have Lynn-D in our tank.

So, now it’s time to check Lynn-D’s numbers out.  For this week’s blog, due on Thursday, you are to answer the following questions.  Make sure you answer in complete sentences and that you number your responses.  Remember that you can click on each image to make it larger.

March Weights for all 2010 Head Starts

A.    Take a look at the March weights that have been recorded for all the 2010 Hatchlings (note that the zoo turtles do not have names) and answer the following questions:

1. What is the range (in grams) of all of the turtles’ weights?

2.  Where does Lynn-D fall within this range?

3.  What is the difference between Lynn-D’s weight and the heaviest turtle (please use this turtles’ name or number)

4.  What is the difference between Lynn-D’s weight and the lightest turtle (please use this turtle’s name or number)

B.  Using the table below, please answer the following questions:

Turtle 2033's Hatchlings Information

1.  Based on the gender of all of 2033’s siblings (Bowser was also a male who weighed 85 grams in February), what do you predict Lynn-D’s gender to be?  How did you arrive at your hypothesis?

Lynn-D's Growth Chart
















Part C:  Take a look at Lynn-D’s weights and lengths through the months and answer the questions associated with that table:

1.  How much weight has Lynn-D gained since the hatchling weight?

2.  How much longer has Lynn-D grown since the length at hatching?

3.  Between what two months was there the least amount of weight gained?  How much weight was gained during this time?

Yertle and Lynn-D checking out what;s going on outside the tank

4.  Between what two months was there the greatest amount of weight gained?  How much weight was gained during this time?

5.  Based on Lynn-D’s growth chart, what do you predict Lynn-D’s weight and length to be on April 1st?  How did you come up with  your prediction?

The Tenth Good Thing About Bowser


Our turtle Bowser died last Saturday. We are very sad. My teacher said we should think of ten good things about Bowser so we can remember him always…

In this blog entry, I want you to write about Bowser and all the good things that you remember about him.

Mrs. E.  He was a wonderful teacher and a brother to Yertle.  You all took wonderful care of him and he taught us so much about Blanding’s turtles.  When I came in to school each morning, I would always go over first to check on the turtles and each morning, they would greet me.  Bowser was a real explorer, he loved to hang out on the rocks and investigate what was going on in the classroom.  In the early morning hours, he and Yertle would spend a lot of time pushing around the rocks.  I am happy that we had Bowser as a part of our class for almost six months.  I’m not sure what would have happened to him if he was not in the head-start program.  Even though he is not in our class physically, he will always live on in our hearts.