UPDATE: 4.18.16: I've since been informed by a turtle expert that these little guys are Water Turtles! Thanks, Nancy! ---------------------
Sometimes you're reminded how very interesting and instinct-driven nature can be.
This past weekend we continued on our quest to get the front yard "done." By "done" I mean bulbs planted cozily in the earth, seeds tucked in under the mulch, grass mowed and front porch painted. We've really been enjoying making our new house our home and it's definitely a work-in-progress and always will be.
While using my pickaxe to pull up some unruly bulbs we wanted to remove, I came across a small hole next to the wall of the garage. Thinking it might be home to a chipmunk or perhaps a snake, I set the axe aside and started pulling the dirt apart gently in case someone/something was living there. Simply wanting to assess the situation before moving on down the wall to tiling in new soil, I got quite the surprise.
Nestled into the dirt about 3" down was a green piece of rock. Thinking it was perhaps shale, or a piece of broken crockery, I moved more dirt only to discover more of these rock-like objects. Continuing to gentle sweep my way around, I found 5 little green stones. I thought, "Huh. Those look like turtles." Much to my surprise, the stone started to wiggle and out popped turtle heads, arms, legs and tails!
Grabbing my phone, I quickly researched what to do. Leave them alone? Cover them back up? Move them down to the lake next to our house? Put them in the woods? After much reading (and by this time, the little guys had started coming out to sun themselves) and determining they were not newly hatched because they had already eaten their shells for sustenance, we grabbed a plastic box and ushered them inside.
According to National Park Service information, if they turtles are on the move and you live in a busy area, they should be brought down the shore of the nearest body of water. Rodents, skunks and large birds are their enemies when they are still small, and we read we should minimize human contact and move them quickly upon discovery. Being right next to a lake means their mother must have come up to our house, found a safe, cozy spot that gets full sun, laid and buried her eggs and sauntered off. Because the park next to us is very busy on Sundays, we swiftly brought them down and set them on the shore so they wouldn't get run over by a bicycle or car. It never crossed our minds to keep them and if you ever make the same discovery in your yard, do not make the mistake of thinking they'd be great pets. Upon further research later that evening, we read that box turtles are extremely difficult to keep and frequently die in captivity. Bottom line - if you find a creature in nature, keep it in nature. Obviously, it would have been best to leave them alone entirely, but not knowing they were there or that finding turtles buried in our yard was even a possibility, we wanted to make sure they'd be ok.
It's amazing to see instinct take over whether in people or animals. They all took their times, sniffed around, headed directly towards the water and swam off. It was a bit emotional, watching these little guys take their first swim and I imagined them giving each other a nod and a wave and saying "Catch you on the flip side." Turtles don't stay together like humans do. The mothers lay and bury the eggs and that's the extent of their parenting. The siblings (usually born in groups of 1-7) go off on their own immediately and start their own adventures.
After walking back up to continue to rip out the bulbs, another little turtle was sitting there waiting for us almost seeming to say "Hey, you forgot about me!" I sent my husband and son back down to bring him to the water and checked the area again for more turtle friends. Finding no more, I continued my work next to the garage wall, a space that will forever be remembered as the place we found the turtles.
What have you found in your yard that surprised you?