Just two main turtles in UP

Northwoods Notebook

A small painted turtle basks in the sun on a raft of floating vegetation at Six Mile Lake in Dickinson County. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

When I lived in La Crosse, Wis., a walk along the Mississippi or in the La Crosse River Marsh could conceivably turn up a half-dozen different species of turtle paddling through the shallows or sunning on downed trees.

There was a Blanding’s, with its bright yellow throat, dug in and laying eggs along the bike path. A northern map turtle, puttering among the docks at one of the riverside marinas.

I even saw a spiny softshell that must have somehow gotten turned around, perhaps after hauling out to nest, and ended up on the sidewalk outside the newspaper office where I worked. It was an odd, impressive creature, rivaling snapping turtles in size, with a shell that resembled a greenish pancake. It was like a Thanksgiving serving platter with legs.

The Upper Peninsula, though, pretty much is limited to two main lake or pond turtles — the painted and snapping — plus the more terrestrial wood turtle that favors rivers and streams. They have “a sculptured-looking carapace” — the upper shell — with little ridged peaks that look like a miniature volcano range, or a cluster of clams. The shell, too, is more domed as than most other turtles, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The lower neck and legs are orange-yellow.

They are listed as threatened in Wisconsin, though, and none too common in the U.P. as well, said James Harding, an instructor and specialist in herpetology at Michigan State University. Across Michigan, they are classified as a species of special concern, though wood turtles “can be locally common where habitat intact and disturbance is low,” the DNR advised.

A female snapping turtle makes its way through the rain back to Six Mile Lake after hauling out to lay eggs in the driveway. The eggs will take about two months to hatch, though some of the baby turtles may remain in the underground nest through the winter and not emerge until the following spring, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. (Mary Jane Bloom photo)

Otherwise, in the Upper Peninsula, “painted and snappers are pretty much what you’ve got,” Harding said. He’s done regular surveys in parts of the region and records reports from others in the field.

But he could use some help with that, especially in the Upper Peninsula, which has a lot of land and fewer people to help catalog what’s living here.

Yoopers who keep an eye out for turtles that look different could find a rarity, as two other species have turned up in the region.

One, the northern map turtle, has a couple of sight records in this part of the U.P., including Dickinson County, Harding said.

Superficially it might be mistaken for a painted turtle, with its yellow head stripes, but it has no red markings on its plastron, or belly plates, and the upper shell is not smooth like the painted. It has been seen in some bays and inlets of the Great Lakes, according to the DNR, so conceivably could make its way into the area, though Harding acknowledged it also might have been brought in by humans.

The other is the Blanding’s, listed as a species of special concern both in Michigan and Wisconsin. This one should be easier to distinguish from the painteds, as it has no red to its belly and, as mentioned, a yellow throat. A number of them have been found in Marquette and Iron counties, according to the online Michigan Herp Atlas.

Anyone who sees something beyond the painted or snapper should try to get a photo if possible, to help with identification, and register when and where the turtle was found at the Michigan Herp Atlas, www.miherpatlas.org. That site also welcomes reports on snakes, frogs, toads and salamanders.

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A short note that despite being only a week into July, some birds actually have started heading back south through the region. This note posted online Friday from Ryan Brady, conservation biologist for the Wisconsin DNR office in Ashland.:

“Believe it or not, southbound ‘fall’ migration is even underway, as some adult shorebirds are now returning to wintering areas after a very short breeding season in the arctic. Some species reported this week included least and semipalmated sandpipers, lesser and greater yellowlegs, willets, and a few others. Expect numbers to build at flooded fields and mudflat throughout the month. Other signs of a waning nesting season including flocks of blackbirds and swallows starting to form.”

It’s a reminder to savor the summer, even when hot and humid, as it can be a fleeting season this far north. Thankfully, most of the resident nesting birds for now still are dealing with fledglings and should stick around for several more months.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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