MAKE TURTLE NESTING SITE
Creating a nesting site means putting shovels in the ground. This action runs the risk of accidentally harming turtle hatchlings unbeknownst to you, should there be any at the location you intend to prepare for nesting. For this reason, the timing of when you create a turtle nesting site is crucial to avoid such concerns. The following information will outline the best way to approach this undertaking.
Late fall (November/December) after turtle hatching activity has ceased or early spring (March/April) is the best time to consider creating a turtle nesting site.
'IF THERE IS ANY CHANCE A TURTLE NESTED' at the site you want to prep to avoid interrupting hatchlings that intend to overwinter come late fall or hatchlings that will be exiting the nest in spring, you may need to hold off plans to prep the site temporarily. Site preparation under both circumstances requires special considerations and patience.
NEST SITE PREP
When considering designating an area on your property for turtles to nest, this will typically involve:
(1) Introducing a 'NEW' site for turtles to nest.
(2) Improving an 'EXISTING' site, turtles have been interested.
The end goal for each is the same; however, the prep work for each is slightly different. There are essential factors to consider before either undertaking, such as; the possibility of hatchlings in the ground, timing, and best location criteria.
(1) New Site (With No Nesting History)
If the area you have determined to be a good site for nesting turtles is one you have chosen because it meets suitable location criteria, late fall or early spring is the best time to prepare this site.
Remember that you have chosen the location, not the turtles, and because of this, there is no guarantee that turtles will use the nesting site you created. To give your site the best possible chance of succeeding, choose a location that meets the following criteria:
• Close to a wetland, marsh, lake, etc., or within 50 meters of the shoreline.
• Located in the open south, southwest facing to receive sun most of the day.
• Sites visible from the water may attract a turtle's interest.
• Turtles require a substrate that is not too wet or too dry. Best suited are loose, moist, well-drained substrates (sand/gravel) with minimal vegetation cover. This will make digging easier and promote good air circulation.
Other features to consider
To avoid flooding concerns site with good drainage. To help prevent predation, avoid open spaces predators may use, such as shorelines, paths, ATV trails, or roads. Think about the hatchlings. Ground vegetation nearby could serve as a protective covering when hatchlings exit the nest and head to the water.
Nesting Site Prep: The dimensions of a new nesting site will vary for each landowner based on how much space and funds are available for this undertaking and how much turtle activity the nesting site will accommodate. A 10' x 10' area or 8' x 12' or bigger should be ample for a property owner. If it needs to be smaller, so be it. Any space allotted to the turtles for nesting is helpful. Begin prepping the nesting site by digging out or scrapping off the top 8" to 10" inches of vegetation and substrate using shovels or a backhoe. After completing, lay down landscape fabric over the area. Mix sand and gravel in a ratio of 3:2. Shovel or pour it onto the nesting site. An ideal combination will be free of big rocks and and mimic the substrate found on road shoulders. Spread the mixture evenly across the entire nesting site. Note: A wheelbarrow is optional but is handy.
(2) Existing Site (With Some Nesting History)
Turtles need substrate so that they can easily dig a nest. If you have observed turtles taking an interest in an area on your property and one or more possibly started to dig in several locations but abandoned the site, this may have been because the substrate is too hard and compact. The hot, dry summers take their toll. The soil becomes more compact and needs more moisture to dig. Other times the opposite applies, and the ground contains too much water. Turtles are very particular about the substrate they nest in.
Suppose the site you want to improve is where the substrate is manageable, and turtles took an interest in the last turtle season. In that case, there is always a chance of a turtle or turtles nesting during the day or night when undetected, especially if a Painted turtle, Map turtle, or Blanding's Turtle. They clean up their nest sites so well that it would be difficult to know if a turtle nested there unless observed nesting.
Should that have been the case and it rained, this would have wiped away the telltale signs of a nest. This scenario poses the possibility of turtles overwintering, which means hatchlings emerging from April to early June. To avoid any risks to hatchlings possibly in the ground, your plans to create a nesting site would need to be temporarily put on hold.
TURTLES IN THE GROUND (Spring/Fall)
In Ontario, citizens cannot dig up or move nests, incubate eggs, or disturb turtle nests and hatchlings. These activities are 'illegal' and subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment under the Ontario Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act. In addition to this, turtles, eggs, and habitats are protected under the Provincial Endangered Species Act and Federal Species at Risk Act.
As the cooler fall temperatures set in, some turtle hatchlings spend their first winter in their nest or below the nest chamber, a few inches below the frost line. This survival strategy is known as 'overwintering.' It is used to escape limited food supplies, possible predators, cold temperatures, and harsh winter conditions. This behavior is more typical of painted and map turtles, but other turtle hatchling species will resort to this survival tactic. The success rate in these cases will vary due to the harsh winter and some turtle species needing to be more resilient under such conditions.
Should there be any chance of hatchlings in the ground at the site you are looking to make improvements to, contact your district Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) office to inquiry if you are allowed to cautiously hand till the substrate before nesting season to ensure no hatchlings are present so you can get to work preparing your nesting site? Note: April to early June is when overwintering hatchlings emerge, if any.
Suppose the MNRF does not authorize checking for overwintering hatchlings. We recommend fencing around the intended nesting site with openings big enough for hatchlings to exit, so other turtles cannot gain excess. This way, if any hatchlings are present, they can freely leave the site, kept free of new nests, and after a nesting season during the summer or fall for the following nesting season.
Nesting Site Prep: If authorization is received from the MNRF, the space allotted to a nesting site can be gridded off and carefully checked for overwintering hatchlings. At the same time, vegetation should be removed by hand or with a rake. Some organic matter left is okay, but the more organic matter present, the more plant growth there will be. Once the vegetation is thinned out or removed, a rotor tiller, garden claw, and shovels may help to prepare the site.
If you are trying to discourage turtles from using a particular site they have been nesting,that is perhaps in harms way or subject to flooding, erosion, etc., by creating an alternative nesting site between it and the water this strategy may catch a female turtles attention while on route to the site used previously..
If you have questions about the soil compositions please get in touch to discuss soil mixtures, soil transplants, upgrading existing soil, etc. 647-606-9537.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
Turtles have an infinity for the location they nest. Often it is where the Turtle was born, meaning their mother nested there, and in all likeliness, her mother nested there, and so on. It is impossible to trace the lineage, but a location picked for nesting may stretch back decades or longer. If turtles bypass the site selected or check it out and do not nest there, do not get disheartened. Sometimes it can take a season or two for turtles to gravitate to a new nesting site, or if rejected, the site can be reached at the end of turtle season and worked on it help entice turtles to nest the following season.
Another point is that predation can initially be a concern with new and improved sites because the substrate is fresh and loose. The spikes anchoring nest protectors may not bite into the ground as securely, making the nest vulnerable to predators.
PREDATION AND DETERRENTS
After a turtle has nested, a strong scent can linger for two to three weeks. Turtle nests are most vulnerable to predation during the first 10 to 21 days; many are predated within 24 hours of when the Turtle nested. Rain helps dissipate the scent, which is why a rainy nesting season is a good thing.
If a predator is interested in a protected nest, it is easy enough for them to dig down and under the nest protector, even if securely anchored in place, should they be inclined to do so. Some deterrents can be implemented to help dissuade predators, but the success rate varies. We have tried various products available to purchase for keeping predators away, such as Critter Ritter, and tested other methods, such as cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, and urine, but have not found them helpful. Occasionally you get lucky, but that is often all it comes down to. The following are the deterrent practices we have had the most success with. Please keep in mind there this no guarantee with any method. As disappointing as it is, please remember that predated nests are not lost; they sustain other species, being one of the roles that turtle eggs serve. Nature has its checks and balances. A nest gone to waste is destroyed intentionally or unknowingly by human activities.
If there is no rain on the day the Turtle nests, you should use a watering can with a sprinkler head and 'LIGHTLY' water around the nest protector at a reasonable distance if you observe the Turtle's path to leave the site water, that also. PLEASE NOTE that it is imperative NOT to overwater the area closest to the nest. Think light simulated rain; it is essential to remember that a turtle nest is a living, breathing entity, and if overwatered, the eggs could drown. Using a watering can with a sprinkler head is the best to get an even distribution of water. Do not chuck a bucket of water over the site; you risk destroying the nest and giving way to erosion. If there is no rain in the forecast for the next few days, we recommend 'LIGHTLY' watering the site again daily in the morning or evening.
If there are signs that predators are taking an interest in the nest site (e.g., digging), putting large, heavy rocks around the outside perimeter of the nest protector may help to discourage predators and could be enough to get the nest, past predators. Remove the rocks when the predators appear to have moved on or after 21 days. Note: If you are in an area with high predators, put heavy rocks around the nest protector, as mentioned.
Should water and/or rocks be enough to dissuade predators and there are signs that predators are taking an interest in the nest site, use undiluted white vinegar in a spray mist bottle to mist around the nest protector and surrounding area. We consulted a soil expert about using vinegar in this manner and, from this, learned that misting the ground with vinegar is not enough to alter the pH of the soil or penetrate the soil and cause damage. If raining, you will not need to use vinegar, and better not to as the rain will drive the vinegar into the ground. However, we were told that it was not enough to cause concern. Note: If the area surrounding the nesting site is grass, avoid spraying with vinegar, which may cause the grass to discolor.
If you have any questions on this subject or other turtle-related topics, please do not hesitate to phone or text Think Turtle at 647-606-9537.
Painted Turtle nesting.