It begins under cover of the sunless sky, under the stars and moon of the pre-dawn morning. I am up then, fortified with coffee, wasting time surfing the internet until it is light enough to be able to survey the garden without falling down the steep hillside with a blinded by darkness misstep. Checking the ambient temperature just the other side of the glass sliders in the addition, on the lower deck, as is the habit while waiting for the coffee, it feels cooler outside than inside the house, drawing me out into the stillness. Taking deep cleansing breaths, my eyes become adjusted to the lack of light. The mature grey male cat, Kitty, rubs reassuringly against my bare leg, for my silky, summer pajama bottoms are cropped. Steps are taken on the gravel paths around the buildings, the most level areas of the property.
The pathway is followed up the gentle incline that goes under the arbor and back to the far southeast corner, the realm of the dear departed red maple tree Ferngully. Wildflowers and shade lovers dwell back here, planted when the large tree offered welcome respite from the burning summer sun, the only such place in the Fairegarden. A rustling is heard amongst the Christmas Ferns and the Epimedium that has spread nicely, even after the massive tree had to be cut down after its death, as its replacement and the other young trees have grown to provide a mere wisp of the shade that once reigned here in the sacred soil created by decades of leaf litter. I know what is making that noise and carefully run to the house for the camera, knowing full well that it is too dark to get any kind of decent image. Click and flash. There, hidden under the chartreuse foliage, do you see it?
Fumbling with the camera settings in the darkness, The number of clicks were improperly counted and the flash went off again, startling our early morning traveler. It is a male, the red eyes are the unmistakeable sign. He is bold, not pulling inside his shell but rather he takes off to continue his journey, this time with more speed since there is this annoying human lighting up the wooded haven of wildlife.
Not simply annoying but intrusive beyond good southern manners, the camera is set on its mini tripod right in front of him, blocking his passage, but this time with the flash turned off. He looks right at it, unafraid, and goes around this blockade.
He is moving with speed now, on the leftover black rubber pond liner that has been cut to fit the paths to stifle the weed growth. His nails can grab and push off in the soft material, and he wastes no time dawdling.
As always, he is not picked up or touched in any way, but allowed to proceed to his destination. It is lighter now, and though cooler than has been of late, the day will heat up quickly once the sun rises. He will want to seek the cool shelter offered under the brush pile and shrubbery that lines the back property line. We have never seen an Eastern Box Turtle sunbathing.
It had been exactly a week earlier, slightly closer to the dawn of day, that another turtle had been spotted traversing the gravel path that links the front gardens to the back. I nearly stepped on this one, possibly a female by the look in her eye. She was not nearly as foolhardy as Striped Jaw, for she pulled into her shell immediately when she heard my footsteps crunching the stone as I returned after a sprint to the house to retrieve the camera after noticing her moving along.
After I backed off and pretended to be taking photos of the surrounding flowers, she extended her neck and legs and made for the nearest cover, the garage side bed. Keeping some distance and zooming a little, the Canon Powershot A720 IS has limited zooming capabilities, She was captured as she found safety in the sedum foliage.
A few days later, this time in the bright, white heat of midafternoon, again a rustling was noticed in the yellow/white garden where the camera was clicking at the bees and butterflies that were feasting on the now blooming Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. Moving about under the daylily foliage was the same lady turtle, identified by the series of spots on her head. She had to have taken the long way around, for it is doubtful that she could have scaled the large old concrete steps that would have made the distance much shorter from the shed bed. It is often wondered how far the turtles travel in this garden. Do they leave the property? What are they searching for, and why?
Since spying these two welcome guests, the archives have been researched to help identify the turtles that have been photographed here over the years. We have always had them, the turtles, but had not recorded the sightings until the blogging began in 2007. Looking at the past posts, identification was made of the two most recent visitors.
A much smaller and assumed younger turtle was seen last September. The eye color does not seem red, she shall henceforth be referred to as Princess Clear Face, for no markings were visible on her pretty pate.
There were other photos in the archives, but they were not able to be used for identification purposes, taken from the other side of the head, in some. From now on, the effort will be made for adequate mug shots, er portraits of the face markings and coloration for comparison. It is said that the shell markings are like fingerprints for these turtles, each one different, but the heads are easier for me to discern the visible differences. A page has been created with photos and the turtle posts written for anyone interested in the Fairegarden Eastern Box Turtle Census, listed on the sidebar and clickable from here.
The family album will be updated as time and happenstance allows. And the camera will always come out in the early morning discovery session, just in case a turtle, or turtles are found to be marching along to their own tune.