Turtles On The March

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.

Striped Jaw was seen last year in the tomato patch, munching on the fallen fruits.

Our Lady of Spots has been identified in this portrait taken near the shed, from a post published this spring about two turtles seen at the same time.

She was easily differentiated from this fellow. Let’s call him Golden Head.

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.


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16 Responses to Turtles On The March

  1. sequoiagardens says:


  2. I love turtles, I wish I had them in my garden but haven’t seen any yet. It’s kinda like after awhile you’ll have your favorite turtle. I once had my favorite squirrel. We were very close, he befriended me with his antics and just by always showing up about the same time everyday and I befriended him by ordering 30 lbs. of cracked pecans every month that he and the other critters in the neighborhood would scarf down. Here is a little story of my favorite squirrel if you’d care to look at it.


    I named my favorite squirrel Sidney Poitier for obvious reasons, well obvious if you read the little story…:-)

    Thanks Paul. I will check out your squirrel post soon. I love the turtles, can’t really say the same for the many squirrels, here. They dig up my containers and bulbs in the fall and spring, hiding and then looking for the black walnuts and chestnuts from the nearby trees.

  3. Carol says:

    I’m still laughing about the part where you pretended to take pictures of flowers and stuff nearby so the turtle would come out of her shell. Anyway, I like that you are naming the turtles. I think one of them ought to be Duke of Dawdle

    Thanks Carol. It was a tricky ruse, and worked! That is a good name, it will be kept for consideration as more turtles are identified in the census.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What fun. Don’t you wish you could put one of those gps gizmos on one of your turtles to see where it goes like they do birds? I wonder where your turtles hibernate for winter. Where they lay their eggs. What a facinating study you have going. This summer at the park where we take Luna for walks we saw the smallest box turtle I have ever seen. Of course it was one of those torrid days and I didn’t bring my camera along so no picture. Where I used to live I had box turtles that strolled through my garden. It was always delightful to see them. Lucky you.

    Thanks Lisa. I do wonder where they live in winter and where the nursery for the babies might be. I love seeing all of them, but the time the little one was spotted was especially sweet. We are lucky to have them.

  5. gailae says:

    Frances, Box Turtles are the coolest critters. I’ve noticed them at the local park and even stopped the car to move them out of the street~(Always wearing gloves and yes gloves are in the car!) Love their names and glad to know that they find fairegarden as magical as we all do. xxoogail PS I sure hope I have them in my garden.

    They certainly are, dear Gail. Good of you to move them out of the street, but I often think they go right back to where they were heading after being moved by well meaning humans. They are determined and are on a mission. I hope you have some, as well.

  6. Layanee says:

    I looked for one this morning on the walkabout but came up empty. Then, this post which fulfilled the turtle need. I know they are out there but they are hiding.

    They do hide, Layanee. I have been lucky to spot them these few times, but like you, I know they are out there. That is enough.

  7. And I get excited when I see a bunny in the backyard – how wonderful to have so much nature right outside your door. And terrific photography capturing them on their journeys.

    Thanks Heather. Bunnies are cute, too, but mostly too fast to be able to run into the house for the camera and expect them to still be there. We are a National Wildlife Habitat, seeing the turtles makes it all wothwhile, too.

  8. I have several turtles, but I’ve never taken time to look at them as closely as you do. I’m impressed Faire. You really know your wildlife.~~Dee

    Thanks Dee. Before blogging about the turtles, I knew studied the turtles that closely, the shells look so similar to my poor eyesight. Taking photos and then looking at the markings, their personalities have emerged. I am glad.

  9. Greggo says:

    When I was a child living in central Wyoming, we would visit grandma in norther Kansas. It seems every visit we would see box turtles along the highway scurrying to get out of the way of cars. One year we took one home and put him/her in the backyard thinking I suppose he would be around a year later. I do not suppose he survived the harsh Wyoming winter. However, I’ve always been amused by them. I actually saw one moving to cross the highway two days ago, that brought back kind memories. Happy turtleling!

    Hi Greggo, thanks for sharing your turtle tale. I would think a turtle of northern Kansas would be able to survive a winter in Wyoming, if it could find the right place to hunker down. That turtle might have been around, but was in hiding. They are shy creatures, one reason I am so tickled whenever I see one in the garden.

  10. Elizabeth McLeod says:

    I loved that turtle and your whole story. For now, we are happy with the birds of the west who are coming to our northwest garden, for sunflower seeds!

    Enjoy the tranquility and happiness of any garden you are in. May living things continue to make you smile and enjoy the wonder of nature.

    Thanks, Elizabeth. Birds enjoying your garden, or wildlife of any kind taking refuge in what we have to offer is a wonder in itself. Thank goodness for gardens.

  11. I loved box turtles as a kid and miss seeing them around here. We have the Red Ear here, and I see snapping turtles at the farm. They are not as friendly as the Box turtle. It is kinda fun to think about where they go and how far. I am always amazed how quickly they disappear too. It is not like they move very fast either.

    Thanks for visiting, Donna. I remember snapping turtles growing up in Oklahoma, one bit me when I tried to feed it some lettuce! Even though they do not move fast, they can disappear when your back is turned. I from experience.

  12. CurtissAnn says:

    You’ve put a smile on my face. I am reminded of the turtles we had when we lived in Oklahoma. Oh, what fun to watch them! Except I sure was annoyed when they took bites out of my canteloupe. We have not seen any turtles around our place here in LA–Lower Alabama. 🙂 I find that curious. Perhaps I shall research.

    Hi CurtissAnn, thanks for stopping by and sharing your turtle memories. The turtles hide and do try to stay out of sight. Maybe your research will lead you to find some. Good luck!

  13. Julie Reasor Fischer The Cottage Gardener says:

    I live in the woods in Yorkville, Illinois. I too love turtles. I look down into the woods from my deck to a beautiful natural stream running through my property. There were no birds, squirrels, chipmonks, frogs, toads, or turtles in sight when we first set foot on the property. The kids down the road used this area for playing paintball and riding their 4 wheelers through the under brush. I quietly cleared one side of the stream to plant my wildflowers and perennials as the house was being built. Slowly throughout the time the house went up, among the construction, Mother Nature’s little ones began to come back to the stream. I have so many different birds, toads, frogs, squirrels, but no turtles. I love the turtles, and maybe one day, they will find this peaceful organic garden and realize they are safe once more. Enjoy your turtles. They are enjoying your garden. Julie Reasor Fischer, The Cottage Gardener.

    Hi Julie, thanks for sharing here. That is a true story of nature returning once gardening helps the land become what it was meant to be. May your garden be graced by the sweet turtles, to join the other creatures.

  14. Sunita says:

    Hi Frances. We used to see turtles in my garden during the rainy season but they would hide during the other seasons. Its been a long time since we saw them. I wonder where they disappeared?
    That sunburst design on the Lady of Spots is so pretty!

    Hi Sunita, thanks for visiting. Maybe your turtles are still there, but hiding. It seems so dry and hot here the last few summers, but the turtles are still around. It is a celebratory event when one is seen and I usually will blog about it. They are all very good looking in my book!

  15. Turtles are fascinating and it is wonderful that you are able to go to your archives to ID and now log their presence in your garden.

    We got a bit of rain this morning after that glorious bright moon last night! Cooler temps. Our meteorologist says that he thinks the unbearable hot days are done for this year… low 90s… no more triple digits.

    Thanks Freda. It was worth the time it took to search out the other photos and study them. I like to know who lives in my garden. Rain, cooler, it sounds wonderful!

  16. Lola says:

    Love these creatures. They help in the garden. The shell coloration’s are unusual. I had one several yrs ago. It followed the fence. I keep looking to see if there is another.

    I am glad you have had turtles in your garden. They make it more special.

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