[pullquote]”On this walk he counted the flattened carcasses of 5 painted turtles, 1 snapper, 6 frogs, 2 muskrats, 2 squirrels, 1 chipmunk, 1 mink, 1 beaver, and 1 woodchuck for a total of 20 deaths on the narrow shoulders devoid of vegetation.”[/pullquote] Female turtles have been spotted en route to nest sites this late spring and early summer. We find their battered corpses on and along our dangerous roads. Two weeks ago on a hot sunny afternoon the old Closeteer happened upon three active painted turtles a couple hundred feet apart on the soft shoulders of the Essex Rail Way between Howe Manning School and Essex Street in Middleton. They paid no attention to him while continuing to dig holes to deposit their eggs as their ancestors have done for millions of years. The Closeteer wondered if their forbearers had also ignored the trains rumbling by from 1849 to 1926.
Last week while roaming around town he found a half dozen turtles recently killed. This reminded him of a survey he had done in mid June, 2008. Last Sunday morning he repeated that non-scientific study along busy highway, State Route 114, in western Middleton. He hiked the one and one half miles of road both sides as before from Emerson Brook crossing to the Rockaway Road turnoff near the North Andover line looking for victims. Here is his tally: 5 turtles (2 snappers, 2 painted,1 1 stink pot), 4 frogs (2 bull, 2 green), 2 snakes (1 northern water and another badly damaged and unidentifiable), 1 cowbird, and 1 dragonfly for a total of 13. Below is his report and thoughts from nine years ago after checking the same area.
DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY (June 2008)
Last week the old Closeteer took a macabre mid-day hike up busy North Main Street (Route 114) in Middleton, from Emerson Brook to the North Andover line and back on opposite sides. He had just read articles about June turtle movements in the Tri-Town Transcript and a Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife newsletter. For years he had noticed road kills, especially turtles in this stretch of highway, much of which is flanked by wetlands. On this walk he counted the flattened carcasses of 5 painted turtles, 1 snapper, 6 frogs, 2 muskrats, 2 squirrels, 1 chipmunk, 1 mink, 1 beaver, and 1 woodchuck for a total of 20 deaths on the narrow shoulders devoid of vegetation.
He made no attempt to search beyond in the weedy lower shoulders for casualties. He wondered how many had been wounded, been pressed into uncountable stains in the asphalt, been dragged off by scavengers, or were roaming disoriented in the woods suffering PRCS (post road crossing syndrome). In three weeks, after the height of turtle egg-laying, he plans to repeat this three mile walk.
Our paved roads, which allow for high speeds, have been here less than one century. Turtles have been on Earth two million centuries. Roads fragment the land in unnaturally straight lines that are barriers for animals following their ancient comings and goings. In contrast fish encounter dams and forbidding small-dark culverts. For amphibians the uplands and wetlands are separated. Female turtles seeking suitable soil nesting sites are particularly vulnerable; their speed is one-one hundredth those of shell crushing tires. At night the sudden onslaught of light freezes the movements of mammals. We, in the name of progress, have laid down a deadly grid upon the land.
Lucky are the turtles that live near Butch Cameron’s secluded sunny garden and sandy lawn off Mill Street by the Ipswich River. He counted nine turtles, seven painted and two snappers, laying eggs there this season. Mary Jane Morrin2 stumbled upon a “frying pan size” snapper doing the same in her garden. “Since she looked about as happy as any woman in labor, I quickly went away.” Her guest must have come up from nearby Boston Brook across busy Essex Street.
The old Closeteer told us that the refrain of an old country song by Dorsey Dixon kept running through his mind on that grim hike, which goes something like, “I heard the crash on the highway but I didn’t hear nobody pray.”
1 Painted turtles lay 6 or so oval eggs on average in 4” deep holes May-July. Young hatch in late summer or overwinter until the next spring. Snapping turtles lay on average 20 to 30 spherical eggs slightly smaller than ping-pong late spring-early summer. The newly hatched turtles are very vulnerable but not nearly so as freshly lain eggs. Predators such as skunks and raccoons find most nests each year.
2 Mary Jane Morrin was one of Middleton’s most active citizens during the 1980s – 2010. Selectman, Board of Health, League of Woman Voters . . . the list goes on. She is now happily living up near Canada in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom.” We miss her.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Mar||April||May||June|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||6.65||4.53||4.06||3.95|
|2017 Central Watershed Actual||2.86||6.53||4.87||6.1**as of June 23|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 23, 2017 Normal . . . 22 CFS Current Rate . . . 49.8 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for June..Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center. THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584