Sunday, July 12, 2009

Just Pretend I Am Not Here

You can be busy going about your life while an unexpected miracle is taking place in the mud at your very feet. This was one of those miracles that has been happening for centuries before you were born and which make you feel insignificant in the grand scheme of earth's plan. I went out in the early morning to pick some herbs for a sauce I would be making later in the afternoon. My husband's basil in the vegetable garden is rich and full, but my basil in the small herb bed near the front door is stunted and struggling. As I went to check its growth, I found that it will struggle more as one of our box turtles was excavating just at the base of one set of rather crowded basil plants.

The turtle had moved the mulch to the sides and was using the back clawed feet to scoop balls of earth through the narrow neck of the excavation. She alternated her legs and her little rear end would sashay as if she was doing a dance. The excavation might have resembled the inside of an underground jar with a narrow neck.

I watched for a while as it continued to dig in the clay that I had tried to amend for an herb garden. The turtle would tuck her head if I moved too suddenly and was well-aware aware that I was standing only a few feet away. Realizing that I should give her some privacy, I decided to water my container plants instead.

I left her to her devices and returned two hours later to find her already covering the hole. I had almost missed the whole show. I was able to photograph one last egg (the blurry white orb seen in the photo above) just before it disappeared beneath the mulch that she carefully pulled over the top. When she left her make-shift nursery it was almost impossible to tell that the earth had been disturbed.

The basil will be at the end of its growth season at the 75 to 90 days time frame that the turtle eggs need to hatch. I have marked my calendar, but if land turtles are like sea turtles, the hatching can take place in the dark of night and I will only be left with shells.


Sarah Lulu said...

Ohh that is so exciting!

Barry said...

You are so lucky to have seen that. What an experience.

Friko said...

Never mind about the basil, although it is a shame. If the worst comes to the worst, buy some. I hope you will be lucky and can watch the eggs hatch (do turtles hatch?). Clever people here mount cameras with night vision (again a ? - night vision?) near such wonderful sites to capture nature's miracles. You appear to live in a wildlife site of rare riches.

sweetmango said...

I love that little turtle :)
What a very cool thing to have seen!!

Angie said...

What a wonderful thing to have witnessed, Tabor!! I would sacrifice my basil to the box turtles if they wanted to lay eggs in my patch. :)

Annie in Austin said...

You had good luck at catching the egg laying - hope you again have good luck and catch them hatching, Tabor! Where do you think the baby turtles will go?

We saw sea turtles parade to the ocean in the dark a few years ago in North Carolina. A group of volunteers monitors the nests along the shore and uses lights to guide the hatchlings to the water so nearby commercial lighting can't fool them into going the wrong way. The experience was very emotional.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Hilary said...

How cool! What a lovely experience you were gifted with. Have you considered placing a cage of sorts over the area to protect it from predators like raccoons?

Tabor said...

Annie, I used to work with sea turtles. Hillary...that is a good idea and I think I will put a little chicken wire around the spot.

Celia said...

What an extraordinary experience. How clever in the disguising the nest. Hope you get to catch them emerging.

Bob said...

Some 26 years ago I lived and gardened in Oconee County, S.C., and was continually perturbed that summer over the fact that, just a day before each of my cantaloupe melons reached what I considered a perfect state of ripeness, some wild creature took several large bites out of it.

This went on and on until I decided to rise at 5 a.m. before the dawn, and waited in hiding in some bushes to catch the miscreant.

About 20 minutes later a silent and small herd of about five box turtles converged from all directions on the melon patch.

I found it's pretty hard to stay mad at a turtle, especially a box turtle.

Patricia said...

If you can find the location of the nest, you may want to protect it. The best method I know, is to take an old animal cage or bird cage (with the bottom part removed) tent spikes, and rocks. You then place the cage over the site,, so that the dig is well within, and spike down four sides. I then stack rocks around the edges, to discourage predator digging. I place one final rock on top, off to the side to avoid blocking the sun. By the time,I am done it is quite a fortress.

Toward the end of the incubation period, I will remove the rocks, to allow the hatchlings free access through the bars. If that is not possible, you can then remove the cage altogether, otherwise the little ones could get trapped without access to cover or water. One other option would be to wait until they hatch (usually in rainy days in September). Gather them, and, place them under leaves that lie under low shrubs. They will hunker down and begin their lives in safe cover.

Although, it may be tempting, you should never keep a hatchling from the wild.