May 12th, 2007


Birds and Turtles

I was riding my tricycle to work Thursday when I saw a crow gliding through a dense woodlot. At least I thought it was a crow, but it followed an unusual flight path ending on the side of a mature tree. As I pedaled closer, I took a careful look. There were distinctive black and white bands on the side of the bird's head and neck, a long bill, and a distinctive perch. A woodpecker! A Pileated woodpecker!? I thought Pileated woodpeckers were limited to old forests in the far north! I had recognized the woodpecker because a birding newsletter left on the break room table had a featured article about Pileated woodpeckers. When I got into work I checked it out. Sure enough, Pileated woodpeckers had been extirpated from Southern Michigan after the great logging boom of the late 1800's. But the forests have come back and so have the woodpeckers. Now all of the counties in the Western Lower Peninsula have breeding populations. The great reforestation efforts begun in the depression era of the 1930's are paying off.

After seeing the Pileated Woodpecker, I began thinking about the Nature Day Camp days of my youth. The contrast of my pedaling speed with bird flight left me with the thought of turtles and turtle races. At the Kalamazoo Nature Center Day Camp there was a herd of turtles. Each turtle had an individual hand painted white number on its shell. I suppose this was so when all the turtles took showers they could find the proper shell. When turtle race day came each day camper or group of day campers selected a numbered turtle for a champion. There were several species of turtles including box turtles, wood turtles, spotted turtles, painted turtles, and map turtles. Now the box turtle is the turtle's turtle. It not only can pull into its shell, but it closes the door behind –and it's not afraid to do it. There was one large wood turtle that was the guaranteed winner. It could, and did, really move.

All turtles were loaded into a bushel basket that was held upside down in the middle of a large circle. The basket was lifted, the counselor up righted various inverted turtles, and the race was on. Confused turtles were everywhere. Oh, the herpetology! Excited children cheered on their champions as they approached the finish line of the circle, promptly scaring them toward the opposite side of the ring. An occasional box turtle would summon the courage to stick out his head and legs and actually start walking. After the wood turtle won, the real question was who would take 2nd and 3rd?
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