Wildlife biologist Christian Engelstoft uses a radio receiver to locate a radio-tagged turtle at the Capital City Allotment Gardens in Saanich. The turtle somehow cross the Pat Bay Highway about two weeks ago.

A turtle crosses the road

A radio-tagged Western painted turtle winds up in an unexpected place as researchers work to figure out how to save the endangered species

With an H-shaped antenna held aloft over his head, Christian Engelstoft strides quickly between garden rows, following a telltale electronic chirp. Somewhere nearby there is a Western painted turtle.

This is no ordinary turtle. The old matriarch did what most people wouldn’t dare – it boldly crossed the Pat Bay Highway, from Swan Lake to the Capital City Allotment Gardens. Engelstoft knows this due to the transmitter attached to her shell.

The turtle is one of four radio-tagged at Swan Lake for an ongoing study that ultimately aims to help preserve the Western painted turtle, a native to Vancouver Island but deemed a species at risk.

“We track them regularly at the lake. We know where they hibernate, where they go, how they use the lake during the summer and fall,” says Engelstoft, a wildlife biologist working with the Habitat Acquisition Trust and the federal Habitat Stewardship Program.

“This year one decided to cross the highway to lay eggs in the Allotment Gardens. One of our objectives was to see if they would cross the highway. Now we know for sure they do.”

After a few minutes of bushwhacking along Swan creek, which cuts through the community garden land, the transmitter signal allows us to zero in on her location. Soon the lunch-plate sized female emerges from the water and crawls up the creek bank to bask in the sun, with the thumb-sized transmitter and long antenna clearly visible on her shell.

The turtle is old, perhaps a couple decades or more due to its size, although its impossible to be precise just from sight. About two weeks ago, its miraculous journey likely took it either under the highway through a long culvert, or over the top, where it braved the roadway. Given that the highway isn’t littered with turtle carcasses, such migrations are considered rare.

“Turtles don’t like long dark tunnels. It’s more likely it went over the top,” Engelstoft says. “It’s a busy four-lane road. Not a good place to cross.”

But with rich soft soils, the community gardens are an attractive place for turtles to lay eggs, although fraught with risk due to unwitting gardeners digging and planting veggies.

Adult females like this one are important for the species’ overall population dynamics. Due to lengthy breeding cycles and low survival rates, biologists calculate that if 50 females are killed in three years, the population will be extinct in 50 years.

“It takes a long time for them to reproduce at a successful rate,” Engelstoft says.

With limited wetland habitat in Greater Victoria and a major highway next to Swan Lake, Engelstoft admits boosting Western painted turtle numbers will be a tough, long-term effort. He suggested barriers might be needed to keep turtles off the highway and perhaps a nesting bed at the Allotment Gardens for breeding.

“The turtle population in Swan Lake isn’t particularly big, about 20 animals,” he said. “Most are known to us. There’s probably no more than 25 in Swan Lake, but that’s just a guess.”

Todd Carnahan, the land-care co-ordinator with HAT, is working with Capital Region homeowners to keep an eye out for Western painted turtles, among other at-risk species, such as the blue-gray taildropper slug and the sharp-tailed snake.

Reports from homeowners and citizens are the best way for researchers to get an estimate of where turtles are migrating and nesting, he said.

“The best way the public can help is to call or email that they’ve seen a turtle,” he said. “Getting public reports is better that sticking telemetry devices on turtles.

“Ultimately it will pay off for the entire population.”

To report a turtle sighting, email Carnahan at todd@hat.bc.ca or call 250-995-2428. See hat.bc.ca for more.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com.

 

 

Just Posted

Watchdog group says Saanich council needs a ‘reality check’ about taxes

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria warns of eroding housing affordability in Saanich

Time-lapse video shows weekend work on McKenzie Interchange project

Construction crews place concrete underpass bridge beams

‘Best in the country’: Formerly homeless man praises Victoria’s outreach services

Jay W. was living on the streets of downtown Victoria in 2018

Years of ‘horrific, violent accidents’ at Thetis Lake prompt plea to public

View Royal fire chief asks for an end to alcohol consumption at busy park

City of Victoria plans workshop to determine fate of Sir John A. Macdonald statue

Conversations will happen as part of a reconciliation dialogue series in May 2020

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Police ask for help locating missing men last seen in South Surrey

Jeep that Richard Scurr and Ryan Provencher were in has been located unoccupied in Logan Lake: RCMP

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Sexual assaults, extortion on the rise even as crime rates stay low: Stats Canada

Rates of police-reported sexual assault rose for the fourth year in a row

Vancouver Island teens missing after vehicle found ablaze near Dease Lake, BC

RCMP say a body discovered nearby not one of the missing teens

Most Read