Thu. Feb 29th, 2024
Oil painting of a painted turtle swimming in dark water beside two lily pads

Today is dedicated to telling the story of Painted Turtle #353: “Martyn of the Madawaska” (mostly true, with some creative freedom on the author’s part).

Not particularly unusual for a turtle but, like most, it has an interesting story that begs to be told.

Part 1: The beginning

The year was 1984. It had been almost a century since the first trains rattled past Wolf Howl Pond (pictured below) and a few decades since the last railroad ties were removed.

Oil painting of a swamp with a forest in the background.Art: Peter Mills

Now, the Wolf Howl Pond embankment was a popular hiking trail in Algonquin Provincial Park, famous for its wildlife viewing and one of many turtle research sites in the park.

But hikers weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the sandy slope. The dog days of summer had passed.

As the weather began to cool, the turtle eggs were hatching. “Martyn,” the Midland Painted Turtle, later known as #353 to turtle researchers, was picking at her egg and waiting in her underground nest until the opportune time…

Part 2: The early years

It is no small feat for a newborn turtle to survive beyond its first year (or second or third!). It was now 2002, a full 18 years since Martyn was born.

She had defied the odds, overcoming a less than 1% chance of surviving from the egg to the two-decade mark.

painted turtlePhoto: Patrick Moldowan

Martyn now carried the identification code #353 on his shell, a mark he will carry throughout his life, thanks to those pesky turtle researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station.

During his youth, he became restless and moved from his native body of water (Wolf Howl Pond) to West Rose Lake, a few hundred yards to the east (equally picturesque, replete with water lilies and abundant wildlife), but his new home only It would serve for a while. more time.

Martyn remained in West Rose Lake until at least 2008, watching the seasons go by. She was a turtle of great ambition. After all, there were many more wetlands to explore. Water lilies are always greener on the other side, right?

Oil painting of Source Lake in OntarioArt: Peter Mills

Martyn’s journey continued in a (southeast) direction, bound for “big water”. There he was. He had finally arrived at Source Lake (illustrated above)

Part 3: big water

It was in the big waters of Source Lake that turtle researchers from the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station finally lost track of Martyn, which was just as well for him. He wasted no time exploring everything the open lake had to offer.

painted turtlePhoto: Patrick Moldowan

Martyn bobbed along the surface, keeping a careful distance from the canoeists, in case those researchers showed up again for their annual measurements and weighings.

Those motorized boats were also something to be careful of: they were awfully loud! Beneath the surface he found fish and frogs much larger than he had ever seen in his former haunts.

For all that Source Lake promised, there was one thing that was conspicuous by its absence: there were far fewer of its own kind.

By comparison, Wolf Howl Pond and West Rose Lake were almost teeming with painted turtles. It wasn’t as homely, lacking the underwater jungle of lily pads and the sunlit basking platforms formed by fallen lakeside trees. This place had a very different feel. It wasn’t long before Martyn felt a tug in the water, literally and figuratively.

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Oil painting of a river, with rapids, close upArt: Peter Mills

He had found the Source Lake drainage.

Into the white waters of the Madawaska River? Will you dare to test the water? What was downriver? There was only one way to find out…

Part 4: Towards the highlands

A partial trip down the turbulent Madawaska River wasn’t exactly what “Martyn of the Madawaska” had in mind.

As it turned out, it was a calm water turtle.

painted turtlePhoto: Patrick Moldowan

Too determined (or was he too stubborn?) to turn back, the rest of Martyn’s journey down the river would have to be by land. In the water I was in his element. Once submerged, its elegant shell, complemented by generously webbed toes, cuts through the water delicately.

On land, that same shell, a modification and fusion of the ribs, was simply cumbersome. Well, at least the shell served as a ready-made security blanket against most predators.

Martyn plodded along the riverbank, slowly and steadily. Navigating the rotting horizontal trunks of many ancient maples turned the forest into an obstacle course. Supporting that heavy shell was also very hard work, so Martyn rested frequently and took these opportunities to look around him.

Despite an existence so closely linked to an underwater world, his vision was expert in capturing colors, shadows and movements in the open air.

Oil painting of deciduous trees in autumn from a low angleArt: Peter Mills

The full canopy of the hardwood forest in midsummer was a joy to behold, nothing like I had seen before, at least not from this perspective.

It felt like almost a lifetime, which is a long time for a turtle, when Martyn finally reached the edge of the forest…

Part 5: The rush and the damage

Martyn felt that the open waters he longed for were near.

Once out of the forest, the spaciousness around him gave him a feeling of vulnerability. Even though the clouds were gathering intensity on the horizon, I wasn’t expecting the roar in the distance. The thunder soon reached him, and uncomfortably close at that.

The ground shook, vibrating every bone in his hardened body.

The noise became a visceral roar as a flash of 18 wheels passed by. Martyn was nearly thrown back by the incredible gust of wind and sand that threw his shell away.

What was that monster?

Martyn was on the shoulder of Highway 60, a heavily trafficked provincial highway that runs through the southern portion of his home.

He looked down at the asphalt. It looked incredibly vast, intimidating and dangerous in equal measure. Furthermore, his muscles were already aching from fatigue. It was now or never, and Martyn was not about to turn back to climb logs or try to swim up the swollen Madawaska River.

He had only crawled forward a few meters before another roar began to resonate through his body. Her sharp eyesight focused on something bright and approaching quickly.

Martyn’s immediate reaction was to shield himself deep within his protective shell, which had served him well up until that point. Everything became dark.

The tires screeched.

A cloud of dust followed and there was a frantic thud as a car door slammed shut.

Before Martyn knew what was happening, he was floating in the air and almost on the opposite side of the asphalt, and in the direction he was originally heading. He stayed well into his shell and peed a little, out of fear.

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Fortunately, this driver was “wildlife aware”: alert, astute, and willing to help. Passersby stopped to see what all the commotion on the road was about. “No, it’s not a moose,” the helper explained, “but it’s a turtle that needs help crossing the road.”

Martyn was a lucky turtle.

He had survived alone beyond two decades. He would have at least another half century ahead of him, as long as he managed to stay off the roads.

Oil painting of a road next to green fields and forests, and hawks flying overheadArt: Peter Mills

With a gentle pat on the shell and the accompanying good wishes (“stay off the road, little one”), Martyn was once again left to his own devices, safe and sound for now.

He kept his eyes closed and did not move for three quarters of an hour…

Part 6: Lake found, found

The air was cooling rapidly and the afternoon dew began to condense on Martyn’s shell. The experience on the road was frankly jarring. It took him almost an hour before he mustered enough courage to extend his neck beyond the margins of his shell. Martyn simply blinked in the fading daylight.

There it was: Lake found, found.

painting of clouds over the lakeArt: Peter Mills

In this light, the lake looked idyllic. The swaying pines, the whine of a loon, the open water, and the buzzing of mosquitoes—this was quintessential Algonquin.

His outstretched forelimbs offset his center of gravity and he slid down the embankment toward the lake. She paused briefly to glimpse the horizon before slipping into the water and allowing her positive buoyancy to guide her.

The cool water refreshed his tired body and washed away the dust accumulated during his overland journey. As the crescent moon crept above the tree line and the Big Dipper took shape in the sky, Maryn sought shelter under an ancient submerged log.

Tomorrow would be another day to explore…

Part 7: Home…for now

Martyn seems to have adapted to his new abode. Since 2012, he has been confirmed twice in the clear, cold, bottle-green water of Found Lake.

Oil painting of a painted turtle swimming in dark water next to two water liliesArt: Peter Mills

Martyn spends his summer days sunbathing, foraging among the water lilies, and occasionally taking short walks on land. The rest of Martyn’s story has yet to take shape, and when he does, we will share it.

Telling turtle stories

The story “Martyn of the Madawaksa” was inspired by Martyn himself (of course!), as well as the experience of naturalist Peter Mills, who found and reported on the wayward Martyn at Found Lake in 2012.

This #ScienceStory was written by student researcher Patrick Moldowan and beautifully illustrated by Peter Mills. Aside from some creative freedom on the author’s part, this series is faithful to our research on Martyn.

painted turtlePhoto: Patrick Moldowan

As mentioned from the beginning, Martyn is not a particularly unusual turtle. There is every reason to believe that their story is as captivating as that of thousands of other turtles in Algonquin Provincial Park and beyond.

The nearly 75 years of ecological research at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station have contributed significantly to our knowledge, policy and conservation of species and ecosystems in Canada, including turtles and their habitats. These studies are possible thanks to the donation.

If you would like to support their wonderful work, please visit the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station donation page or contact them at 705-633-5621 to learn how your donation will support research, education, and conservation efforts.