David and I took some time out the other day and visited Myre-Big Island State Park in Minnesota, with the intention of doing some birding. When we were younger, we used to do much more of that than we have in recent years. We both enjoy it very much, so I'm hoping we get back into doing more of it.
David and I kept hearing, and getting fleeting glimpses of, some kind of warbler in the trees right above us on the water's edge. I was about to step across the gravel road, when I saw something moving in the grass. It was a painted turtle! And not only that, but she was digging a hole in the ground! How cool! I stayed and watched. She would reach down into the hole with one hind leg, and then with the other. When she reached down, I could see she was extending each leg far down, as she reached deeper and deeper into the hole. I could hear her claws ripping the roots of the plants down there, and then more and more mud came up from the hole.
Once I figured out how to use what I call my StupidPhone, I took several videos of her in various steps in the process. Here is the first of her digging.
Also on the video is a view of the lake across the road, where there were pelicans fishing. They were too far away to get a good video of them, but you get a good sense of the setting we were in. It is a VCP (very cool place).
I had one eye on the turtle, and the other on the birds in the trees. There was one tree that was filled with cormorants perched all over it. The pelicans continued their fishing. I heard someone say that the reason they fish in a circle is so they can "herd" the fish into the middle. It makes me wonder how they decide who gets the next fish? Maybe pelicans are good at sharing?
Then I noticed that the turtle had stopped digging. David thought she was resting. Maybe. But I watched, and was rewarded with seeing her lay an egg. So I took another video of her and I captured in this video the next egg that she laid.
I signaled to several car drivers to move over for the turtle. Some people stopped and took photos and looked on in wonderment. One man told us that a park ranger said that very often the raccoons will dig up the turtle holes and eat the eggs. It made me want to stand guard and make sure that doesn't happen. Then I realized that there is more than one side of Mother Nature… this is perhaps the harsher side, depending on how we look at it. After all, we steal eggs away from chickens for our nutrition. And we drive cars that crush turtles, so who are we to judge?
In many Native American teachings, turtles symbolizes Mother Earth and they actually appear in their creation myths. I can see why. I get a sense they are creatures that have survived throughout the ages, especially as I watched this turtle burying her eggs. She would scrape a clump of mud over the hole, and then she'd "knead" it in, packing it down tight with those legs of hers that gave me the feeling that I was looking back into primordial times. Watch.
You can hear me slap a misquito at the end of that video. When our "lady" was satisfied that the hole was sufficiently packed down, we watched her cross the road and make for the water. Here is a video of it.
I have never seen anything like this before. And perhaps I never will again. So this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime gift that David and I were given. And what a beautiful gift it is!
It took David and me until the next day, but we finally figured out what the elusive little warbler was we were hearing (and you probably did too, in the videos) and what we could get only glimpses of in our binoculars. But we finally did it. The reason for it being so complicated is because the spring plumage is different than it's summer and fall plumage. If we have it right, we identified it as a bay-breasted warbler. We found it very gratifying to find this after a long search.
In late afternoon, while we were still at the park, when it was getting dark because of storm clouds coming in, David and I also heard owls. At first we heard two, and then some time later, we heard another one. I saw one flying on two separate occasions. David saw one of them. From listening to the sounds online, we think we heard and saw a barred owl. David and I both just love owls. So our trip to the state park to commune with nature for an afternoon was restorative for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. It is a good reminder that Mother Nature has provided us with so much Beauty, and all we need to do is take time out to enjoy it. I look forward to the next time we get such a chance.
Update: David and I did get a chance to go back to the park this afternoon, and the turtle's egg-laying spot was undisturbed. According to the woman at the desk, they will be okay since they have been undisturbed longer than twenty-four hours. Yay!
Also, David and I got to see some really cool birds today. We saw a red-headed woodpecker (really cool beans!), an indigo bunting, several Baltimore orioles, great-crested flycatchers, several blackburnian warblers, and oh so many others.
David and I also did a talk at the Owatonna Public Library in Minnesota. We had a fabulous audience of fifty-five people, who had great questions and expressed their appreciation for our presentation. It was very rewarding.
Another day to be thankful for.