Herp Update: Spiny softshells, Concert – September 19, 2023

Herp Update: Spiny softshells, Concert – September 19, 2023

Recent Herp Activity : Turtles

Now that the water is starting to cool down, turtles will be basking more to raise their body temperatures to optimal levels for growth, digestion, healing, and all other bodily functions. We recently received some great photos of basking Spiny Softshells on the Lamoille River from Greg VanBuiten. I will attach a few of his photos. One photo shows 19 Spiny Softshells basking together with five Northern Map Turtles.

Twenty-four dark-shelled turtles bask on a sunny day. The turtles are on a log or rocks that are partly submerged in greenish-brown water; there are green-leafed forbs and woody plants behind them.

Nineteen Spiny Softshells and 5 Northern Map turtles, basking on the Lamoille River. Photo by Greg VanBuiten and used with permission.

Seeing that many adult turtles of one species basking together is fairly common for Northern Map Turtles along the shores of Lake Champlain, but very rare for Spiny Softshells. Softshells are an S1 threatened species in Vermont. S1 means that on a scale of one to five, going from rarest (1) to most common (5) in the state of Vermont, Spiny Softshells are in the rarest category. In Vermont, a threatened species is defined as “a species whose numbers are significantly declining because of loss of habitat or human disturbance, and unless protected will become an endangered species”.

Vermont is the only New England state with populations of Spiny Softshells. Historically, Spiny Softshell populations were centered around three river deltas in the Vermont portion of Lake Champlain: the Missisquoi, the Lamoille, and the Winooski. The Winooski River population appears to have dissappeared by the late 1800’s. We have only two reliable reports of Spiny Softshells anywhere south of these three river deltas. One report came from Ferrisburgh in 1982 and another from Shoreham in 2015.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologists have been working hard to protect Spiny Softshells and their nesting sites for over a decade. Efforts are focused on protecting nesting sites from development, disturbance, predators, and from growing over with plants. Fish and Wildlife personnel have regularly hand-raised baby Spiny Softshells with the help of the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, until they were large and healthy enough to increase their chances of survival. In addition, four of the Spiny Softshells’ nesting beaches have been protected and listed as critical habitat.

In 2019 and again in 2021 we received the first photo-documented reports of Spiny Softshells back in or near the Winooski River. These new reports, combined with increasing numbers of reports from both the Missisquoi and Lamoille River delta populations are hopeful signs that the hard work of Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologists, ECHO, and volunteers are starting to pay off. Hopefully, at some point in the coming decades, we will get photos of multiple basking Spiny Softshells from the Winooski River. We will be taking advantage of the good basking conditions by searching the area of the Shoreham report later this week.

Please do photograph and report any Spiny Softshells that you might be lucky enough to find.

Upcoming Fundraising Concert

Concert is on on Saturday, September 23 at 7 PM here in Salisbury (repeated in case you missed it the last time).

UVM pianist David Feurzig is on a mission to give free concerts in all the towns in Vermont. Through those concerts, he also hopes to raise funds for conservation projects like ours. As part of this effort, David is giving a concert in Salisbury next Saturday, September 23rd at 7 PM at the Salisbury Congregational Church/meeting house. The church/meeting house is in the center of town at 853 Maple Street. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted for The Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. “Feurzeig, a professor of music at UVM since 2008, specializes in genre-defying recitals that bring together music of an astonishing variety of musical styles, from ancient and classical to jazz, avant-garde, and popular traditions. These striking juxtapositions, peppered with informative and humorous commentary, create eye- and ear-opening programs that will change how you hear all kinds of music“. David also likes to give a local talent the opportunity to join him for one selection. In Salisbury, Middlebury Union High School student Sophia Boise will add her flute playing to one piece.

Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas coordinators Jim Andrews and Kate Kelly will be there to meet you and sell their swag (hats, amphibian guides, posters, bumper stickers, and refrigerator magnets); however, you are under no obligation to buy any swag or give a donation. You can just relax and enjoy the concert.

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