“Holy Cow!” is the usual reaction when park visitors see one of the large millpond turtles for the first time. There are Common Snapping Turtles with shells about 18″ long from head to tail as well as many younger, smaller ones.
Midland Painted Turtles are the frequent companions of the large snapper. They stay close by to grab the shredded food scraps the large turtles generate when they rip apart carrion they find in the pond.
Now is the best time of year to see oodles of turtles. The boardwalk between the Brighton Village Cemetery and Stillwater Grill is the primary location to watch them. They amass is the swallows of the bay on the east side of the boardwalk where the water heats up because of the black silt. Bring a couple of slices of bread to toss to the turtles. It’s not great food for them, but I doubt you want to bring a pocket full of ground beef or a dead muskrat.
Hey, Brighton frog photographers, I’ve added another player in this year’s Fringo! game. Can you find and photograph it? I found it hunting for insects near one of the street lights along the millpond trail just north of Stillwater Grill.
At night. the frogs are singing and mooing at full strength now that the air and water are warm. An after dark stroll is a great way to get some exercise and hear them.
If you visit the park during daylight, stop on the boardwalk between the cemetery and Stillwater Grill to see the turtles. There are at least 11 snapping and painted turtles in this photo but you may see more or less depending on the day. They will gladly accept a treat of bread from you even if it’s not really good for them. If you have never seen them there before, the first word out of your mouth when one of the large snapping turtles surfaces will be “Whoa!” or “OMG!” People are surprised at the size of the oldest ones.
June 18: I wouldn’t have seen this little reptile if it hadn’t been peddling at a good clip. It blended into the parking lot’s asphalt (above). The hatchling turtle apparently soughtrelocatin coffee and a donut. It was heading for Tim Horton’s but would face five lanes of Grand River Avenue traffic before it got there. I changed its mind by picking it up.
It’s the smallest turtle I’ve ever found, barely the size of a quarter (right). I turned it over in my hand to admire its beautiful brand new shell’s patterns (left). I also discovered it was a girl. Males have a concave area on their bottom shell near their tails. Bet you didn’t know that the sex of painted turtles is determined by their temperature at the embryogenesis stage. Cooler temperatures makes them males, warmer temperatures creates females.
She was too young to realize the dangers humans may bring so she was calm as I held her so I could enjoy her colorful skin and shell. Maybe she liked my hand more than the hard asphalt (right).
There is a small, shallow woodland pond beside the millpond behind FAO Jewelers. I thought that might be a good place for this toddler to begin her life, a kiddie pool of sorts.
I placed her on a piece of tree bark at the shoreline, and she trotted off into the wet grass (left). It had rained earlier in the evening. She poked around a little then headed for the water. Before she swam off, she stopped and looked up at me (below). Maybe she was miffed I interrupted her donut run.
Less than ten feet from the much larger millpond, the newly hatched turtle won’t have difficulty finding her way around the place she’ll probably spend the rest of her life. This area of the millpond is turtle heaven, a shallow bay filled with water lilies, cattails, and lots of places to hide. Dozens of turtles frolic in the dark, silt laden waters. It’s a microclimate that reaches higher temperatures than the rest of the pond.
Hatchlings this small are vulnerable. Shortly after releasing her, a large bullfrog leaped across my path into the pond. It could easily snarf down a turtle of this size. There are several furred, feathered, and finned predators at the millpond that would be happy to digest her. By the end of her first year, she’ll be 3-4″ and her chances for long term survival improve. She might live 40 years.
It’s showtime on the boardwalk between the Old Village Cemetery and Stillwater Grill at the Brighton. Bring some bread, toss small pieces in the water, and wait five minutes. Turtles are bound to perform for you. Lots of them. Little ones and big ones will dance in the water before your very eyes as they compete for bread with bluegills and carp. Click the image (above) to see it larger. If you need help seeing the reptiles through the sky’s reflection, I’ve made notations on another copy of that image: P = Painted Turtles (9 of them!), S = Snapping Turtle, and B = Bluegills (5).
If you’re lucky, the adult or teenage (below) muskrat who lives nearby will make a special guest appearance, stand on a water lily rhizome, and chomp on a soggy chunk of bread to amuse you.
Daily shows will continue until the millpond cools around October 1st.
It took longer than usual for the millpond’s large Common Snapping Turtles to emerge this year due to the cold. I’ve only seen this one where several tend to congregate. I’m hoping the others are roaming instead of victims of winter’s duration. Many of the pond’s large fish were found floating on shore when the ice retreated.
Bring bread to the boardwalk between the cemetery and Stillwater Grill in the evening. Chum the water with one slice ripped into small pieces. Within about five minutes, they might arrive while you watch bluegills grab the bread. Several painted turtles will cavort as they eat the bread, too. The turtles are well trained by park visitors to look up at you to “beg” for bread.
Common Snapping Turtles perform a valuable service to the pond eating the carcasses of dead creatures, but they also take a toll on ducklings and adult ducks. By the end of their season in October, they will have consumed more than 50 ducklings and goslings, a few of the adults birds, some muskrats, and left many waterfowl with permanent disabilities like missing toes and entire feet. They are the pond’s apex predator.
But the pond has a flaw I noticed this week that’s more powerful than snapping turtles. The dam is constructed with slats. Water runs between them. I found a turtle wedged between them unable to back out because of the force of the water leaving the pond. It appeared its head and front legs were flailing when I arrived, but it might have been there a long time and already dead. I made an attempt to dislodge it with a long pole, but couldn’t. Its body will probably be there most of the summer; its shell for years. You can see its head through the reflections where the orange arrow points in the image (right).
It’s obvious why it’s named red-eared — has a red racing stripe where it’s ear should be. (Turtle don’t have external ears like people do but they have the ability to hear pretty well in water.) Why is it called a “Slider?” They quickly slide off logs or shorelines on which they bask when they sense danger.
They can grow a little larger than Michigan’s native Painted Turtles and their shells are rounder rather than oval shaped. In some locations like Australia, they are considered invasive because they have the potential of driving out native species, but the Painteds still dominate at the millpond so I believe they can coexist in our region.
The photo at the left shows the two species swimming together along the boardwalk at the millpond. Notice that the Painted’s carapace (the upper shell) has red trim between the scutes (plates on the shell) and along the outer edge. The Slider’s carapace has yellow details and is lighter olive green, more patterned.
The turtles will remain active for at least another month, but they have already taken a heavy toll on the millpond ducks this year. One or two new injuries are happening each week in the warm water that increases turtle activity.
This duck was born earlier this spring and presented himself to me by holding up his foot (top). But, like all injured ducks, he won’t allow a close approach. The good news is that he will heal and not be disabled in any serious way. The wound is clean and he hasn’t lost much webbing.
Yesterday I asked “What could go wrong when a baby muskrat is within range of a large snapping turtle. The outcome was NOTHING! Its parent soon arrived and to give it another lesson in begging for bread from the public (above). There must be some sort of agreement between species at the unofficial feeding station on the boardwalk south of Stillwater Grill. I’ve seen the huge turtles nose-to-nose with geese, painted turtles, fish, and the muskrats but never seen a gorey result. Maybe the turtles are more interested in the bread thrown to them by the visitors than killing the neighbors.
Note the huge carp to the right of the largest turtle (below). It’s the giant in this area of the pond and is often a participant in bread frenzies. To give you an idea of the scale, the carp is about 3′ long, and has a girth at least as big around as Madonna’s. Oh, I just thought of one thing that could go horribly wrong if you come to pay a visit: You might run out of bread.
The above image isn’t clear due to the low light at the end of the day and the murky water. I punched it up as best as I could, but to help viewers identify the turtles and fish, I’ve roughly outlined them in this image(opens in a new window). The green outlines are around turtles, the blue ones around bluegills. Bluegills hang around turtles hoping they can grab some of the scraps they discard as they eat.
Are they fighting or being intimate? We turtle watchers weren’t sure. After dramatic splashes by these two snapping turtles with shells 18-20″ head-to-tail one got on top of the other. The top one bit at the neck of its rival or mate. After ten minutes, the pair slowly sank into the murky silt at the bottom of the pond. We waited. And waited. Then gave up waiting.
You might not see love or war, but you’ll have a ringside seat for a circus if you bring bread to the boardwalk between the cemetery and Stillwater Grill now through September. Stand at the rail in a “pod” and chum the water below you. Bluegills arrive first then painted turtles. You might see a dozen.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also see the huge snappers pictured here, impressive carp with girths larger than your thigh, and the star of the show: a muskrat who thinks bread is ambrosia (right).
With the warming of the water, the millpond’s snapping turtles have become more active. This 3′ long gent cruised the shoreline along Main Street on June 2 looking for a late night snack.
They are quite happy eating dead things (carrion) when they can find them so they serve a valuable purpose in the ecosystem. But they are also active hunters and take a heavy toll of ducks and ducklings each year. Stealth is their greatest weapon. They lie in wait for prey to come within striking range. Their countershading and moss-covered shells help them hide in underwater weeds. Their pointed snout (above right) allows them to expose only their nostrils above the waterline to take a breath. Their long, sharp claws (below) are for tearing their prey into bite sized pieces. They may be prehistoric looking, but they’ve evolved into highly efficient killers. The pond would be less balanced if they weren’t in it.
No animal at the Brighton millpond is more fascinating and hated than the large snapping turtles that become active once the waters warm. They’re now cruising the waters searching for things to eat. They will take their toll of ducklings, adult ducks, goslings, and more. They are prehistoric in their appearance and easy to attract along the boardwalk south of the Stillwater Grill. Bring bits of bread. They also beg for it there in the late afternoon.
Watch this 47-second video I created on Thursday night and guess what the painted turtle was doing. The answer is below.
The turtle was less than a foot from the main millpond path and was attempting to dig a hole in the dirt to deposit an egg. The problem was the dirt was too tightly compacted to succeed. As I was trying to keep the camera steady and pointed at the turtle, another photographer walked up. I didn’t even turn my head to see him and his wife because I knew I’d move the camera if I did. After about five minutes, the turtle gave up and went back to the pond to find another spot to nest.
Now that the millpond water has warmed, the turtles are very active. Early evening is the best time to see them and the best place is the boardwalk south of Stillwater Grill and north of the cemetery. During the heat of the day, they sun themselves on partially submerged logs but then they come to the boardwalk for bread tossed to them by park visitors. They’ve learned to beg for it as every self-respecting urban turtle does. Just lean on the railing and look into the water. Soon, one will be looking back at you (above) hoping you brought bread.
How many turtles? Click the picture (left) and try to find as many as you can. The answer is at the bottom of this post. Snapping turtles must have an agreement with painteds not to bite off their heads. They easily could. The painteds cavort around them like little kids around an ice cream truck. Bluegills also hang around the reptiles. They’re there to catch crumbs from bread and other prey because turtles have barbaric table manners.
Besides seeking food, turtles just seem to enjoy frolicking with each other amid lily pads. There doesn’t appear to be any mating going on. They just swim around and grab a bite to eat when it’s available. If you’re in town, come see the action. It’s fun to watch.
These images are heavily Photoshopped. Strong reflections of the sky and clouds in the water meant I had to twist the exposure so you could see the turtles. The lily pads turned neon green so I darkened them to look more natural. The answer to the number of turtles is seven. There were nine in the area at the time.
Even though bigger with a higher domed shell, Red-Eared Slider turtles are often thought to be Painted Turtles because of their colorful markings. The top photo shows the two breeds next to each other so you can easily see the differences. The Painted turtle is on the left and probably isn’t full sized (4-10″ shells) yet. The shells of Red-Eared Sliders can reach 10-13″ in length. When these pictures were taken, two of the Painteds were following behind the Red-Eared Slider. Maybe they were hoping for scraps of a future meal or just having a nice afternoon at the millpond.
When large Common Snapping Turtles journey into the southern region of the Brighton millpond during the day, a crowd of people will be standing on the Tridge watching them. Beyond comments about their size, the most frequent comment is how primitive they look; how they look like dinosaurs.
This one is the medium sized visitor with its 14″ shell (head to tail). There’s a larger one with an 18-20″ shell that shows up on occasion, too. While I haven’t compared photos, I think there are only two large snapping turtles at this end of the pond this year. There were more in 2010. Midland Painted Turtles are abundant.
They take a heavy toll on the ducks and ducklings during their active months, but I’m happy to report the white Pekin who suffered a vicious bite and clawing on August 10th has regained full use of its leg and foot. The deepest wound is completely healed now, but a couple of toes still appear to have unhealed areas (left). Its left-most toe is only half there from a previous incident, probably another turtle attack last year. She proudly posed to show me the healing progress (below).
After the public leaves the millpond park at night, the wildlife begin their task of cleaning up the place. A snapping turtle with a 14″ shell (head to tail) approaches the floating body of a duck (above) to take another bite while the largest carp I’ve ever seen (no fish story: 30-36″ long and FAT!) swam along the shore to find morsels the ducks and smaller fish refused to eat or failed to find (below). The green confetti in the photo is duckweed floating above him.
With a shell about 18″ from head to tail, this Common Snapping Turtle has been hanging out in the millpond area where Gramps was killed two weeks ago. Since his head is larger than an adult fist, he’s capable of inflicting Gramps’ fatal wound. While he’s probably the perpetrator, he shouldn’t be punished. His deed is part of the natural cycle of predator and prey. Watching him slowly move through the pond weeds is like watching something out of prehistory. His claws are nearly an inch long and his shell is covered with moss which helps conceal him as remains still while waiting for another meal to swim by. Much of his food, however, is probably already dead when he finds it. Turtles help keep the pond clean by scavenging carrion. They also balance their diets by eating plants. Turtles like this one can live 30 years in the wild.
Water temperature must be the determining factor in when turtles become active. Prior to May 7th, I had only seen one. Now the millpond is crawling with them. The picture above shows two Midland Painted Turtles playing Follow the Leader. There was a third one playing with them but it was missed in this shot. The game didn’t seem to be a mating ritual, just turtles exploring their world after hibernating for six or more months.
Look closely at the above shot. A bluegill is watching them. This isn’t for idle amusement. It’s survival. Bluegills know turtles are sloppy eaters so they hang out waiting for crumbs. Well, not usually crumbs. They are shreds of body parts. Turtles grab carrion with their mouths and then use their front claws (large and sharp!) to rip the flesh (below).
Some turtle have moss growing on their shells like aquatic Chia Pets (left). I thought this was a sign of age, but this relatively small (and young) turtle sports a nice crop. Some other factor must play a part. Maybe it involves where they hibernate or it just might be the luck of the draw.
The best way to spot the largest turtles is to visit the pond at night and wait. And wait. I was actually trying to locate an extremely large carp I spotted a few yards away when this snapping turtle with an 18″ (front to back) shell lumbered into the scene. He moved in slow motion scavenging for midnight snacks. Then he buried himself in the weeds and I waited for him to surface for a breath. And waited. He didn’t come up for almost 15 minutes but he moved far from my camera’s flash range so I couldn’t get another picture of him. The light-colored area on its neck appears to be a scar. It will help me identify him again. None of the other snappers I’ve photographed have that marking.
Another large turtle combs the bottom of the pond looking for something to nibble on. Snapping turtles often lie in wait for their prey to swim by, but they also are good at doing maintenance work. They clean up the pond by eating dead things they find in their vicinity through their vision and excellent sense of smell.
It’s difficult to spot a large Snapping Turtle at night because their coloring blends so well with the murky water. Sometimes, the only thing above the surface is the tip of their nose and they’re very careful not to cause ripples in the water around them. But when they extend their legs, you can see lighter skin. When they are lying in wait for their prey, their legs are tucked into their shells or buried in the weeds at the bottom of the pond.
A Bluegill and Painted Turtle confer under a water lilypad. Maybe they’re planning some sort of demonstration for the humans watching them. Troops of bluegills hover near the millpond turtles. Turtles are sloppy eaters. When they rip into their food, scraps float around them that the bluegills are happy to snatch. Even though the turtles could take a chunk out of the fish, there seems to be some sort of understanding between the two species.
When a large Common Snapping Turtle lumbers into the heavily visited part of the millpond, the visitors gather on the Tridge to watch it. Saturday evening was a good time to amuse the crowd for this veteran of many summers. His shell measures 15-18″ from head to tail and his shell and tail are covered with algae which helps camouflage him as he lies in wait for his next meal of a fish, duckling or other unlucky prey. I suspect this one has dined on many of the ducklings that have gone missing this summer. In captivity, they may live into their late 40s, but in the wild, 30 years is a long life and this one has to be close to that age. The light-colored object in the upper left is a Tridge pier and a discarded swan feather floats nearby.
While it won’t rival the drama of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, maybe you’ll find something interesting here during Turtle Week. :-)
I didn’t see any turtles in the millpond until early July. Now they are really active and seen daily. This Painted Turtle cannot be considered “wildlife.” He’s part of the pond’s “tamelife.: He’s so acclimated to humans that, as soon as I walked up to the railing on the boardwalk, he swam over to me and expected me to drop some food down to him. Perhaps he spent time in someone’s aquarium and was released once he grew too large or maybe he’s found humans at the pond typically very generous with their bread. He’s fully grown, about 10” long, and is one of many of that size. It’s rare to see babies. I think they hide in the weedy areas to avoid snapping turtles who might dine on them.
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