Fieldwork in Winter
Written by Avalon Carthew, First Nations Conservation Technician
It might be winter, but the Adopt-A-Pond team is still out and about conducting fieldwork! Snakes are in their hibernacula and most frogs will be tucked under leaf litter or at the bottom of ponds for the next few months. While even the turtles are under the snow and ice, the Blanding’s turtle headstarts are still able to be tracked using radio telemetry, the same equipment that allowed us to keep up with them through the summer. We continue to collect valuable information about habitat usage by keeping tabs on where they are spending the cold winter months, and any minute changes that take place during this time. Blanding’s turtles, like other ectothermic animals, have had to embrace unique adaptations to survive the long and cold Canadian winters.
Blanding’s turtles are what is known as “anoxia tolerant,” which means they can survive in low-oxygen environments for a prolonged period of time. This allows them to overwinter in water under ice, as long as it isn’t frozen completely solid. Fun fact: painted turtles and snapping turtles are also anoxia tolerant!
Winter fieldwork comes with a new challenge: dealing with the cold! When spending time outdoors in winter, whether for fieldwork, hiking, or other activities, it’s important to dress warmly, eat well before going out, and to check the weather forecast beforehand.
While tracking turtles recently, we saw something very interesting: purple snow! Dollops of purple dotted the snow, each about the size of a quarter. This field site is relatively secluded, so that ruled out children playing with a snow-art kit, so what could it possibly be? Well, it turns out that this phenomenon is caused by birds eating purple fruit, such as wild grapes, and then excreting them. How interesting! For more information, please check out this blog post by a local naturalist.
It was lovely to hear birdsong and insects earlier in the year, but winter has its own charm. A fresh blanket of snow can reveal all sorts of secrets. Whether tracks left by a raccoon or purple snow, these special sights make braving the cold all the more enjoyable.