Thanks to ZNE Field Biologist Julie Lisk for this update on our partnership with the town of Andover!
Members of AVIS (Andover Village Improvement Society) and the Andover Conservation Commission became involved with Zoo New England’s work in Andover in 2019, when they took our recommendations for habitat improvements for a declining population of wood turtles on one of their properties. Our relationship with the town has grown to include other conservation projects, which you can read more about here. Our Field Conservation Department is impressed and grateful with the town’s proactive commitment to conservation.
ZNE and Chris Buelow (Sr. Restoration Ecologist), were called in to advise on managing one of their properties for rare butterflies and plants. The Pitch Pine – Scrub Oak Community present was slowly being overtaken by canopy trees, shading out the habitat required for rare flora and fauna at the site. The town took immediate action and began by removing large white pines. Thus, New Jersey tea, yellow wild-indigo, pitch pine and other plants of the Pitch Pine – Scrub Oak community now have the full sun they need to flourish, and these “host plants” are vital for the larvae of rare butterflies and moths who live there. The work is ongoing! In addition to removing pines, they are enhancing the habitat with uncommon native plants such as New England Blazing Star and Butterfly Weed.
Things got more exciting when two dedicated wardens (Burt Batcheller and Bob Rauseo) at an AVIS property began regularly monitoring the site for other wildlife not previously observed. Lo and behold, to everyone’s pleasure and surprise, Burt discovered both a wood turtle and an eastern box turtle in 2021. Even Mike Jones (State Herpetologist) was surprised!
Initially, ZNE and NHESP provided radio transmitters for the turtles, and assisted with radiotracking. The Conservation Commission jumped in with both feet and purchased their own receiver and radio transmitters, enabling Burt and Bob to carry out most of the field work on their own. Both volunteers are now radiotracking four rare adult turtles, 5 headstarted wood turtles (released to that site from another site to augment the population) and recording essential data.
They especially kept close tabs on an adult female wood turtle during nesting season, hoping to locate and protect her nest. Their efforts paid off, but not before many long hours in the field. As nesting turtles are wont to do, especially wood turtles, the female came out of the river by day and returned to it by late afternoon – keeping Burt and Bob guessing. On June 6 and 7 the female gave every indication that she would nest, and to their exasperation, she didn’t. On June 8, at 6:18 a.m. we received a text from Burt that she had committed to digging – finally!
Eggs were confirmed by Marisa Browning-Kamins (Andover Conservation Commission) and the nest protected. When Burt called to ask what they should now do, we replied, “drink champagne!” After 50 days in the ground the eggs were removed for continued incubation indoors. Then, more waiting. Happily we were able to report to the Andover folks that all 7 of the eggs hatched healthy babies on August 8. They will be headstarted for 10 months and released to their natal site in 2023.