Partner Update: Andover AVIS & Conservation Commission

posted in: Local Conservation, Turtles | 0

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.

A man wearing a bright blue jacket, chest waders, a green knit cap, and a black face mask stands at the edge of a wide brook. He holds a radio antenna in one hand and is holding a small wood turtle in the other hand for three warmly-dressed people on shore to photograph with their phones.
On a crisp spring morning in 2021, ZNE Wood Turtle Technician Ryan Roseen shows a headstarted Wood Turtle to Robert Douglas (Andover Cons Comm), Burt Batcheller (AVIS), and Benjamin Meade (Andover Cons Comm). Photo credit: Julie Lisk

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!

A man in a gray polo shirt, gray pants, and a ball cap kneels smiling beside a woman in a blue checked shirt and green pants. The woman has a clipboard on her lap and a radio with a long antenna in one hand. A box turtle sits on the ground in front of her in a large clearing/
Julie Lisk (ZNE) and Benjamin Meade (Andover Cons Comm) putting a radio on the newly discovered box turtle. Photo credit: Burt Batcheller

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!

A gray-black and orange turtle with her shell edges covered in sand and soil begins digging through the earth in a bare patch of soil.
The adult female wood turtle preparing to dig a nest. Photo credit: Burt Batcheller

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.

Two men, one to the left leaning over in a blue check shirt and a long white beard, the other to the right on all fours with a brown t-shirt, work together to remove landscape staples from a metal mesh screen over a turtle nest. A woman in sunglasses, a ball cap, and a dark blue shirt kneels just behind the nest with tools.
Bob Rauseo and Burt Batcheller (AVIS Stewards), Marisa Browning-Kamins (Andover Cons Comm) removing the screen to recover the eggs from their protected nest. Photo credit: Julie Lisk.
Five small gray turtles just emerged from their nearby eggshells crawl through a brown, large-grained substrate. One more turtle is just poking its head and forelimbs out of its eggshell.
The hatchling wood turtles from the protected Andover nest this year. Photo credit: Julie Lisk.