There are many indicators that spring is about to happen in Canatara Park. For some it is seeing old friends that have not been in the park since last fall. Others look forward to the return of the Warblers and the first Yellow Rump. Others are looking for spring flowers. But for some, it is sighting the first turtle of the year. This year, I understand the first turtle was seen in February during the unusually warm pre-spring weather. The turtles usually start to appear when the ice has melted and the weather has warmed.
Canatara has two turtles that are commonly seen in Lake Chipican and surrounding canals. The Midland Painted Turtle is the most common native species and the Red Eared Slider in also common, but it is not native to Canada. It is referred to as “the pet shop” turtle. People buy this species of turtle for a pet and when it grows too big or is no longer wanted, their owners abandon them in Lake Chipican.
Painted turtles have black shells with dark red or orange markings. Red Eared Sliders have a shell that is higher domed than the Painted Turtle and has yellow marking. Not surprisingly, the Red Eared Slide has a “red ear”! The “ear” is a red spot behind the eye.
Not commonly sighted, but also not rare, is the Snapping Turtle. Snapping Turtles are the largest turtle in Lake Chipican and have a prehistoric look. Snapping Turtles can be aggressive and slow on land, but will slide away and hide when in the water.
A fourth turtle, a Blandings Turtle, has been seen in or around Lake Chipican, but it is an extremely rare siting. Only one has been seen in recent memory.
Other species of Ontario native turtles, such as the Northern Map, Spiny Softshell and the Musk (Stink Pot) Turtles are found on the Sydenham River and in the Mitchell’s Bay area, but not in Lake Chipican.
A more descriptive species description and range maps for some species can be found at OntarioNature.org. Use the Protect, Species, Reptiles_and_Amphibians, Turtles, Species Listing tabs to locate the range maps. Another excellent turtle site is TorontoZoo.com. Search for Turtle Tally.
The number of turtles in Lake Chipican is unknown, at least to me. In doing a non-scientific survey, I found that:
The Midland Painted Turtle is much more common sighting than the Red Eared Slider.
The Red Eared Sliders, that I observed, appeared to be of the large variety and they are usually larger than any of the Midland Painted Turtles.
I have not identified any small younger Red Eared Sliders.
The Midland Painted Turtles come in various sizes from 5cm to larger turtles.
The Red Eared Slider appears to be the more hardy species and can be found sunning more often in cooler weather than the Midland Painted Turtle.
There are a variety of spots to look for turtles around Lake Chipican. The spot that consistently has the most turtles is the “Turtle Log” located on the northern third of the east side of the lake.
You will not see a lot of Snapping Turtles
You may see turtles on land.
From mid-April to mid-May, 2017, I recorded 17 daily turtle sighting. In that time, I recorded seeing 305 Midland Painted Turtles, 79 Red Eared Turtles and 3 Snapping Turtles. Midland Painted Turtles are most certainly observed most often.
Do your own survey and compare the results.
Pictures of the more common turtles in Canatara are included.