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Dear Methow Gardener
by Jane Gilbertsen

Meet our garden visitors!

photo of someone holding an orange and black turtleA painted turtle found traveling overland near the river, probably to lay her eggs.

Three neighbors share a-just-above floodplain pasture. It is almost encircled by the Methow River. Crossing overland from South riverbank to North riverbank, was this painted turtle. Likely a female as this is the time the mamas head out to lay their eggs. Turtles travel to lay eggs, disperse generally and in response to drought. Our local big colony near Twin Lakes was dispersed a few years back after the federally required piping of the Wolf Creek irrigation system. The lovely pothole ponds were full of these gorgeous painted turtles and they dried out when the irrigation ditch was piped.

This gal was missing a right front paw and claws. Apparently they are fighters when threatened, so if something grabs them they will not go down gracefully. The claws were long and slender but not scary. We put her back where we got her so she will be on her way to her destination. They lay their eggs in June and July and the eggs hatch late summer or fall after 72-104 days.

Steve found her about a month ago when on his way to move the KLine irrigation. He uses a ATV to pull the line. And, as you would expect, the biggest threats to the well-being of aquatic turtles are cars and the fragmentation of habitat (which means development and cars!). Thankfully, he didn't run over her. Had the grass not been grazed down by our mules, he would not have seen her, but then, maybe he wouldn't have been irrigating. The high water level of the river causes a pond to rise up in the pasture. It might have enticed her to lay eggs there this year. The pond was midway on her South/North route. Maybe not the best spot for hatching as it is bone dry in the fall. I will keep an eye out this year.

photo of rubber boa snake draped over a stickA rubber boa can easily be mistaken for a stick in the road.

Our second visitor was almost flattened by me in the car. After crushing a very large and therefore, very very old rubber boa when driving too fast I have learned to SLOW down on the roadway near the Fulton Ditch wetzone. Lots of snakes cross the road there and anything that looks like a stick could be a snake and frequently is a snake.

This rubber boa was crossing about 8:30 pm. They are mainly nocturnal and active March to October. Likewise, babies are born in the fall. You can distinquish the slow moving boa from the racer simply by the speed they move. You really can't catch and pick up a racer and you can't easily get a boa off a road. The boa has a blunt tail. It looks like the head. They have small eyes and tiny scales and look really kinda glassy. Dull colored with a beautiful yellow belly. Racers have large eyes, scales and pointed tails but you won't have a chance to check them out so closely. Whatever you do don't let the kids keep a boa. They die quickly in captivity.

This snake is one of the reasons my gardening is easy going and much of the work is manual. The more I clean up, make tidy, use nasty chemicals or tools, the more I disturb these visitors. We are blessed by being in a rattlesnake-free zone (rattlesnakes must be within 5 miles of a winter den) so I have no fear "placing my hands where my eyes have not gone". Over the years I have harmed toads, boas, garter snakes and quail nesting areas. If I just back off and relax they have a better chance.

I love the book Noahs' Garden by Sara Stein. She discovered the same thing - the more she did in her garden the more she lost the native creatures. They retreated as she groomed her place. In the end, she chose habitat over tidy. There is a happy place inbetween and it is maybe different for each of us depending on whether you need to surround yourself with a wildfire barrier area, a predator/rattler free zone or greenspace for pets and kids. Many of us came here cause it wasn't Bellevue and now the challenge is to NOT make it like Bellevue. My biggest sin against the local wildlife are our beloved dogs.

Thanks for reading,

July 19, 2011