Turtle Tracks and Snake Tracks Field Report for October – November 2014

28 Dec

This field report  covers a two month time span between early October and mid November 2014.  In this report I locate all four reptiles currently being followed in the Turtle Tracks and Snake Tracks projects at our Earthshine study site, I replace the radio transmitter on Jimmy Irwin the male box turtle,  locate Catherine and Jimmy nearing and then in their dens,  find both rattlesnakes very close together and then later in their dens, listen to coyotes singing in the distance, install den cameras watching Utsanati, the male snakes’, den entrance in the hopes of getting video of him moving into his den and more.


Current Status: presently both turtles and both snakes are sleeping the winter away safely in their overwintering dens.  In fact, they are all in the same overwintering locations they have used repeatedly over previous winters.  Catherine and Jimmy the box turtles are only inches away from where they spent the last three winters in a row and they are both within the boundary of what I call their overwintering zones.  These zones are areas contained within a 40 foot radius of the most frequently used overwintering locations.


The Timber rattlesnakes are also using overwintering sites they have repeatedly used in the past.  Zoe, the female snake, overwintered on the other side of the ridge last year but this year has returned to the exact den site she had used over the winters of 2011-12 and 2012-13.  Utsanati, the male snake, is in the same hibernation zone as in all years previous however, this year he is resting in a new underground location about 25 feet from the den entrance.

It is remarkable to me that these reptiles have the ability to zero in on these same small locations at the same time each year.  The fact that these animals use these same locations each year without much variation also suggests that these habitat locations may be imperative to their very survival.

Although most animals do have differing levels of ability to adapt to changing habitat conditions, I believe that if important habitat sites such as these overwintering zones were to be destroyed or drastically altered, limiting or removing the ability of overwintering by these reptiles, that these animals may in fact adapt in the short run, especially if it was a warm winter.  However, the stresses imposed on them to find and overwinter in a new location in subsequent years and over colder winters may lower their fat reserves, weaken their immune system, and possibly be highly detrimental to their very existence.


Many studies have shown that habitat disruption or alteration is beneficial in some ways for many species of wildlife.  For example, with these turtle and snakes it seems that during their active months, and for the turtles the winter months, they frequent the edge habitat created by a wide power line access-way that cuts through the middle of all of their habitats.  This forest opening provides many areas of dense cover for the reptiles to shelter in while resting or foraging.  All four of the reptiles most frequented areas–including the box turtles overwintering locations–fall within or adjacent to the access way’s sunny openings which provide great thermoregulation opportunities as well as a greater biodiversity than the surrounding forests or fields.  This edge habitat in turn supports many different species of plants and animals, many of which are excellent food sources for both the turtles and the snakes.   However, even with the enhanced habitat and resulting good feeding, thermoregulation and overwintering opportunities provided by the edge effect created by the man made power-line access-way, it remains unclear what would happen to these reptiles should their overwintering zones be damaged or destroyed.  In this case I believe the best option for protection and conservation of these reptiles and their habitat is the continued benign neglect of their habitats.  In other words–leave these animals and their overwintering sites alone (except for some occasional non invasive status and population monitoring), and leave nature alone, and it will take care of itself and everyone will be happy.

As in the past I have produced a video documentary of my field work with these reptiles over the later part of 2014.  It is a special extended length 2 part documentary of Turtle and Snake Tracks.  Please join me as I follow the movements of the snakes and turtles as they move closer, and finally into, their winter dens over a two month span of time.

See the videos below for all the details.

Part 1

Part 2

If the videos will not play please try following the links below:

Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JScFv_sVylM

Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VWZQ_OlWtc



About the Turtle Tracks and Snake Tracks wildlife conservation projects.

The reptiles in this wildlife conservation education project are wild animals that live free in the remote forests and surrounding human maintained fields and subdivisions surrounding Earthshine Discovery Center in Lake Toxaway, NC.

The purpose of this study is to learn as much as possible about the natural movements and habitat usage of wild Timber rattlesnakes and Eastern box turtles that live wild yet in and around areas used and manipulated by humans. Results from this study will be used to help conserve and protect these species and their habitats from harm through better land use and management practices, via these Youtube documentaries and blog postings, and through outreach programming in the Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and upstate South Carolina areas.

Through the magic of modern technology and many hours often taxing volunteer work by a wildlife conservationist and his small crew of volunteers and students, glimpse into the lives of wild reptiles in their natural habitats. For more detailed info on the project please take a look at the ENP website: http://www.earthshinenature.com

Follow us on our blog at: http://www.earthshinenature.wordpress.com

About Earthshine Nature Programs (ENP)

ENP is a 501c3 non profit wildlife conservation and outreach organization that operates as a separate entity from Earthshine Discovery Center. We do we pay ourselves to operate ENP or to conduct wildlife conservation activities. ENP is a 100% volunteer operated and donation funded organization. It is our mission to educate you about these beautiful and greatly misunderstood animals and hopefully, to impart to you their beauty, uniqueness and intrinsic value to a healthy Earth, healthy wildlife and healthy humans.  Please contact us if you are interested in having Earthshine Nature Programs speak to your class, camp, group, festival, or special event.

THANK YOU to all of you who have donated time, supplies, and funds, to ENP over the years!! Without you this important reptile conservation and education work would not happen. If you would like to support Earthshine Nature Programs please feel free to donate by visiting


You may also donate supplies such as animal foods, medical supplies, reptile vitamins and habitat supplies just contact us for more information on what supplies we are in need of and how to donate.

Visit our friends at www.earthshinediscovery.com to learn how you and your family, school, scout, corporate or camp group, can visit the Earthshine Discovery Center and have a wonderful fun and educational retreat!

Music by The Steep Canyon Rangers www.steepcanyon.com used with written permission.


ENP is not responsible for ads that may appear below this line.


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