Tag Archives: turtles


29 Nov



This year you helped us make the following amazing things possible –

and so much more!

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation – In 2019 we rescued 9 young Opossum joeys that lost their mother while crossing a road. They were very close to the age where they would have left the warm home of their mother’s pouch to strike out on their own so we gave them a few days to build their strength, fed them all kinds of tasty natural treats, and released them in the forest near the classroom.


We also rescued five Eastern box turtles. All were injured while attempting to crossroads and after some shell splints and recovery time all but one were released back into their home habitats. The remaining turtle has an injured eye so it will continue to reside with us until it recovers from its injuries and starts eating on its own and we hope to be able to release it into its home habitat next spring.



Update on the Black rat snake with terrible oral infection (aka “mouth rot”) that we rescued last year.  He fully recovered, was eating very well, and was released this past spring.  Take a look at his release day video on our YouTube channel via this link: https://youtu.be/1b5HrXXRouY 


Outreach – We teamed up with our crew of wonderful volunteers to take our animal ambassadors, our wildlife, and environmental conservation message, our didgeridoo music, and our renewable energy, EV, and science advocacy programming into many local and regional classrooms, summer camps, festivals, and special events, introducing thousands of people to the wonder and beauty of wildlife, nature, and our interconnectedness to our shared earth.  We offered great ways to support nature, respect and live alongside wildlife, and to be better stewards of our environmental life support system with the adoption of renewable energy and transportation technologies such as solar power and electric vehicles.  The above photo was taken at our spring fundraiser at Oscar Blues in Brevard, NC where many folks came out to meet our education animals, experience several electric vehicles, and some (including me) even tried out an awesome One Wheel electric skateboard!



A new set of wheels for ENP 

Over the last 6 years we used our Nissan Leaf fully Electric Vehicle (EV) in most of our outreach classes and programs, wildlife rescue calls, and in the monitoring of Eastern box turtles, Black rat snakes, Timber rattlesnakes, bats, and Black vultures.  It was a wonderful vehicle but sadly, due to a design flaw in the battery chemistry of 1st generation LEAF’s, its driving range degraded to the point where it was no longer useful to us for our outreach programming needs.  In September of 2019, with generous support from some of our primary benefactors, we acquired a new outreach vehicle – a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV.  It is 100% electric and has a driving range of 238 miles per charge – although we are often getting closer to 250 miles. The Bolt is the perfect vehicle for our mission as its battery is charged primarily from our classroom solar array making it truly zero-emission so it does not pollute the precious environment that we strive so hard to understand, preserve, protect, and share with you. This new outreach vehicle will allow us to expand our service area bringing our programming to a much larger audience.  The ENP EV Motto: Drive electric to protect and preserve nature, wildlife and wild places. Drive electric for the health of your family, drive electric for freedom from dependence on toxic, polluting fossil fuels. Drive electric for energy independence.  Drive electric for a better future for all. Drive electric for fun!

boltandsnakeI took this photo a few days after acquiring the new Bolt.  I was on the way home from work and stopped to assist a Rat snake across the road.

*This new EV is owned by ENP and will be used as a dedicated company outreach vehicle and it is charged primarily by local renewable energy sources. It will serve as an outstanding teaching tool for our Trails students, ENP outreach program participants, and everyone we meet.   Learn more about driving electric at: www.blueridgeevclub.com


Organic Garden

2019 was the third year for our organic/heirloom student garden project.  After the very successful straw bale squash garden experiment of 2018, this year we decided to plant the entire garden using straw bales as the substrate.  This experiment worked surprisingly well allowing us to produce many more tasty organic vegetables from our little garden than in previous years.


We believe the only way to have a truly organic garden is to not use any toxic chemicals or fossil fuels in the preparation and tending of the garden in any way so this year the students and interns prepared the garden using only human power and fertilized it with composted food scraps and waste from our education animals.  The students planted and tended the garden throughout its growing season and amazingly we had virtually no “pests” on our garden vegetables and we never used any toxic insecticides or herbicides!   I am happy to say that our third year of the garden project was a great and tasty success with over 150 yummy squash, big bunches of green beans, countless tomatoes, Peruvian black corn, purple and red sweet potatoes, several varieties of peppers, and for the first time our Passion fruit vine produced several tasty fruits – all of this wonderful organic produce was then shared among the students and staff! 


Our small flock of friendly laying hens grew to over 25 birds this year!  Several of the new recruits were adopted by Trails employees or found homes with chicken people in the community.  Our flock of chickens are free-range, organically fed, and have been hand-raised by our students as pets, and are wonderful therapy animals – with the great side benefits of wonderful organic, free-range eggs, no-cost organic fertilizer, and free pest control for our organic garden!


Our rescue hen Midnight and her new chick in the “Coop Car.”


 Just in case you missed it – last year ENP was featured in The Laurel of Asheville

Read the story at this TinyURL link: https://tinyurl.com/yb7zxhdp

(or just Google “Laurel of Asheville Earthshine Nature”)


   The ENP Renewable Energy Program

On November 8th, 2019 our student-built classroom solar array project celebrated two full years of producing clean, renewable, “locally grown” solar-produced electricity for our classroom and electron fuel for our outreach EV! Add to all that awesome the incredible accomplishment this year of the completion of Phase Two of the solar array!  That’s right, with your help we have completed Phase One and Phase Two of this amazing classroom energy project and the array is now complete!!


Steve and one of his awesome students installing the first solar module in Phase Two of our classroom solar array.

This time last year our student-built solar array had produced over 6.5 megawatts of clean solar produced electricity. With the completion of Phase Two, the now complete and fully functioning array has produced well over 12-megawatt hours – and that is just since mid-summer when the completed array went online full time!  With the generous support of Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute, Pisgah Forest resident Jim Hardy, Lake Toxaway Charities, Trails Carolina, Trails Momentum, and our many other wonderful project supporters – maybe you were one of them – and all of my amazing Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum students, ENP interns, and volunteers – this classroom renewable energy project has been an outstanding success!


Since the completed classroom solar array went online on July 04th, 2019 (our Energy Independence Day) it has consistently, quietly, and without any harmful toxic emissions – produced close to 4 times the power we need to meet the daily needs of our classroom building, education animal habitats, and our all-electric outreach vehicle’s electric fuel needs – all this entirely on 100% clean, “homegrown,” solar power!


We produce so much electricity that we send the surplus out to the local energy grid giving our closest neighbors on the campus of Trails Momentum some “locally grown” on-campus renewable energy.  We are now producing an excess of around 823kWh of electricity each month and sending this out to the local grid. Over the course of the entire year that excess has totaled around 9.8 mWh – so our classroom has now become a renewable energy power plant for the campus of Trails Momentum and for the local community!!  Due to our excess energy production, we have built up so much energy credit with Duke Energy that we could turn off the array and run on the solar credits for several months without paying a cent for energy!  With the completion of Phase 2, the most complex portion of our classroom solar array project is now complete. We are now moving forward with fundraising for Phase 3 – the final Phase of our classroom energy project.  This will consist of a “plug and play” battery storage system that will store excess electricity produced during the day that will then be used to keep all systems online at night and during power outages. We will then only use our grid connection to Duke Energy as a back-up power source during longer periods of dark/rainy/stormy weather – isn’t science amazing!

Watch a short time-lapse video of Phase Two of the solar array’s construction via this link: https://youtu.be/12wtCSldnKc

To make the 3rd and final Phase of this amazing student energy project a reality for our classroom, our students, and our animal ambassadors – we need your continued support in this final push to the end.  Please consider making a year-end gift to Earthshine Nature Programs and help us reach our renewable energy powered goals.


Cute little Jumping spider says it is time for everyone to GO SOLAR!

Supporter Spotlight — Bob Harris and Jim Hardy

ENP would not be possible without all of our amazing supporters – including you.  Two of our biggest supporters are also two of the most outstanding and most generous people on earth – Bob Harris and Jim Hardy.  Jim and Bob have donated countless hours of their time, expertise, skills, and resources to make things happen for ENP, and for the students of Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum.


Jim Hardy is the master carpenter who has donated hundreds of hours of his valuable time and expertise as he has overseen, directed, and worked with our students and me on the construction of the solar array, our theater-style seating, the new fire escape steps, building electrical and other key building upgrades, many of the tables in the classroom and our “‘Possum Palace” Opossum habitat.


Bob is the incredible electrical engineer who designed the solar array, installed the wiring for the array, upgraded the classroom power grid, and donated countless technical and educational components and support to our classroom and outreach EV.  All of these things have contributed immensely to the wonderful educational environment we are working to create for our students at ENP and Trails Science.


THANK YOU Bob Harris and Jim Hardy for your wonderful and most generous support – you are true HEROES!

Wildlife Conservation Programs

Turtle Tracks, Snake Tracks and Snake Trails


The Turtle Tracks and Timber Rattlesnake Tracks programs have ended and we have now decided to focus our energies on our classroom and environmental education outreach programming, wildlife rehabilitation, and on reporting our findings from the reptile conservation projects we conducted over the last decade of tracking misunderstood reptiles. What did we learn while tracking wild reptiles? – waaaay too much to fit into the pages of this newsletter – so we have decided to write it all down and share it with you!  The stories and the answers are in the works in the form of three private publications currently available only to ENP supporters – namely you.   The first of these three publications – The Rattlesnakes of the Blue Ridge – is ready now!  It contains a naturalist’s perspective on everything we have learned by following the secret lives of Utsanati and Zoe – the two wild Timber rattlesnakes we followed in their native habitats for a four year period in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of WNC.  Within the pages you will find an overview of the natural history of the Timber rattlesnake, a consolidation of my field observations and personal reflections, tracking and activity maps, and many high-quality photographs from the field.  benfranklin.jpg

This document and the others that will follow on the Eastern box turtle and Black rat snake will grant fascinating insight into the lives of these unique, wonderful and very misunderstood creatures as well as useful information on coexisting with these animals and other native wildlife species on your lands.  All proceeds from the sale of this and the future documents in this series will be 100% directed toward our nonprofit wildlife conservation, rehabilitation, and environmental education mission.


Zoe – By Steve Atkins

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Rattlesnakes of the Blue Ridge, and/or Turtle Tracks: Box Turtles of the Blue Ridge or Snake Trails: The Rat Snakes That Live Among Us at the discounted price of $25.00 each – please contact me via the links at the end of this newsletter.


Opie D. Opossum – by Evan Kafka


Clean Air Carolina Blue Sky Award


Photo by Clean Air Carolina

On November 07, 2019 ENP was honored to receive the Clean Air Carolina Blue Sky Award at a very special awards ceremony in Charlotte, NC.  This award was presented to us by Clean Air Carolina for our volunteer work with the Clean Air Carolina Air Keepers project which is working to install air quality monitors in all 100 counties of North Carolina.  We will continue to work with Clean Air Carolina and other organizations and individuals who value clean air, clean water, diverse wildlife, and energy independence for people, wildlife, and our shared environment.

In case you missed it last year ENP/Trails Science was featured in a Clean Air Carolina video clip with Miles O’Brien: https://youtu.be/mhQ4Kk3oq9o

Learn more about Clean Air Carolina: www.cleanaircarolina.org

Your Support

We welcome your continued support in keeping our unique programming alive. There are many ways you can choose to help us make our programs and projects a reality.

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Donate time and energy by volunteering at our Science and Nature Center classroom – we always have loads of projects from working in the garden, cleaning animal habitats, yard work, etc; so if you like to get your hands dirty for a good cause then just contact us at earthshine.nature@gmail.com or call Steve at (828) 606-8939 to set up a time to give us a hand around the classroom/farm.   Another great way to support us is through the donation of much-needed supplies – our wish list can be found on Amazon by searching for the Earthshine Nature Programs Wish List or by visiting this tinyURL link: https://tinyurl.com/yahlsvnp   Another easy way to support us is through Amazon Smile. Simply visit: smile.amazon.com and sign up to support Earthshine Nature Programs.  Then, every time you make a purchase on Amazon using your smile.amazon.com account, a portion of Amazon’s profits will be donated to ENP at no cost to you! Yes, it really is that easy to support us!  If you would like to directly support our projects and programs there are several ways to do so.  We have an ongoing GoFundMe campaign where you may donate to our solar project and more – visit: www.gofundme.com/enpsolartrails


We also now have a Patreon page where you can choose to support us with ongoing monthly donations of any size.  Visit our Patreon Page: www.patreon.com/earthshinenature

Lastly, you may also donate to us via the PayPal link on our website at www.earthshinenature.com/donate or mail a donation to our address below. All donations to ENP are tax-deductible. Receipts available upon request.                                                                                    


Without your continued support, Earthshine Nature Programs would not function.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation or end of year gift to us now and in the future.  Earthshine Nature Programs is a 501c3, donation-funded, volunteer owned and operated, wildlife conservation and rehabilitation, environmental stewardship, and science education charity organization.


We have a wonderful partnership with Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum to provide nature knowledge, science education, curiosity, and inspiration to their populations of outstanding youth.

Learn more at:





A note from naturalist Steve O’Neil

I am passionate about sharing my love, respect, and curiosity for nature, wildlife and wild places, environmental stewardship, science literacy, and reason with everyone I meet – especially my classroom and outreach programming students.  It is the students of today who will make the big wildlife and nature conservation, science, and energy decisions of the future, and it is my goal to communicate to my students the most up to date, unbiased, peer-reviewed evidence, practices, technologies, and environmental ethics so they will be better informed and ready to take on the world and be the change that will guide us all forward. I feel that by demonstrating working models of what is possible, respectfully coexisting with each other, and by working together toward the common goal of creating and maintaining a better world for all living things today and into the future, we will bring the changes that will make all of our dreams come true.


Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) is supported primarily through monetary, resource, and time donations from caring, concerned individuals just like you.  I work hard to fundraise and acquire grants and donations from any and all sources that would like to support us. With your help with hands-on volunteering, a one-time donation of equipment or funds, a year-end gift, or your continuing patronage – together we will continue to create something unique and wonderful that will serve to educate and inspire thousands of students with a new curiosity, a greater respect, an evidence-supported understanding, and a powerful conservation ethic for caring for wildlife, nature, and the environment that supports us all.  Your support will assist us in sharing with others the value of adopting responsible, secure, clean energy and transportation resources we can all work to bring to our homes, businesses, and to the roads, thereby lowering our impacts on our shared environment and in the process, become better stewards of the earth and empower our shared futures through the findings, methods, and tools of science.


Photo by Evan Kafka


Sincerely, Steve O’Neil

Executive Director of Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3)

Snail Mail: 134 E. Dogwood Ln. Pisgah Forest, NC  28768

Phone: (828) 606-8939

Email: earthshine.nature@gmail.com

Website:  www.earthshinenature.com

Nature Blog: www.earthshinenature.wordpress.com

YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/snakesteve68

EV Blog:  bluewaterleaf.wordpress.com


Finding Odyssa

11 Sep

Recently, “Trina” – one of the students in one of my classes known as Alpha – was doing a wood run and found an ancient Eastern box turtle!


This was the first adult box turtle found at our Sky Valley study site since 2014!  The students and I collected the vial scientific data on this old female box turtle and in doing so found that she has a unique injury that she has overcome with great dignity – her plastron (bottom shell) has broken free from her carapace (top shell)!  How this happened in the deep forests far from humans  we have no idea but whatever caused it, it must have been very traumatic but Odyssa*, as we named the ancient old reptile, pulled through the hardship and continued on her life’s odyssey. Box turtles are just amazing creatures.

After collecting the needed science data for our Turtle Trails and the statewide Box Turtle connection project, we released Odyssa at her discovery location.  “Trina” and the Alpha girls were all very excited to be a part of such a wonderful find and we documented the event in a video I produced here:


Things to know:

  1. Box turtles are protected by law in many areas.  This means no collecting, harming or touching other than helping them across the street.
  2. Box turtles do not make good pets.  They have very strict food/habitat requirements, may live for a century,  and see #1.
  3. Box turtles are very beneficial animals to have in your yard/garden.  They love to eat the pests that would otherwise eat your garden fruits and veggies such as slugs, snails, caterpillars and so on.  Count yourself lucky if you have a box turtle in your yard/garden.  Yes, they will occasionally eat a strawberry or tomato but even they need a balanced diet.
  4. Box turtles are “home-bodies” and live in very small habitats their entire lives.  Research shows that moving them away from their habitats can be detrimental to their health and to their lives.
  5. If you find a box turtle crossing a road – it is not lost.  It is only crossing the road.  All you need to do is gently pick it up – they do not bite – and move it to the side of the road that it was moving toward.  Place it a few yards off of the road and it will go on its way.
  6. If you find an injured box turtle and it has a cracked and bleeding shell or damaged appendage please place it in a container and take it to the nearest veterinarian.  They will have a list of local rehabilitators who will care for the turtle at no charge to you. Most importantly – be sure to write down the EXACT location where you found the turtle and give this information to the veterinarian/rehabilitator.  This is so they will be able to take the turtle back to its habitat for release when it is better (see #2) .
  7. Respect the wonderful box turtle.

Read my recent story on why I save snakes and turtles and Opossums.

*Why Odyssa ?


Turtles Eating Lunch, Tiny Turtles and Scorplings!

3 Sep

Check out these photos of the rehab and resident box turtles and tortoises eating a great lunch of veggies and worms!


That’s Chewy chewing on an organic non GMO tomato I grew in my garden.


Charlie the Redfoot and Vadim the Russian Tortoise eat corn and spinach.


Ben Franklin on the left finishing off an Earthworm and then Rasputin also eating an earthworm.  This is the first food Rasputin has eaten in over two months!  He was hit by a car in June–it fractured his shell in several places including the hinge that connects the carapace (top) and plastron (bottom) halves of his shell together.  The Trails students and I had to apply a massive shell patch to his shell to give him a chance at life.  We have also had to tube feed him  several times since his accident because he has not wanted to eat until today.  It is great to see him out socializing with the other turtles and eating again–another success story I hope.  If he makes it through the winter we will know that we have hopefully saved his life.

The turtle in the middle is Crash–she was hit by a car in June of 2012 and suffered an injury similar to Rasputin’s but she has healed very well and is doing great–a great success story for sure!

That is Rose on the right looking on–she was first to the worm pile and already has eaten her fill.

Snappers go home!

A few weeks ago I released some cute little baby snapping turtles into a pond–take a look!


They were fond by campers at Camp Illahee over the summer.  The girls kept them in the aquarium in the nature center and learned all about them before camp was over and I released them back into the pond where they were found.


A future monster–if he survives the catfish, bass, birds, coons, larger turtles and snakes that all prey on baby turtles–good luck little guy!

From the Nature Center at the Academy

We have had an amazing event over the weekend–our Imperial Scorpion “Fluffy” is now a mother!  Check out the photos of mama and babies below!


and another view


and a close up of a baby scorpling!


There are at least 14 babies and she may not be finished giving birth–they can have dozens of offspring!  Mama will take care of them for several weeks by killing insects, ripping them into tiny pieces, and then passing the pieces back to the babies on her back–so cool!   After a few weeks the babies will start turning darker and their exoskeletons will harden protecting them from drying out and giving them some protection from predators.  Then they will begin to venture out on their own to begin their life as an important predator on small insects in their native habitat of the jungles of Africa.  In the nature center they rely on me to feed them home grown crickets, meal worms and roaches.

I will be looking for homes for these little cuties in a couple of months when they are old enough to be adopted–anyone interested in a scorpion?

Scorpion Facts: Scorpions have been around for over 400 million years.  The first scorpion-like creatures lived in the sea and were anywhere from 4 inches to 8 feet in length–now that is one big scorpion!  The Imperial (aka Emperor) Scorpion is one of the largest living scorpions.  They are native to tropical Africa and life in burrows on the forest floor.  They have a mild venom that is produced from the stinger at the end of their tail appendage which is called a telson.   Scorpion venom has a fearsome reputation, but only about 25 out of almost 1500 species are known to have venom powerful enough to kill a person.  In fact, studies are being done that indicate many positive medical benefits of compounds found in scorpion venom such as possible treatments for autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis, the treatment and diagnosis of several types of cancer and  anti-malarial drugs.

I will be sure to keep you updated on the scorpions, turtles, snakes and other happenings at Earthshine and at Trails.

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