On a midday hike this weekend, I caught this year’s first glimpse of western pond turtles (Clemmys marmorata) taking advantage of March’s false spring sizzle. It was the vainglorious male basking on an outthrust stump that first caught my attention; I knew him well from past visits to this pond. A slow circuit of the water’s edge revealed a second sub-adult in the tules who, like a child’s stockinged feet peeking from beneath the curtains during a game of hide-and-seek, betrayed its submarine wanderings beneath the toffee waters by the yaw, pitch, and roll of emergent stems in its wake.
But it was my wife – credit where credit is due – who first noticed the hatchlings flush from a waterlogged branch. I gave the little ones five minutes to muster the courage to reclaim their posts before I retraced my steps. Past a crocodilic California red-legged frog recumbent in the shallows, past the spastic turtle – aware and watching me now with the mercurial courage renowned in western pond turtles (Splash!). And then, on a thumb-width limb, I spied two hatchlings bookending the branch. Emboldened by the radiant noontime warmth, the pair resisted the urge to flush again into the tepid pond. The same held for the unexpected second pair of hatchlings I observed queued head-to-tail not two feet away.
The four hatchlings – most likely two or so years of age – are a good sign of successful recruitment in this population. There are sexually mature adults to breed, their nests are escaping detection by predators, and at least one cohort of hatchlings has survived the first of its most vulnerable years. But as these little ones grow in size and their shells harden, they will be better equipped to handle the abuse of a curious dog or a hungry fox. Until such time, that propensity to flush will pay off in spades.