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We arrived at the Ottery at 4 pm on June 5, 2016 to find a large snapping turtle "in egg laying mode".
Over the next 3½ hours we followed her as she wandered around looking for the right spot to dig her nest, and were finally rewarded by watching actually lay her eggs. Scroll through the story, and near the end there is video of her laying eggs.
Before seeing the snapper we noticed the ground all messed up around our back steps. It seemed it could only have been done by raccoons.
But then we saw the turtle at the edge of our rock berm. Unlike most turtles when approached she did not retract her legs or head, but neither did she move at all while we were close by. Her defence is her bite.
She had dug a bit of a hole (see below), but the ground here was mixed - everything from sand and clay to rocks. She seems to have given up when she found the rocks were too large.
As she was not moving we looked around the property. There were about a dozen different places we could identify that she had already had a go at digging and had to give up. Where there was solid rock just underground we could understand why she stopped. But she had also tried where we have flowers growing in deep sandy soil. It seemed that sand was not to her liking - she wanted gravel.
We at first thought this excavation on the edge of our parking area was yet another of the "trial digs" this turtle had made. But later we realised it looked very similar to the nest she finally dug and filled in, complete with a tail hole. So maybe this was an actual nest dug and filled earlier by a different turtle.
She then started to roam around again, but in spurts. A long pause (5-10 minutes) and then a brisk walk. Twice she went from the back to the front of the house and then back again, with the occasional test scrape.
By 6 pm we couldn't find her and decided she had wandered off and found somewhere better. Then we noticed her peering over the cliff edge. This granite rock wall forms the edge of our driveway area and is about 10 ft high. She just stayed there for longer than we had the patience to stand and watch. We felt sure she would turn around and continue wandering when she was ready...
But 15 minutes later we found her on the gravel of the driveway, starting to dig her nest. There is no way she could have got down there other than just walking off the cliff edge and tumbling down the rocks to the bottom. She looked none the worse for the adventure and had finally found "the right spot". Right in our driveway.
Click below to see video of her digging.
Finally she finished digging. Those strong legs and claws came into their own to work their way through the hard-packed gravel of the driveway.
Laying the eggs was a slow, steady process. Each egg was preceded by her hind leg slowly lifting and then lowering. Then, after the egg fell she seemed to tamp it into the nest with her leg. You couldn't help think she would be just scrambling all the eggs with her powerful feet and claws.
Click below to see video of her laying three eggs. Be patient - it might look like the video is frozen, but she was very still between eggs (unlike the camera-man!).
Finally, 3½ hours after we started watching, she had finished laying her eggs and back-filling the nest. It was a very distinctive shape, with a hole where her tail had been.
Click below to see video of her filling in her nest.
Off she headed, leaving patterns in the gravel like we have seen on beaches where sea turtles have laid their eggs. It seems that as she starts away from the nest her claws are still in digging mode, and only relax to walking mode once she has gone a few yards.
She headed off taking the shortest route to the water. Nick followed her down the hill. When she got to a steep bit near the bottom she just tumbled head over heels and into the lake before swimming off.
Now we are left with a turtle nest in our driveway that we need to protect from driving on for the next three months!
Scroll forward to September 4. We've had our wildlife camera watching the nest site for two weeks and caught nothing more than a chipmunk and the neighbour's dog. Last night we give up and moved the camera to look for otters near the dock. Today we see a hole in the ground; the eggs gave hatched and the turtles gone!
We thought that was the end of the story, but the next morning in the middle of the path to the dock (half way down the hill to the water), there was a baby snapper!
Shown here with a Canadian Loonie for size comparison - we had no geologist's hammer available! Bigger than expected, considering the size of the eggs.
For fear of its being eaten by a crow or stepped on we helped it to the water, and watched as it figured out what it was meant to do. Then we left it on its own to let nature take its course.