Now, in mid-April, we feel spring, glorious spring, the season of awakening and renewal. The greatest show on earth is just outside our windows and backdoor.
Grasses green-up, rhubarb grows faster, bloodroots and white trout-lilies bloom in woodlands. Wood frogs make their bark-like calls, and western chorus frogs sound like metallic clickers in shallow grassy ponds. Great horned owls and bald eagles tend to their nestlings. Canada geese and mallard ducks incubate eggs. Purple martin, barn swallow and yellow-rumped warbler migrants arrive.
Gardeners plant onions, potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, lettuce and radishes. Painted turtles are up on platforms, such as half-sunken logs, sunning themselves since the first pond and lake ice-outs in March. Seeing turtles out sunning is a great sign of spring for us, but it must be more thrilling for them — they've spent the winter under the ice.
The painted turtle, aka the mud turtle, is small with an upper shell up to about 6 inches long and bright orange-red markings on its underside. It is the most common of Minnesota's eight turtle species. Ponds and lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation are their habitat.
Although it isn't easy to approach the painted turtle, it's the least wary of Minnesota turtles. Its habit of sunning just above the water on a floating log makes it easy to see. People often wonder why turtles bask in the sunlight with outstretched necks, legs and tails. Biologists tell us they do this to raise their body temperatures, enabling food to digest.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.