Those of us who are mourning the recent death of Sir Terry Pratchett have no difficulty associating stars with shelled reptiles, since the great British humorist/fantasy author set his imaginary planet of Discworld on the back of the Great A’Tuin, a gigantic turtle flying amongst the galaxies. For everyone else, it’s the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) that pulls together these two disparate topics in the coming weeks in the Town of Gardiner, with fun events lined up for science geeks of both the astrophysical and the herpetological persuasion.
Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina) – too small to carry a planet, but of just the right size and mild temperament for little kids to handle and observe – are the subject of interest this Saturday morning, May 9, on the 65-acre Smith Property in Gardiner’s Tuthilltown neighborhood. The Smith family, with the aid of biologist Joe Bridges, have been monitoring the creatures’ migrations, habits and reproductive success since 2005, distinguishing individual turtles by the fingerprintlike orange-and-black rosette patterns on their domed shells. And each year the WVLT organizes a Turtle Day, when the general public of all ages is invited to join the hunt.
Anne Smith will join Bridges in leading the Turtle Day Walk and Talk, which will begin at 10 a.m. with a brief overview of the project and a lesson in box turtle identification. Then comes the fieldwork. Turtles will be sought, identified, logged, mapped and photographed, but not harmed. Some may be outfitted with transmitters for electronic telemetry to help track their movements. The outing is scheduled to run until 12 noon, rain or shine; come prepared for choppy terrain and ticks.
Participation is limited and advance registration with the WVLT is required by calling (845) 255-2761 or e-mailing [email protected]. Please leave your name, e-mail address and phone number in your message so that your participation can be confirmed. Directions to the meetup point will be provided upon registration. There is no fee to participate. You can learn lots more about the monitoring project at https://www.boxturtlesny.com.
If you’re a night owl rather than a morning person, or prefer looking up to looking down, you might have more fun the following Friday evening, May 15, when the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association (MHAA) brings its telescopes and collective sky knowledge to the Osborne Farm and Conservation Easement – also in Gardiner near its border with New Paltz. This protected property is in close proximity to the Wallkill River, with a nice open field of view and little light pollution nearby.
General admission to the stargazing event is free; non-WVLT members pay $5. Call (845) 255-2761 or e-mail [email protected] for more details and the meeting location. The group will gather at 8:30 p.m., allowing some time before full dark to walk out to the viewing site and get the optical equipment set up. If the weather cooperates, you’ll get a great look at the heavens. Any spacefaring turtle sightings are the viewer’s own responsibility.
Wallkill Valley Land Trust’s Turtle Day, Saturday, May 10, 10 a.m.-12 noon, free, Smith Property, Gardiner; Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association Stargazing, Friday, May 15, 8:30 p.m., $5, Osborne Farm, Gardiner; (845) 255-2761, [email protected].