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Swimming for turtles

This big wetland is only about 40 minutes from my house, and it's full of interesting flora and fauna. When time is short and all-day field trips are out, I love to pop over to this place with cameras in tow. Interesting subjects abound.

I nipped into the wetland for a few hours last Saturday, and damselflies and dragonflies were my primary targets. This is a pair of western slender bluets, Enallagma traviatum westfalli, in tandem. The male, above, has a hammerlock on the female. His specialized claspers lock around her neck, and he'll hold onto her until she drops (oviposits) her eggs. Rather Cro-Magnonlike, but if he doesn't guard her, another male is liable to come along, knock his sperm out, and replace it with his own.

These western slender bluets are tiny, as are most of their damselfly ilk. A close approach is important in order to obtain good images.

So it's into the drink I go. By wading in with my subjects, I've found that I can approach them much easier than if I were fully exposed on dry land. Plus, it's simpler to get down on their level, which makes for better images. Besides, in the case of certain dragonflies, it can be tough or impossible to get near them from shore.

I've noticed that there are a few traits that make a photographer better than average (and I'm not saying that I am, but I do try and improve). One is technical mastery of the equipment, and with today's complex cameras that takes some serious work. Two, an eye for light and composition can make what might be a mediocre shot in some hands a really fabulous image in other hands. Three, really trying to learn your subjects makes a huge difference. Knowledge of what animals might be where, and how they behave, helps tremendously when stalking prey.

Finally, a willingness to become one with your subject, and sometimes that involves wading shoulder-deep into a wetland. I don't always get this wet, but I am constantly lying on my belly or otherwise contorting myself to get better angles of the plants or critters that I'm shooting.

While I was wading about pursuing bluets, I glanced further out into the wetland and noticed a turtle basking on some floating wood. You can see the animal on the far right of the photo. Turtles can be tough to closely approach, as most are very wary and drop into the water long before a person can get near them.

But it seems to throw these reptiles for a loop when only your head and shoulders project from the water. I decided to slowly make my way towards the turtle, and see if I could make some photos.

By slowly and furtively gliding through the water, I was able to literally get right in this midland painted turtle's face. I'm sure she had no idea what I was, and merely watched my slow approach without flinching.

My reward for neck-deep wading was the opportunity to stick my lens right in the turtle's face. I was actually using macro lens to make these shots. I was so close that the turtle stuck its foot out and pushed at my camera lens at one point, as if to say "back off, ye paparazzi!"

Painted turtles are our most common turtle, and can be found in ponds, lakes, and wetlands in every Ohio county. They normally don't get very large, but this unit was a chunk. Turtles can live a long time, and I suspect this one has been around for a while.

We're close enough to see the banded eye, and the bidentate (double-toothed) upper mandible.

Up close and personal with one of her heavily armored forelegs. The scaly plates call to mind a stegosaurus or some other dinosaur, of which turtles are distant relatives. Painted turtles eat a wide variety of plants, insects, and other small aquatic insects. Those powerful claws are useful for digging out food, and digging itself into the mud to hibernate.

In spite of my intrusion into this turtle's personal space, it never really acted as if it were alarmed; in fact, at times it would close its eyes as if napping. Here we can see its tan-colored plastron, or under shell. The upper shell is called a carapace, and it is comprised of tough bony plates called scutes. Painted turtles are so-named because of the bright crimson-red markings that adorn the edges of the carapace.

After I was done making my photos, I retreated and the turtle remained on her basking perch. In addition to being grateful that the turtle allowed me to share her space, I was thankful that no leeches attached themselves to me this time.

Thanks to Cheryl Erwin for taking the photos of me neck-deep in the wetland!


rebecca said…
The bit about wading to get close to dragonflies made me smile, because I spent a chunk of the weekend almost falling into lakes while trying to get photos of Frosted and Dot-tailed Whitefaces! Maybe next time I'll see if my waders will fit in my backpack when I bike out to a lake.
KaHolly said…
Look at you!! I spend a lot of time in the wetlands - they never disappoint! But I must admit I've not gotten quite that close! Made for some great shots!
OpposableChums said…
Who'da thunk you get get so close to such a wary specimen. Amazing. And thanks.
Musicmom said…
Thanks for such interesting up close photos
Bob B. (Powell OH) said…
These photos are amazing! And so glad you didn't slip with that camera in such deep water...
Anonymous said…
Jim, you're crazier than I am. : )

Jim Dolan
Pat Ernst said…
What's next? Noodling for catfish? Great effort for some great photos!

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