Be on the look­out this month

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­

This week, stu­dents in all three coun­ties of South­ern Mary­land will have their last day of school.

My kids won’t be the only chil­dren glee­fully singing “No more pen­cils, no more books” with big smiles on their faces. Sum­mer va­ca­tion will soon be un­der­way, so keep a vig­i­lant eye on the roads while driv­ing. There will be lot more young­sters run­ning around the neigh­bor­hood streets and fre­quent­ing the play­grounds and parks the next few months.

Just last week I saw a young boy rid­ing his bike down the side of the road with his fish­ing rod bungee-corded to the back. I knew ex­actly where he was go­ing and wished I was head­ing to the same place in­stead of the gro­cery store.

Most of us would prob­a­bly en­joy go­ing back in time and re­liv­ing the lazy days of sum­mer as a child again. But since that’s not pos­si­ble, let’s do what we can to en­cour­age our own chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, nieces and neph­ews and the kids down the

street to ven­ture out­side this sum­mer and ex­pe­ri­ence all the nat­u­ral world has to of­fer.

Sum­mer doesn’t last that long and be­fore you know it, Septem­ber will be ush­er­ing our kids back to a struc­tured sched­ule that doesn’t al­ways leave time for play. Don’t take the un­struc­tured down­time of sum­mer for granted. While it’s here, make some plans to do some­thing fun out­doors with the im­por­tant peo­ple in your life and en­joy th­ese sweet days.

While you’re keep­ing an eye out for young­sters dur­ing your daily com­mute, don’t be sur­prised if you no­tice a lot more wildlife out and about. This time of year it’s a com­mon sight to see a small shelled crea­ture pok­ily cross­ing the road. Many box tur­tles will be on the move dur­ing the first few weeks of June, look­ing for a place to nest or a new ter­ri­tory to call home.

If you’re so in­clined to stop your car and help a tur­tle along, make sure to pull all the way over and put your haz­ard lights on. Just move the lit­tle guy to the side of the road and make sure to point him in the di­rec­tion he was go­ing.

Since box tur­tles can trans­mit the sal­monella bac­te­ria, it’s a smart idea to put a bar­rier be­tween your hand and the tur­tle’s shell. Empty plas­tic shop­ping bags or nap­kins from the drive-thru will make do in a pinch, but it’s wise to keep a pair of old leather work gloves in the trunk for any sort of emer­gency that in­volves wildlife. A can­is­ter of san­i­tiz­ing wipes come in handy, too. Wipe your hands, door han­dle and steer­ing wheel af­ter touch­ing a tur­tle or any wild an­i­mal. As soon as you can, wash your hands thor­oughly with soap and wa­ter.

It might be tempt­ing to take a tur­tle home and re­lease it in your back­yard, but those good in­ten­tions can have a ter­ri­ble out­come for the tur­tle. Box tur­tles usu­ally live within a few hun­dred yards of the nest they hatched from and have a strong hom­ing in­stinct that drives them to re­turn to their ter­ri­tory, putting them in harm’s way as they at­tempt to re­turn home

espe­cially if it’s a long dis­tance or re­quires cross­ing the road again.

A box tur­tle has a dark brown­ish or black shell with dis­tinc­tive yel­low mot­tled streaks. You might no­tice that some tur­tles have yel­low eyes while oth­ers have red. That’s an easy way to tell the girls from the boys. Male box tur­tles have red eyes.

There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent species of tur­tle that re­side in our area. If you en­counter a tur­tle with a dark col­ored shell and long tail, don’t at­tempt to

pick it up and keep your dis­tance. Snap­ping tur­tles can be very ag­gres­sive. They have flex­i­ble necks and can turn and bite a per­son even when be­ing held by the sides of their shell.

Once when I was younger, my mom stopped the car for a whole fam­ily of snap­ping tur­tles sun­bathing in the street, en­joy­ing the dou­ble whammy of heat em­a­nat­ing off the pave­ment and beat­ing down on their shells si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

My mom sent me out to shoo them off the road. Some peo­ple say snap­ping tur­tles can’t jump, but I have first­hand knowl­edge that they

in­deed can, and they hiss and lunge, too. I got right back in the car and told my mom she would have to do it her­self. She pru­dently de­cided to just drive around them.

While box tur­tles aren’t en­dan­gered, they could use all the help they can get th­ese days. South­ern Mary­land has grown quickly the last few decades and the con­tin­u­ous pace of de­vel­op­ment is shrink­ing their habi­tat ev­ery day.

As you drive around our lovely part of Mary­land, keep an eye out for box tur­tles. Next time you see one play­ing chicken in the mid­dle of the road, pull over and save a tiny

part of our lo­cal ecosys­tem. It won’t take but a minute of your time but it will make a big dif­fer­ence to a small crea­ture that can live 100 years or more in the wild. Just be sure to pull well off the road and to be as safe as pos­si­ble.

Horse­shoe crabs need our help

There’s an­other an­i­mal in our midst that could use a lit­tle as­sis­tance from hu­mans over the next month, too.

The horse­shoe crab, which has been in ex­is­tence since be­fore the time of the di­nosaurs, is mak­ing its an­nual trek

from the At­lantic Ocean to our beaches to spawn right now. With the full moon on June 9 and the new moon on June 23, this is go­ing to be a busy cou­ple of weeks for horse­shoe crabs.

The De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources is ask­ing Mar ylan­ders to lend a help­ing hand to any horse­shoe crabs on the beach that have been flipped onto their backs by the surf. While they sport a long pointy tail to help them right them­selves, with their tiny feet and cum­ber­some shell, it’s of­ten an im­pos­si­ble task.

A sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of spawn­ing horse­shoe crabs, up to 10 per­cent, get stranded ever y year and die. Horse­shoe crabs aren’t en­dan­gered, but their num­bers are de­creas­ing world­wide, which is bad news for the log­ger­head tur­tles that prey on them or the mul­ti­tude of shore­birds that de­pend on their eggs for sus­te­nance dur­ing long mi­gra­tions.

Horse­shoe crabs look a lit­tle scary, but they are gen­tle crea­tures that won’t hurt or bite peo­ple. DNR rec­om­mends pick­ing up a stranded horse­shoe crab by ei­ther side of its shell (never by its tail) and turn­ing it over so it can re­turn to the wa­ter.

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