I had several hobbies while growing up at our home in addition to fishing and swimming. They included collecting turtles and collecting bird nests.
I don’t know how I got started collecting box turtles. Maybe it was because I would occasionally see a stray turtle slowly crossing our road. I’d feel compelled to move it the nearest wooded area rather than have it risk the traffic. Once seen, turtles are easy to catch as their speed in notoriously slow. They usually hiss and close up when you approach them. They are active in the spring and summer and hibernate in the late fall by digging into leaf or debris piles and becoming dormant until the next spring. Linda Hamilton was often a partner in the hunts and in feeding of the turtles. Each year we found a few turtles and keep them in a small pen for a week or so. We fed them fruit and berries and loved to watch them devour such treats as overripe strawberries. Their necks went out very far as they bit into their morsels of food. After a while we let them go near where they had been found. Some looked familiar and I am sure I was catching a few of the same turtles each year. I don’t believe that their range is all that expansive. One year I made a concerted effort to find as many turtles as I could and to try to create a “zoo” atmosphere for them. I scoured the woods and other areas which appeared to be prime areas for turtles. By mid-summer I had accumulated 21 turtles. I kept them on our property in a walled square foundation that had been part of an old building which had been taken down. It was at least 15 foot square and seemed ample for all of my turtles. I filled it with some vegetation and a few logs to simulate their natural habitat. It provided ample space for them to move around and seek shelter from the summer sun or occasional rains. I fed them daily with an array of lettuce, berries, apples and watermelons. I am not sure if that was the best diet for the turtles but they all seemed to stay healthy. In late fall, as all the turtles seemed to be trying to settle in for the winter, I filled the foundation with about one foot of old leaves and mulch. It was a warm blanket for my 21 winter guests. Throughout the cold winter, with its’ snow and cold weather I wondered how my turtles were doing. Was this an experiment gone all wrong? Had I killed all the turtles simply because I wanted to have my “zoo”? I decided that, if the turtles survived, I would feed them and let them go and not override nature’s balance of turtles again. When we finally had a warm spell and with spring at hand I anxiously began to uncover my turtles. At first I uncovered most of the heavy cover of leaves and waited a day or so to see if there was any movement. Seeing some in the remaining leaves I began to complete the process to find that all but one of the turtles had survived. That may have been a better percentage than there would have been had the turtles spent their winter in the wild. I’ll never know the answer to that question. I do know that the experience had put an end to my turtle collecting experiment.
Collecting Bird Nests
I was always interested in how birds made their nests and how each particular species made its own “signature” nest. Some were made with mud and straw. Others were of sticks or strips of bark and some even hung from tree branches. Some were very well constructed while others seemed to be built more haphazardly but each species made a nest similar to each other. The most ideal time to find and collect bird nests is in the fall when the leaves have fallen, the nest are more visible and the birds have finished raising their family. Birds usually build a new nest each year so no damage is done by retrieving the nest after it has been abandoned. As with collecting turtles, I believe that Linda Hamilton was my partner in this venture as well. One must be very careful to remove the nest cleanly so that its’ great shape and form was maintained. I built many shelves in the chicken coop in our yard and displayed each nest on these shelves. I would try to determine the species that used the nest and label the shelf accordingly. Over my collecting period I accumulated many nest of several species. Birds always seemed to know where to build their nest to protect it from the wind, rain and predators. One of the most notable of the nests were those of the Orioles which were made of woven bark strips and hung like a sock from high branches. Those were often difficult to climb up to and retrieve. Another interesting one was the nest of the Red Start which was small and neatly woven together to form a perfect small pocket. I even marveled at how the common Robin would start its nest by making a mud shell which it would then line with soft straw and dry grass. Occasionally I would find small pieces of string or ribbon in nests that the birds obviously felt was wonderful building materials. I really enjoyed the collection and often visited the coop just to study the nests again. Because of my collection I would spend considerable time reading up on each species to help with the nest identification process as well as to learn more about their life cycles. Unfortunately, most of the nesting woodlands on Staten Island have now been replaced by housing developments and shopping centers and many of the bird species of my time are no longer found in the area. I don’t remember what I eventually did with my collection but I enjoyed it while I had it.