Lake Erie Plains, Ohio

Spotted Turtles and Woodcock Get a Boost

Spotted turtles and woodcock are getting a boost from habitat improvements at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s 345-acre Geneva Swamp Preserve south of Lake Erie in Ashtabula County.

Spotted turtles need young forest

The spotted turtle is just one of many kinds of wildlife that share young forest habitat with woodcock./J. Mays

In one 4.35-acre area, reports WMI biologist Jeff Herrick, “We went in with a skid steer and a mulching head to set back hardwood trees that were taking over a wet meadow. The meadow opening now has a dense regrowth of herbaceous plants giving way to new woody growth. Shallow pools of water and low ridges of sand provide feeding and egg-laying areas for spotted turtles, which are listed as a threatened species in Ohio." Nearby lie vernal pools used by the turtles and a host of amphibian species.

Woodcock use the wet meadows as springtime singing grounds, and for ground-roosting in spring and fall, both before and after they wing across Lake Erie during migration. Much of the Preserve area was cut about 15 years ago; the trees that have grown back are now at “pole stage.” This means they’re like poles, thin and spindly, with space between them. But because their crowns have knit together, they're now casting too much shade on the ground, causing low plants to die out. Since they no longer provide the good dense habitat that spotted turtles and woodcock need, more cutting is planned in some of the forest stands on the Preserve.

Wet meadow in northern Ohio

Wet meadows provide important habitat for spotted turtles./J. Herrick

Habitat for Massasaugas, Too

A few miles to the south in the Grand River Watershed, Herrick is working with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to make habitat for woodcock – habitat that also helps Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes. The massasauga is classified as endangered in Ohio and is being considered for threatened or endangered status at the federal level. Massasaugas live in moist soil areas (they hibernate in crayfish burrows), including old fields and stands of shrubs and young trees, prime habitat for woodcock.

With funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, managers are cutting areas of white pines that form woodland barriers that massasaugas won’t travel through. Following timber cutting, thick shrub growth has replaced a formerly barren forest floor, and the new habitat is hospitable to massasaugas, as well as the snakes' prey. So far, conservationists have removed 6 acres of pines, with 3 more acres to be cut in the near future. They have also transformed 61 acres of abandoned farm fields into damp young-forest habitat by plugging old ditches and drainage tiles and letting native shrubs grow back.

All of these activities mean more young forest in northeastern Ohio, greatly helping the wildlife, both rare and abundant, that need this important habitat.