Earthshine Mountain Lodge

Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks Newsletter

Editor: Steve O'Neil

Issue 4, Summer 2009

A Newsletter All About Nature From Earthshine Mountain Lodge

The Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks Newsletter is a way for you to connect with your favorite outdoor education and adventure vacation destination: Earthshine Mountain Lodge. Within the pages of this periodic email newsletter, you will receive updates on the Turtle Tracks Eastern Box Turtle Conservation program and current nature related events from Earthshine Lodge and select wildlife related news from around the world. Within this newsletter you will also find photos from around Earthshine taken by the staff and you, the guests of Earthshine, as well as nature and outdoor education related trivia, games and puzzles. We will also keep you up-to-date on new things happening at Earthshine that we believe you may be interested in.

An Earthshine sunset

After a summer thunderstorm passed by, I took this beautiful photo from the upper deck.

Summer has been beautiful on the mountaintop. The forests are alive with the sounds of wildlife and families searching for fun, friends, food and family. The Flight Thru the Treetops zipline course, water slide, high ropes course and other activities have been very busy with folks from all over coming to enjoy the mountain Earthshine style! If you are looking for an unforgettable place to take your holiday vacation we still have some rooms available for the summer so please give us a call today at (828) 862-4207.

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world" - John Muir


Lets all say a big THANK YOU to the folks from the Cullasaja Club who came to Earthshine to learn about Box Turtles. They not only tracked Jimmy Irwin but were able to help collect a DNA sample from a new turtle that Benny found near the zip shed! What a grand adventure!

The frequent spring rains have spawned an abundance of leafy greens, slugs, snails and other juicy morsels for the Earthshine turtles to chow down on so they have had a great spring and are all fat and happy. Below is an update on each turtle we are tracking in the project as well as the resident turtles at Earthshine Lodge.


Catherine came out of hibernation and went straight to the blackberry patch across from the barn where she spent most of last summer. She stayed there for several weeks and gained lots of weight so I believe she is gravid (pregnant). She then made her way up toward the lodge and headed up and over the mountain behind the high ropes course, off of Earthshine's property! A few days ago when I tried to locate her I could not find her transmitter's signal--she was that far away! So I headed up to the top of the mountain to try again. I did find her signal but it was very weak so I headed off toward it. I soon found her in the very same field in almost the very same place and at almost the very same time where I found her last year--amazing! I think she has returned to the tiny field in the forest to lay her eggs. I will weigh her after she returns to Earthshine to see if she has lost weight (which she did last year)--this may indicate that she may have laid her eggs in the tiny field...very interesting for sure. Below is a photo of Catherine heading toward the overgrown field--can you find her in the picture?


Jimmy Irwin has visited the rose bush island that I call "Jimmy's Place" more than once this year. Most recently we found him near the garden about 30 feet from a female turtle that was found by a neighbor on the other side of the mountain last year. It is possible that they know each other. In late June I had to take Jimmy out of the wild and place him in the holding pen so that the fields could be mowed. At some point after I placed him in the holding pen he either somehow escaped or was let out by a guest of the lodge that was unaware of the the project. Jimmy promptly made his way through the fields and over the hills and back to his habitat! When I found him a couple of days ago he was about 40 feet from "Jimmy's Place!" The box turtle's homing instinct is truly amazing!

Check out one of the most recent videos from Jimmy's Tracks below.


Mojo has been very active this spring. Shortly after he came out of hibernation he received a new transmitter to replace the aging unit that had worked flawlessly since late summer 2007. He has since traveled all over the side of the mountain cove where he lives. Check out one of his latest videos below where I had some help from the Shank family--thanks guys!


The other two turtles we are tracking at the Cedar Mountain study site are doing a lot of moving. Bones came out of hibernation and headed straight for his summer spot in the bog near the barn. He then moved dangerously close to the busy highway so we decided to move him back up in the woods near his hibernation site. A few days later Meredith and I discovered him mating with a new turtle! Check out our discovery here (don't worry, it is rated G).

This is excellent because it means more turtles for the future! A few days after we found him in such a compromising position, Meredith found him heading back toward the barn. He obviously knows exactly where he is and he wants to be there. When I located him just a few days ago he was in the woods near the cabin in the below photo--can you find him?

Here's a close-up of Bones in his hiding place from the above photo.

Back in the spring Mrs. Bones came out of hibernation and moved from her hibernation site to the horse pasture near the highway were she was discovered. She has been there ever since, living in the grassy median between the pasture and the road. This is not a safe place for such a small animal to live. Although she seems to be content and aware of the danger of the traffic just inches away, due to impending mowing of the median we decided to move her out of concern for her safety about 1/8 mile up into the forest--within a few days she had made her way back to the field. A week or so later I was in the process of locating her and a highway mower was in the process of cutting the grass in the exact spot where Mrs. Bones lives! I looked for her after the mower passed and was relieved to find her unharmed--but only about three feet away from where the mower had passed! I decided then and there to move her a bit further into the woods to a small opening in the forest in the hopes that she would lay her eggs in the safety of the forest and linger there until the mowing crews were finished before heading back to the edge of the road. Once she returns (and we know she will) she will find short grass and no cover--what will she do? That is the question. Will she stay and take shelter in the pines and bushes hear the edge of the road or will she move to a nearby area that provides more cover? Only time will tell.

Take a look at the latest movie of Mrs. Bones below:

WILD NOTE: We know that box turtles (and other turtles) actually know where they are and prefer to be in their home habitats. Moving them short distances of only a few hundred yards doesn't seem to cause them any issue; however, moving them over longer distances will greatly confuse them and cause them to wander in search of home. Turtles that have been moved great distances will often die crossing roads while searching for their homes. Please, if you find a box turtle just leave it where you found it or if it is crossing a road, move it to the side of the road it was heading toward. It will thank you for the lift.

Most of the permanent residents of the outdoor turtle pen--Tripod, Woody, Rose, Rowdy, Meredith and Chewy--are doing great. They all awoke from hibernation and have been feeding heavily on juicy slugs and snails from Meredith's organic garden and fruits from Marney and Nick's kitchen.


Tripod is doing great and is the heaviest of all the turtles. Here is a recent photo of Tripod and her prosthesis. Tripod is being held by Turtle Tracks volunteer Whitman Kent.

The prosthesis is a plastic chair skid that is epoxied onto her plastron. It raises up the "corner" of her shell where she is missing a leg and has greatly helped her mobility and she does not get those nasty infections that she used to get before she received her "peg-leg."


Woody is gaining weight and looks great but we don't see her very much since she likes to keep hidden in the thick foliage. Here is a photo of Woody hiding in her shell while Whitman looks on. Whitman and his dad George helped me with a health check-up for some of the turtles on July 01. Thank you for your help with the turtles, Whitman and George!


This spring Rose was attacked by an unknown assailant (possibly a chipmunk or other small rodent) and received an injury to her unusable right rear leg and her fat little rump. The injuries were not life-threatening so we treated her with topical and subcutaneous antibiotics and she healed up nicely. She is however ignoring us and staying well hidden--probably because she doesn't want to get stuck with a needle anymore.


Rowdy--the turtle in the background in the above photo--is healing nicely and his fractured shell looks great. We do not see him very often because is likes to stay well hidden under the logs and shrubs in the habitat. (In case you are wondering, the other turtle in the photo is Mojo.)


Meredith moved from the quarantine habitat to the main habitat this spring. Since her move she has been seen only a few times and has gained weight--a good sign that she is doing well.


I found Chewy last fall after he was hit by a car and then possibly chewed on by a dog or Coyote. After a visit to our great veterinarian Dr. Coleman, I kept him in my home over the winter for observation. This spring I released him into the rehab pen to recover from his injuries before his release hopefully this fall. He is doing great and healing nicely and has been seen a couple of times since but he is keeping himself well hidden--so there is no photo of Chewy...yet.

John Rucker and his turtle dogs return to Earthshine!

John Rucker brought his wonderful turtle dogs back to Earthshine during the first week of June. I assisted John and the dogs as they located turtles at two other sites before coming to Earthshine--it was a real honor to be able to assist John Rucker, Ron Davis and his students as we searched for turtles all over the rugged North Carolina back country. In three days the dogs (and the humans) ran all over the fields and forests and found only three turtles at each site. At Earthshine one of the turtles was Jimmy Irwin, the second had been previously discovered in 2008 and the third was a new turtle. So why didn't John and his dogs find many turtles? John believes that it is because of the very wet spring we have been having. His theory is that the turtles have fed so much since coming out of hibernation that they are just not moving much. I agree with him since I have found only one new turtle this year and the turtles I am radio-tracking at Earthshine are not moving very much at all. They are just not doing much because they are fat and happy. Check out the videos below of John and his dogs looking for turtles at Balsam Mountain Preserve, the Waynesville Watershed and Earthshine Mountain Lodge. Be sure to watch all three of the videos by clicking the embedded link at the end of each video to take you to the next one in the series.

John and the dogs will hopefully return to Earthshine in the late summer or early fall to search for turtles--keep an eye out for the next newsletter for more information and you may be able to be here when it happens!

Here's a new puzzle! See how fast you can complete this puzzle of a Loggerhead Sea turtle named Mama Prichard. She is a patient at the Sea Turtle Hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston SC. NOTE: If the puzzle does not appear you may need to update your computers flash player.

For more puzzles and other fun stuff be sure to check out the Earthshine Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks

Kid Zone Page!

Turtle Tracks Fundraiser UPDATE

Many of you may have talked with me about box turtles and other reptiles at Earthshine Lodge. Some of you may have even attended a turtle tracking expedition searching for one of the turtles that have tiny radio transmitters attached to their shells. These turtles are all part of the Earthshine Turtle Tracks Eastern Box Turtle conservation, rehabilitation and education program which is primarily donation-funded by folks just like you. Several times per year the Turtle Tracks staff (Meredith and I) put together fundraisers to raise money to cover the operational costs of the Turtle Tracks program. Without your generous support and turtle adoptions this wonderful wildlife conservation project would not be possible.

The newest Turtle Tracks fundraiser is a unique collectible coin that I designed. This coin will be a primary fundraiser for the Turtle Tracks project for 2009. We hope that some of you might be interested in helping out the project by purchasing this new, unique and low-cost collectible coin.

This coin is reptile-themed with an Eastern Box Turtle on one side and an Eastern Diamondback Rattler (my other favorite reptile) on the other--and believe it or not this coin rattles like a rattlesnake when you shake it!! You can buy the new coin when it goes up for pre-sale on my website starting June 29th by clicking HERE.

Get one fast because they will only be up for pre-sale from June 29th thru July 10th. All proceeds from the sale of each of these coins--after production costs--will be used to directly provide funds for the:

Earthshine Turtle Tracks Eastern Box Turtle conservation, rehabilitation and education program based at Earthshine Mountain Lodge in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina USA.

Check out the Turtle Tracks coin on its website and read about why I created it and how its other goal is spreading the message of wildlife and habitat conservation to the world through the outdoor and family-oriented scavenger hunt game known as Geocaching.

Check out the Turtle Tracks home page here.

You may also help Earthshine's box turtles by sponsoring them with a monetary donation or a donation of supplies. If you would like to learn how you can become a part of the Turtle Tracks program please click the photo-link below.


A turtle was calmly munching on a juicy berry when he was mugged by two belligerent slugs wearing masks. When the police arrived and asked the shaken turtle what had happened he stated: "I don't remember officer--it all happened so fast!"


South Carolina Aquarium at Charleston

Sea Turtle Rescue Hospital

By Earthshine Naturalist Steve O'Neil

Recently I had the honor to visit the Sea Turtle Hospital at the Charleston South Carolina Aquarium. The goal of the Sea Turtle Hospital is to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles and then release them back into their native habitat--the ocean. It is a huge job that takes love, dedication and long hours of hard work. The folks I met at the Sea Turtle Hospital are truly passionate about their work and their cause--they live and breathe to help sea turtles. Check out this video I put together of the Sea Turtle Hospital and several of the turtles who are patients there now.

You can learn more and take a tour of the sea turtle hospital here.


I have been collecting loads of DNA samples from box turtles at Earthshine as well as from many other locations all over the mountains. Most of this DNA consists of claw clippings from each turtle so it in no way harms the turtles--and they get a "pedicure" in the process. I have also had the unfortunate job of collecting DNA from turtles that I find on roads that have not made it across. In these cases I take more than a claw--I take the whole toe! While it sounds gruesome, at least the turtle doesn't need its toe anymore and its DNA will help researchers at the University of Texas at Tyler compile a genetic map of box turtles all over their range. This data will help herpetologists, reptile researchers, conservationists and private individuals develop better habitat management plans that will support box turtles everywhere.

Check out this video of box turtle tracking and DNA collection in action at Earthshine Lodge.

I have also been collecting big gobs of frog, toad and salamander slime for the Chytrid fungus monitoring project. Check out these most recent photos of amphibian slime collection in action!

Chytrid fungus is killing frogs and other amphibians all over the planet and scientists are trying to learn all they can about the fungus so they can stop it before it causes the extinction of the Earth's amphibians. To learn more about the fungus and how you can help, check out the wonderful folks at Save the Frogs. If you missed the slimy frog slime collecting video from the last slimy newsletter--don't worry, you can still check out its slime in the video below!

Not only do I work as naturalist and outdoor educator at Earthshine, I am also a volunteer for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission's Non-game Endangered Wildlife program. I put in a great deal of time collecting data on reptiles and amphibians in order to help them survive the perils that they face due to living in a human dominated world. Why do I do it? Because it needs to be done or these animals will not survive. Although reptiles and amphibians are integral parts of a healthy ecosystem, they are widely misunderstood, irrationally feared and often killed on sight due to this fear and ignorance. In many areas of the world they are poached from the wild by the millions, shipped overseas and end up in markets where they are then sold and eaten. Some local beliefs say that eating the meat of these long-lived, sometimes venomous (poisonous) and unusual animals will help a person live longer or have some other positive health benefit--nothing could be further from the truth. Science has shown that it may actually be the opposite because many of these creatures like turtles for example, are reservoirs of heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Eating animals such as turtles my actually shorten your life rather than extend it--chew on that for awhile. Many of these creatures are also being negatively affected by climate change that is directly a result of human actions. Since I am human then I am part of the problem so I feel that I need to do all that I can to be part of the solution.

See if you can you find Mojo the turtle in this photo? Photo by the Shank family.

My way of helping these creatures is not only through grueling volunteer fieldwork, often harsh weather and terrain but also by public education--that can sometimes be even more grueling than the weather and terrain. Through guided "Critter hunt" nature hikes and turtle tracking expeditions at Earthshine Lodge, outreach programs at local schools and other organizations and my Wildlife Adventures With Steve video series on YouTube I bring nature to you, the people who need to know. I want to help people better understand these special creatures. Learn how beautiful, unique and important these creatures are to a healthy earth and healthy humans. If folks go on a nature hike with me and get to meet a wild turtle, snake, frog or salamander--they see that it is not scary, or that it is trying to kill me or give me warts--they see that it is just trying to survive like we are. If folks see how amazing and beautiful these creatures truly are, then maybe they will develop an interest and possibly a passion for wildlife and nature. Once you understand something then you may grow to love it; once you love something you will naturally want to protect it. It is my goal and my hope to help folks form a connection with and a passion for nature, a passion that they will carry on throughout their life and pass on to their children. If am able to play just a small part in fostering that passion--then my job is done.

I am also a wildlife rehabilitator and while I specialize in reptiles I also help many other species of wildlife in need. Recently some folks called with an unusual problem: a wild turkey with an arrow stuck in its rump! Check out this picture of the unfortunate bird.

The arrow was shot into the turkey over a month ago but he seems to be OK in that he feeds, moves and flies seemingly normally--however, the other birds in his group are picking on him because of his affliction. It is imperative to remove the arrow because it will make the turkey vulnerable to predators and may eventually cause health problems. I worked with Gene (Earthshine's maintenance guru) to construct a large live trap in order to catch the turkey and remove the arrow. After setting up the trap and baiting it with corn--it didn't work. The turkeys were so wary and smart that they just ignored the trap. A few weeks later I tried a cast net--no luck either--the birds were just too fast for the net. Now I am getting ready to try a new style of net and if it does not work I may have to use a tranquilizer dart to knock out the bird. The tranquilizer dart will be the last resort so if anyone out there reading this has an idea on how I can catch the turkey please email me here.

Here's another view of the unfortunate bird.

A Black Bear Encounter

In May I was visiting a friend in the western mountains of North Carolina. One night a young Black Bear with a sweet tooth smashed one of his bee gums (hives) and made a real mess. I helped my friend repair the gum and we went to town to dinner thinking that the excitement was all over--but the bear returned and smashed the gum again so we went after him to teach him lesson. Check out the three-part video below for the entire story as I saw it happen! (You know me--I always have my video camera no matter what--and it is a good thing or I wouldn't have this footage to share with you.) Be sure to check out parts two and three by clicking on the link at the end of each video.

Photos from the Mountain top

Boys NEED to climb trees to be healthy!

Caroline and Akira were visiting from Denmark and caught several nice catfish down at the pond!

Ahhhh Summer!

Karen went to the Cayman Islands and took these great shots!

Quote of the Issue

"All this will not be finished in the first 100 days.

Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days...but let us begin."

~John F. Kennedy

NATURE NOTE: This newsletter is GREEN! The Earthshine Nature Department chose to produce this newsletter in a website-based format for several reasons: 1-It saves trees and energy! Paper newsletters are made from paper and paper is made from trees so making it an e-newsletter saves trees! 2-It saves energy. Making a paper newsletter uses loads of electricity during the editing, printing and delivery phase. 3-It saves resources such as printer ink, staples, tape, stamps and the fuel the postman would use to deliver it to your mailbox. 4-It saves money! It costs far less to produce than a paper newsletter. 5-It has full color, snappy graphics and interactive features that you just can't find in a paper newsletter. 6-All back issues will always be available in the newsletter archive if you would like to read them again one day. The only bad thing about an e-newsletter is that you can't use it to line your birdcage when you have finished reading it;-) Enjoy!

Sign up for the Earthshine Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks Newsletter and receive regular email updates on all of the nature related events at Earthshine, updates on the status of the Turtle Tracks conservation project and turtle and wildlife news and trivia from around the world! Newsletters will be in the form of a periodic email with a link to this web based newsletter so sign up now it's fun, free and educational--what more could you ask for!

Follow our tracks on the Turtle Tracks Blog!

We are also blogging on the Nature Blog Network so check us out there also! (it is the exact same blog as the one above just a different source so just pick one.)

Nature Blog Network

Questions or comments or to add or remove your name from our mailing list, please CLICK HERE Thank You!

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Check out the Earthshine Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks World Wildlife News for wildlife news from all over the planet.

Hey kids (and parents too) check out the Earthshine Nature Notes and Turtle Tracks Kid Zone Page for fun and interactive puzzles and games and more!

If you are planning a kayaking excursion in the Charleston South Carolina Area than you really should check out Coastal Expeditions! I have paddled with them and they are THE outfitter for the Charleston area. My wife Marian and I saw loads of Dolphins and a Manatee! We could not have been more happy with their recommendations and hospitality.

Check out Teens Against Whaling and help Skye Bortoli end whaling forever!

Check out the Save the Whales T-shirt at Billabong!

Please visit the South Carolina Aquarium at Charlestons Sea Turtle Rescue Program. It is an amazing facility with a very special crew who are truly dedicated to making a difference for not only individual sea turtles but also public awareness of the plight that sea turtles are facing.

Check out The Steep Canyon Rangers and listen to some of their wonderful music online.

Take a shot at Earthshine's own "Tadpole" on his website...

Check out my friend Sean Jones' site Blue Ridge Rover Works and you just may drive away in the World's Best 4X4XFar--a vintage Land Rover or Range Rover!

Check out Naturalist Steve's personal website The Snake Game where you can take a cool quiz and learn about some of our native reptiles and amphibians.

Check out Steve's Reptile Lore and Links Page and learn the TRUTH about reptiles as well as some other great websites that I support.

Visit WDN - Worldwide Didgeridoo Network

Please consider signing the below petition to help save The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. This special place in remote North Eastern Australia is a memorial to Steve Irwin "The Crocodile Hunter" and it is threatened with strip mining! Please sign the petition and pass it on to all your friends and contacts.

Check out the Bob Irwin Wildlife Fund and learn more about how Steve's father Bob Irwin is working to conserve and protect some of Australia's unique and endangered wildlife from Camp Chilli.

Visit Wildlife Warriors Worldwide and consider helping to conserve and protect wildlife and our beautiful home--Earth.

Please visit Save the Frogs to learn more about the Chytrid fungus and other dangers affecting amphibians all over the world.

Check out the Tapir Preservation Fund and please help to save one of the planet's most unique animals from extinction.

Take a look at Save The Blue who are working to protect sharks and other marine life.

Please visit Carribean Conservation Corporation, a group working to save one of my favorite creatures--Sea Turtles! On their site you can follow the tracks of several sea turtles that have satellite tags attached to their shells--very cool!

Check out Sea Shepherd's website and learn how they are Defending Ocean Wildlife and Habitats Worldwide and how you can be a part of the solution as well.

What is the weather like at Earthshine Lodge right now? NOTE: During the warmer months of the year, between the hours of 11:00am and 8:00pm, subtract 10 degrees from the outdoor temperature to get an accurate outdoor temperature. This is due to the fact that the temperature sensor is on the west side of the building and receives direct sun from noon until an hour or so before sunset. Sometimes the weather station goes down for a short time due to unforeseen circumstance--if this happens there will be no data displayed on the monitor below.