Nova Scotia

Rare wood turtle find in Cape Breton thrills landowner

A landowner in Cape Breton saved a nest of rare wood turtle eggs, nurturing them until they hatched.

Peter Buschmann rescues eggs and is captivated by the turtles after they hatch

Three wood turtle hatchlings in Cleveland, Cape Breton. The species is at risk in Nova Scotia. (Terry Power)

It's not every day you accidentally dig up some rare reptiles on your property, but that's exactly what Peter Buschmann did earlier this fall.

Buschmann, who lives in Cleveland, Cape Breton, near Port Hawkesbury, was having some work done with an excavator when the machine dug up eight small eggs, each about the size of a thumb. 

"He swept away the sand and here were some eggs, some white little, like stones, they fell out," said Buschmann.

"First of all we thought it may be snake eggs because we have so many snakes here as well."

They also thought it could be turtles, and it turns out they were — the eggs were those of rare wood turtles. 

In Nova Scotia, wood turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act as a species at risk.

Buschmann collected the eggs and says he knew what to do next from his time living and working in the Middle East country of Yemen. He made a little hill out of the sand, placed the eggs on top, and then covered them.

Peter Buschmann built a small hill with sand and then covered turtle eggs he discovered on his property. (Peter Buschmann)

"When I worked in Yemen, I was living very close to the Red Sea and there were turtles all the time," he says. "And these turtles, they laid eggs in the sand, very high so the water will not get to them, and very warm."

Buschmann placed wire mesh over the eggs to keep out his three dogs and to protect the turtles from predators.

Then he waited.

"Every day in the morning, as well as the evening, I went there to this tiny little hill," he said.

After about a month of watching over the eggs, they hatched. 

"I looked down there and I saw that the sand was broken and here came out a little tiny turtle," he says. "The turtle had a size of maybe a twoonie. 

"Imagine this little tiny thing sticks its head out and lifts its head up and starts crawling. I was very, very excited." 

Seven of the eight turtle eggs hatched, but one turtle disappeared.

Buschmann called the Department of Natural Resources to ask what to do with his little herd. He was worried they might be crushed if they tried to make their way to water by crossing through the pig pen on the property.

Terry Power, a biologist with the department, came to Cleveland and helped move the turtles to a nearby pond on Buschmann's land.

A wood turtle just after hatching. (Peter Buschmann)

"We moved them down in my hand and then I lowered the hand in the water and the little turtle starts to swim and swam away," Buschmann says.

"Some of them dived down and some of them swam around. So very nice if you see this little tiny creature and there's life in there."

The turtles burrowed into the mud in the pond to spend the winter and they'll live off the yolk sacs attached to their bodies until they come out in the spring. 

When full grown, a wood turtle is between 16 and 25 centimetres long.

Buschmann said he'll keep a close eye on the pond to see when his turtles emerge. And he hopes they'll stay. 

"Unbelievable," he says, "what Mother Nature really is doing."

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