Sunbathing Turtles

On the picturesque banks of the Delaware & Raritan Canal, a delightful sight awaits those who happen upon it: turtles basking in the sun's warm glow atop a weathered log

When walking along the banks of the Delaware & Raritan Canal, I often see turtles basking in the sun's warm glow while sitting atop a weathered log. I’ve wanted to photograph these turtles for a while, but up until now, I’ve not had a lens long enough to make a capture without getting too close and spooking them. I was fortunate that this time I had my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens, which I was using to photograph the Princeton University crew races on Carnegie Lake.

painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) · Saturday 22 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1500 sec, ISO 400 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 185.6 mm at f/6.4

The turtle climbs onto a sun-drenched log, soaking up the sunlight as it filters through the overhanging foliage. There's a fascinating mix of patterns among the turtles of different sizes. They hold their heads high and scan their surroundings with their eyes. The rustling of leaves and the occasional plop of a turtle into the water create soothing background noise.

Chrysemys picta, commonly known as the Painted Turtle, is a freshwater turtle native to North America. These turtles showcase a distinctive and eye-catching appearance, making them easily recognisable. Their upper shells, or carapaces, exhibit a blend of dark olive or black colouration with vibrant red, yellow, and orange patterns. These markings resemble brushstrokes, which give rise to their name, "Painted Turtle." The carapace is relatively flat and smooth, providing efficient water and land movement. The lower shell, or plastron, is typically yellow with intricate black markings.

painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) · Saturday 22 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1500 sec, ISO 1000 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

Painted Turtles range in size between 4 to 10 inches in length. Their heads are small and triangular, equipped with sharp beaks for capturing prey. Their eyes have a warm reddish-orange hue.

Painted Turtles thrive in various freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. They have a diverse diet, consisting of aquatic plants, algae, small invertebrates, and even carrion. Painted Turtles contribute to nutrient cycling and control populations of certain aquatic organisms, thereby maintaining the ecological balance.

painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) · Saturday 22 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1500 sec, ISO 1000 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

They are skilled swimmers, aided by their webbed feet. When they are sunbathing, don’t get too close. The turtles are easily spooked and will take refuge in the water. If you step back from the log and wait a while, you’ll soon see them pop back up for more sunbathing.

Nassau Park

My friend texted me that some office workers had reported seeing dead turtles in the parking lot of our office building. I ran out with my camera hoping … I'm not sure what I was hoping to find. I did find a dead turtle but only after I had found a very live one apparently laying eggs in the grass near the stream that runs along the building.