An Ode To George
To pay tribute to our late friend Lonesome George, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post in celebration of turtles. George was the last tortoise of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni from Pinta Island in the Galapagos. Sadly George passed yesterday at the tender age of 100 years.
In Vermont, we have seven species of turtles, and I run into many of them while kayaking around the state. The one I see most often is the painted turtle. I spot these guys by the dozen basking in the sun while I’m paddling throughout the northeast. They are very cooperative subjects, but will head for a swim if you get too close. I don’t like spoiling anyone’s sunbath so I do my best to keep a respectable distance out on the water. This is easily the smallest one I’ve seen all year. To give you some perspective, this lily pad is about eight inches across.
You can check out the biggest turtle I’ve seen all year in an April post entitled Snappers.
I have encountered a few snappers above the surface this year. I found this old guy lounging on a log in Bradford, Vermont a few days ago.
One of the rarer species of turtle I encountered this spring was a wood turtle in Magalloway Brook. I didn’t have much time to prepare for this shot before he launched off the log and into the water. It was a brief meeting, but certainly a memorable one as this is the only wood turtle I’ve ever photographed.
While turtles are not known for their speed they do offer unique challenges for photographers, particularly when shooting in the sun. Their reflective carapace makes them easy to spot, but difficult to expose for. A polarizing filter is sometimes necessary to reduce the glare on their wet shells. While this will help, the ideal situation is to shoot them under overcast skies.
Another thing to keep in mind is the angle of your shot. The kayak makes a great vehicle for wildlife photography because it keeps you low on the water. I often try to shoot wildlife at eye level. This gives you the same perspective from which the animal views the world. It’s much more interesting than a bird’s eye view, for example, and embodies the subject with the sense of pride that it deserves.
George’s passing marks the end of an important legacy, as the Galapagos turtles played a very important role in the foundation of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. To learn more and see photos of George check out this great article by Jess Zimmerman at Grist.org.
We salute you George!