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.

This could be considered middle aged for the tortoise who’s counterparts can live beyond 200 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’ve read that snapping turtles are the most common turtle in Vermont, yet I do not see quite as many in my travels. When I do see them, they are usually trolling underwater, covered in algae.

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

We salute you George!

31 responses

  1. snowbirdpress

    Ever since I’ve twice spent much time in body casts, I have always identified with turtles! I am thankful for these wonderful photos! I have to tell you, while I’m in the body cast I identify more with the snapping turtle as it makes me a bit sensitive… but once the casts are off I can go back to my wood turtle feelings of joy on a sunny log.

    June 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    • Thanks for sharing your connection with turtles, although it sounds like a rather unfortunate one. Be well, cast-free and basking on that sunny log. :) Thanks for stopping by.

      June 26, 2012 at 6:31 am

      • snowbirdpress

        Well a body cast has its merits… I was stuck in an office building during a black out and had a very comfortable night sleeping on the floor! :-) It all depends on how we look at things. Thanks for the turtles… I love them.

        June 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

  2. Lovely. And…the poet in me almost thought an Ode might have been written. Do you take requests? Still, the ode is in the art. Thank you for this.

    June 25, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    • I think that was a fair assumption Carrie, perhaps a liberal use of the word here. Are you requesting a poem or something else? :) Thanks for commenting.

      June 26, 2012 at 6:29 am

  3. So sad to hear about Lonesome George passing, I am sure he lived 100 amazing years. He saw things that not anyone of us had ever seen. He had such beautiful colors. I have a turtle she has the exact same colors as he did. Very sweet post!

    June 26, 2012 at 12:09 am

    • It is a tragic loss. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Adri. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 6:32 am

  4. Pat

    Great shots and a fitting tribute to George.

    June 26, 2012 at 12:12 am

  5. So sad that George passed on. What a wonderful tribute with some great shots. I always find it most difficult to photograph live species. I never have much luck. I guess that is why in part I stick to flowers and other non mobile species. I enjoy your blog.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:45 am

    • Yes, the challenge is often in finding a cooperative subject for this type of photography. :) Thanks for your kind words LA Edwards, and for stopping by. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 6:35 am

  6. ¡Bellas tomas! la primera es todo ternura, tan pequeñita, abrazos

    June 26, 2012 at 4:18 am

  7. Hi,
    Beautiful photos, it is amazing the different varieties of turtles that are around even just in the area you are in. They are an amazing animal, all different in their own way.
    I am sorry to hear of George passing away, very sad indeed.

    June 26, 2012 at 4:39 am

    • Thanks Mags, these are very special creatures. I hope we do a better job of preserving the rest of them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 6:39 am

  8. Great turtle photos! Saw a lot of painted turtles growing up in the N.E. and a few snappers. Thanks for sharing the information and it is sad that Lonesome George passed on at the tender age of 100. Continued Success in your work!! Jay

    June 26, 2012 at 8:28 am

  9. I am so smiling!

    June 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

    • Glad to hear it. Thanks for stopping by Michael. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm

  10. I saw the story on the BBC News website and was saddened by it. Your article and the fabulous photographs are a wonderful tribute. Wondered if there was any chance of getting your permission to republish a little of your article and pictures on Learning from Dogs? Tried to find an email address for you but failed! Paul

    June 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    • Hi Paul, please feel free to republish. I encourage it. :) Thanks for checking in. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm

  11. What a wonderful tribune to Lonesome George, – brilliant post with stunning photos again. Love the last one .. it’s like he/she are posing for you. A really stunning post, Chris

    June 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    • Thanks Viveka, very glad you enjoyed it. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm

  12. I am very fond of turtles! Soooo sad George was the last of his kind. Great pics!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    • Me too Fergiemoto….they’re very lovable creatures. I even like snappers, which some people around here are not too fond of. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm

  13. Love these shots! I haven’t seen a turtle yet this year, but I have been looking. I usually see a few. I found a baby snapper once in the fall. Must’ve just hatched. It was adorable.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    • The babies are pretty damn cute. Hope you spot another one soon. Thanks for commenting Jennifer. :)

      June 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

  14. Pingback: Dear George! « Learning from Dogs

  15. After much thought and reviewing your blog, I have nominated you for the Inspiring Blog Award. I have included a brief explanation of why I specifically nominated you in my blog. Thanks for inspiring me, and may you continue to inspire others.

    June 30, 2012 at 2:07 am

  16. Congratulations, I’ve nominated you for a blogging award. If you choose to accept, here’s the link to what it’s all about:

    Absolutely no hard feelings if you choose to skip the acceptance… I just wanted to let you know I enjoy your blog.

    July 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm

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