The True Story of Floater

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cdmay

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I have hunted turtles on the Chipola River in the Florida panhandle for nearly 30 years. During that time I have found all of the turtles that can be encountered there and yet, I never get tired of returning to see them at least a few times each year.
The usual suspects are loggerhead musk turtles...

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That can be found in all size classes...

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Another commonly seen turtle and one for which the Chipola is sort of famous is Barbour's map turtle...

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The little ones are the easiest to get close to...

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One of the most difficult to find turtles on the river are alligator snappers but I always try and locate one whenever I go...

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They are quite prehistoric looking but they do go with the Chipola as it too has a prehistoric and wild look about it with its limestone rock formations...

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In May of 2005 I was on the river and canoeing upstream to see what turtles I might be able to photograph. At times, the current on the Chipola can be pretty strong and on that day the center of the river was really boiling along...

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But if I stayed along the bank I could still make pretty good progress upstream. I planned on canoeing upstream for a couple of miles and then drifting back to net and photograph turtles as I went without struggling too hard.
At one point I spotted a nice yearling Barbour's map turtle basking on a limestone rock not too far ahead of me and in fairly shallow water. I figured I could go out to the center of the river and paddle hard upstream to a point to where I could turn around and then easily drift back to the sleeping G. barbouri. As I began paddling in the middle of the river an odd thing caught my eye as is went past me in the swift current---a dead box turtle. The poor little thing was quite dead as all of its limbs were extended as was its head that appeared to hang lifelessly in the water. It swirled by my canoe in the little vortices created by the current.
I briefly considered stopping to net the dead little thing up but I wanted to get that barbouri for photos so I kept going upstream.
As I turned the canoe around and drifted toward the barbouri I was able to get some decent photos of it but as I got close to netting him he bolted into the water and was gone.
At that point I thought about the odd sight of that dead box turtle. Gulf coast box turtles are really common in that part of the panhandle and this dead one must have got washed down into the river somehow during the previous nights rainstorms that also contributed to the heavy current that day. I had friends who would have liked a photo of that hatchling even though it was dead and so I decided to head downriver to retrieve the corpse for a photo. It took me a surprisingly long time to catch up to the floating turtle but I did finally see it, still swirling lifelessly in the river along with some dead leaves. I reached out with my net and scooped him up and then without further thought about it, started paddling hard back upstream.
After a few minutes something on the bottom of the canoe caught my eye, that little dead turtle was moving its head! Sure enough, I could see that although he appeared dead at first, there was something left in him. I snapped this photo just as he started showing signs of life...

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After about 20 minutes the little box turtle was alert enough to slowly move around a bit and then after an hour, I could see that he was going to live. I started calling him Floater.
As he was so tiny and didn't seem quite all there, I decided to bring him home. This is something I almost never do as I prefer to leave wild turtles where I find them. But I reasoned that releasing him back into the wild in his condition wasn't right either.
A couple of days later the hatchling gulf coastie seemed completely OK and he was scarfing down earthworms like an old pro. After a month he was eating worms, fruit and other stuff right in my kitchen sink...

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As I don't keep box turtles and I didn't want to raise a hatchling, I called a good friend of mine in California who is a well known box turtle keeper with a superb track record. Jim said that he knew of several keepers out there who would love to raise Floater. A week later Floater was a California resident.
From time to time I would get updates about Floater and one thing was for sure, Floater was doing great. A couple of years later I got this photo of 'him' showing that he was indeed looking pretty sassy...

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Floater had been renamed 'Chipola' by his new family (what was wrong with Floater?) and when I look at this photo I am always reminded of what he first looked like drifting down the river.
The last update I got regarding Floater was that 'he' was now a beautiful subadult FEMALE gulf coast box turtle. Jim had been to Floater's house and he went on and on about what a 'flawless' specimen she now was. Man, I am glad I turned that canoe around! Jim has promised me an updated photo that I will pass along when I get it.
 

Yvonne G

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I loved reading your story and looking at the pictures! How lucky you are to be able to catch those little babies and photograph them. I especially loved the snappers.

I'm pretty sure your friend, Jim, is someone I know. Bay Area, right? Next time you write or talk to him, tell him Yvonne says "hello!" He co-authored a paper with me on breeding Manouria tortoises several years ago.

Yvonne
 

Candy

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What a touching story Carl. I also loved your pictures what beautiful areas that you visited. I love the picture of the turtle with its mouth open wide the best he was so cute. Thanks for sharing. :)
 

cdmay

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Candy....I love the loggerheads with their mouths open too...

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Yvonne...Jim is Jim Buskirk. He and I have been turtle buddies since the 70s.
Not that I am old, I mean.
 

Nay

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I love happy endings, thanks for posting!
Na
 

Shelly

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cdmay said:
Floater had been renamed 'Chipola' by his new family (what was wrong with Floater?)

Well, for beginners, "Floater" is sometimes a euphemism for something you might find in a toilet.
 

cdmay

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Well, for beginners, "Floater" is sometimes a euphemism for something you might find in a toilet.
[/quote]

Huh, I never even thought of THAT one. I named him Floater after the common police term for a dead body in water.
I guess both have gross connotations though.
 

terryo

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My mouth is still open reading this thread Carl. All I can say is wow. You lead such an interesting life.....doing things, and going places that I can only dream of. Thank you...again and again for posting this amazing story and pictures.
 
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Maggie Cummings

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What a great story that is! I would love to float on that beautiful river. You have such a great opportunity...In looking at that one picture I could almost smell the water and hear the birds and the bugs making their noises...
 

Stazz

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Oh wow !!! I agree with everyone, what a lovely story. I'm the same as Maggie too, I swear I could hear birds and bugs and just hear flowing water...what beautiful pics you have to go with your story. And so happy that "Floater" is doing so well, he looks beautiful !!!! P.S I immediately thought of a erm, toilet floater when I saw the name hahaha, its a cute name though, just the way my mind works!
 

cdmay

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I'm glad that people like the Chipola River photos. Here are a few more random shots....

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The yellow bellied sliders there are the yellowest I have ever seen...

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Spring Creek where it meets the Chipola...

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Limestone bank along the Chipola...

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As for birds I always hear hawks calling and then pileated woodpeckers drumming on the trees along the river. At night barred and great horned owls are commonly heard.
 

katesgoey

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Thanks for taking us on your adventures with you. Great photos!
 
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