I like Turtle Man. He’s genuine and shows true care and concern for the wildlife he captures to return to safety. But what I like most is his enthusiasm. He exudes what I feel every time I snorkel. This trip to Big Branch was no different.
Large male sunfish took me on as I approached their nests. They flashed neon turquoise stripes and one even turned red. A large school of large fall fish swirled in a hole beneath some big woody debris. A small mouth bass challenged me just like the sunnies, and charged at my mask. Swarms of young darters hopped along the sand flats. Mixed schools of rosy sided dace, black nosed dace and common shiner swam upstream in the current past me in lock step order and looked like a group of leaves in the wind as they flowed back downstream in disarray. This was the typical Big Branch. Tons of life that displayed incredible behaviors.
I reached the big pool and started the slow float downstream. I decided to go a little past my usual take out to explore an oak that recently fell into the river. As I approached I thought I saw the shell of a turtle but it could have been a rock or other obstruction sticking out of the mud and sand bottom. Then I saw the head. Sure enough it was a snapper. I have never seen this animal in the water. All of my encounters with snappers have been on land where they are slow and lunky, except for their strike. But in the water this animal was agile and graceful. And just like on land, this animal didn’t want anything to do with me. It started to back away as soon as it saw me approach. I kept my distance, not out of fear but rather respect. I am not afraid of snappers. I have worked very closely with these animals and found them to not be the finger removing monsters they are made out to be. But rather they respond like any other animal when threatened and cornered. I have gotten careless around snappers and inadvertently gave them opportunity to inflict injury, but none of them took it. I have been struck with their heads, mouths closed. It was almost as if they used their head as a warning punch rather than immediately striking with a snapping mouth. This turtle in the water was no different. It gently and agilely moved away. I didn’t want to disturb it so I kept my distance.
Turtle man rescues snappers from ponds where they cause conflict with humans, largely based on our fears of these turtles, and that produces adrenaline fueled encounters. I experienced a little of that live action, and I got me some, snorkeling Big Branch today.