A society of friends living together on the pond

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 11:15am

Beacon Hollow is a small farm on Block Island.

It is home to many animals large and small — mostly rescued. There are feathered animals, furry animals and scaled or shelled animals such as turtles and fish. There are two ponds at Beacon Hollow, man-made many years ago as retention ponds to provide water. There probably would be many more ponds on Block Island, but farmers wanted grass, not ponds. If you remove the sod, which percolates water through to the sand, eventually it will fill with sediment and there is your pond. That’s until the dry weather returns in summer. Adding water is necessary during the droughts.

So, in addition to the furry, feathered creatures at Beacon Hollow, there are turtles, frogs, fish and snakes. Wild ducks bring in fish and frog’s eggs on their feet into the ponds and, therefore, new life.

Let’s just take the turtles. There are snapping turtles, feared by all but basically harmless to humans. Just don’t mess with them. They are prehistoric and live to be more than 100 years old. Very rough looking, hissing with gaping jaws. They can be almost two feet across and they are out here on the island, but ones of that size stay mostly in the swamps. The smaller ones will roam. Yes, they eat baby ducks, small fish, and frogs, but give them a chance when they cross the road. They are not evil. They contribute to the ecosystem and I let them stay in our ponds.

The painted turtle is most common on Block Island. Mostly smooth-shelled, but with yellow green and orange skin and also harmless. They eat small fish, fish and frog eggs and some aquatic plants. 

I had the unique experience a few years ago when I developed a friendship with a painted turtle. While feeding the ducks that would come out of the pond in the morning, a turtle popped up with the ducks. We looked at each other. He wasn’t interested in corn, so I gave him a taste of salmon cat food. After that I called him Meathead. I could touch his shell but not his head. For the next few months all I did was whistle and from across the pond Meathead would come. It was a source of entertainment with visitors; some still asking for Meathead years later. As the shallow pond warmed the turtle eventually moved on, which is normal for turtles. I never saw him again. Others would sit and warm on the rocks, but no takers of the salmon.

I have heard of box turtles being on Block Island. They have a domed diamond-marked shell, but I have never seen one here. There was at one time many terrapins, a small edible turtle of the brackish back waters, but they were hunted for their meat and have become hard to find. Big snappers also supposedly made good soup — but not for me.

Meanwhile, at the pond, small big-eyed bass swim around under the watchful eye of the egrets. An occasional muskrat will make a home in the banks, much like a beaver as they plug my drainage pipe from one pond to the other to raise the water level. Spring sounds of peepers (mating frogs) is such a pleasure to hear. I still miss Meathead, but he is out there somewhere looking for something better than salmon.