The long-awaited return of field season is finally here and with some new faces! Both Maris, having just finished her first year of vet school and entering into her first year in PhD land, and myself kicked off last week at the Nachusa Grasslands, a prairie restoration site in northern Illinois. Reunited with the infamous John Rucker and his team of turtle dogs, we were on the hunt for ornate box turtles to sample for the Wellness of Wildlife project.

This location is made extra special by the resident bison herd who play a vital part of the prairie restoration. Day 1 started with a search of the “bison unit”, as the bison had moved to a safe distance away on the far side of the site. There are fifteen (15!) calves in the herd this year meaning 15 anxious mothers, and bison are speedy so we made sure to keep a close eye on the herd and maintain a quick search pace. Luckily for us, the dogs got off to a hot start locating 12 turtles, including 3 juveniles. This was a super encouraging find, as evidence of successful reproductively active females signal both a healthy turtle population and a stable habitat.…/ips-6AC3FFE1-913F-4782-91B6-2C57C77DA689.mp4

After a slow day on Day 2 with cooler weather and LOTS of brambles, everyone was ready to go for Day 3 where we were joined by the media team from the Brookfield Zoo and the amazing group at Scripps TV! Everyone got the full John Rucker experience, complete with a monologue about bears in Montana and John Henry’s work on the transcontinental railroad to stall while he waited for the weather to warm up. The cool weather didn’t slow us down because the dogs were on their game, with every dog making a contribution to the total turtle count on the day. It was great be able to share the entire process with the media teams, helping us to share the importance of the WEL work with the world. We can’t wait to get back into the field next week in Vermillion County. See you next week!