October 1, Trinity River

I walked this afternoon at River Legacy, a greenbelt in Arlington that tracks the Trinity River. It was a pleasant, sunny day with the temperatures in the mid-80’s, an observation that was not lost on the dozens of people I encountered on the trail.

The “trail” is really a sidewalk used by joggers and bicyclists as well as walkers, and on a busy day you can try to get lost in the riparian woodland but you will have to dodge bicyclists to do so. They, of course, have the same right to use this city park as I do, but I still find myself a little grumpy about it.

fullsizeoutput_d9aI found one little trail that I thought would allow an escape from the traffic, but it proved to be just a short cut-through, joining two sections of sidewalk. In any case, most of the action today was in the river, with basking turtles of three or four species. The only lizard I saw was a young skink, either five-lined or broad-headed, still sporting bright cream-colored lines on a black background and a brilliant electric-blue tail. When I spotted it, the lizard frantically dashed to a crack between the sidewalk edge and the soil, and promptly disappeared.


Trinity River

The river itself is fairly shallow and marked by gravel bars in places. Here and there, trees have fallen into the river or been washed down in floods, and these provide excellent basking spots for turtles. I was expecting red-eared sliders, but was pleasantly surprised to find some Mississippi map turtles, Graptemys kohnii, (or false map turtles, Graptemys pseudogeographica, depending on which taxonomic understanding you prefer).


A male map turtle (judging from the size and tail-width)


Another Mississippi map turtle

In the second map turtle photo, though indistinct at maximum zoom, you can barely make out the pale eyes, the yellow crescent behind the eyes, and the knobs down the back of the carapace.

The first turtle I came upon was a big female soft-shelled turtle, probably a pallid spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera pallida). Females are big, dinner-plate sized turtles, usually with dark-mottled shells as they get big. This one was sharing a little beachfront property with a killdeer (not in the photo).fullsizeoutput_d9c

I reached the point where the trail crossed the river, turned back, and did not get run over by any bicyclists. I tried to spot a Texas spiny lizard on tree trunks along the path, but none were to be seen. The trail crossed a couple of tributary streams, and then I arrived at red-eared slider headquarters.


Another view of the Trinity River


A tributary stream

There was a bench at the end of a dead-end in the sidewalk where no biker dared to ride, a sheer precipice dropping down to the river below. Several red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) basked on logs and snags in the river.


Two female red-eared sliders


The turtle to the left appears to be melanistic, judging by the dark head

Cyclists and joggers or not, it was a very pleasant couple of hours indulging my inner turtle nerd.


About Michael Smith

From the age of 11 (in 1962), I grew up mostly in north Texas. I’ve been interested in herpetology for all those years, and so I have some experience with the reptiles and amphibians of Texas. I have written on the topic, given talks, been president of and editor for the DFW Herpetological Society. I wrote an article on venomous snakes published in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. Clint King and I have a manuscript in the editorial process at Texas A&M University Press, anticipated out some time next year. Additionally, I have been licensed in Texas as a Psychological Associate since 1985 and have worked largely with children and families. My background and training are in the areas of applied behavior analysis and infant mental health, and I worked in an early childhood intervention program for many years. In that position, I worked with the child and family together, addressing a wide variety of issues including maltreatment and trauma as well as developmental disabilities such as autism. In recent years I have worked in a pediatric hospital, administering neuropsychological tests.
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