Haylie Serlin swept her blonde curls from her face, lowering her body toward the ground among the tall grass in a field at Sweetbriar Nature Center.
The 10-year-old made it her mission to find a turtle and in a split second she almost stepped on one.
“I like animals, so I wanted to come here and find some,” said Haylie, of Dix Hills. “Today, I learned that turtles make noise. If you listen to the bucket over there, you can hear hissing.”
Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown held its annual Turtle Walk Saturday morning to educate the public on the Eastern Box turtles that live in open fields at the center and also to protect the species from getting run over by cars during the center’s next event.
This will be the center’s 20th year giving the public an opportunity to find the turtles and watch a volunteer at the center examine and record each of them to keep track of the species.
“The main reason we do this is because they have to mow the fields to make room for parking at the nature and craft fair on June 2, and we don’t want the cars to run over the turtles,” said Nancy Adornetto, program coordinator and turtle rehabilitator. “We hold them for a week and then invite the kids back so we can release the turtles back into the wild after the fair ends.”
To make sure all the turtles were found, the center is continuing the walk on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The center asks that children and adults wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.
Before the walk, Adornetto showed three Eastern Box turtles to the crowd of 50, telling them what the turtles needed to survive, including food, shelter and water.
“If you don’t know something you’re not going to care enough to protect it,” said Adornetto, 54. “It’s really important that children know what’s living in their backyard and that they become conservationists.”
Girl Scout Maya Smith was excited to start the walk because she remembers once rescuing a turtle from being hit by a car. She nicknamed Tucks.
“We rescued a turtle that was in the street and brought it to my mom’s friend’s house where they had a habitat for it in the backyard,” said Smith, 7, of Kings Park.
The crowd then broke into eight groups and spent close to an hour spread out among eight different fields to find turtles hiding in tall grass or under trees. Each group was equipped with a bucket and clipboard to record the location of each turtle, its appearance and if it had already been tagged.
Adornetto said the turtles usually come out of the wooded area to sun themselves, so they would be easier to spot in the early morning.
“We want people to understand how box turtles live,” Adornetto said. “We get calls from people that find turtles in their backyards all the time and people bring in turtles with cracked shells.”
After the walk, children surrounded Adornetto while she examined and recorded the weight, measurements, sex and appearance of each of the 27 turtles.
“Above all, it’s just great to get the kids outside and just as important for everyone to learn how to protect our wildlife and native plants,” Adornetto said.