Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wet and Wild Nights

The rain we so sorely needed through late March has finally arrived to dampen the soils, fill the streams and replenish our lakes. The onset of our local amphibian's breeding seasons were put on hold until the rains fell as well. On the evening of March 26, the first good rain of the spring soaked the ground. To celebrate the occasion, I dusted off my chest waders, grabbed a rain coat and flashlight, and headed out into the forest.

At the bottom of the Easy Loop trail, a few hardy spring peepers had begun to peep. It was more quiet than I anticipated, but a good sign nonetheless. Around the other side of the lake on the Wood Thrush trail, I ran into an American Toad intent on making it down the hill to the lake on this cold, rainy evening. Air temps were in the upper 40's so the toad was a bit of a suprise. Making my way up the rest of the Wood Thrush trail I was greeted by a familiar chorus of Wood Frogs.

Wood Frog

The vernal pool on the Wood Thrush trail is always of interest to us in the spring. Pools like these nurture a large variety of wildlife species above and below the water's surface. Temporary as they may be (many vernal pools are simply dry depressions in the summer and fall), these fish-less pools are extraordinarily important during the spring season when amphibians and other aquatic life are breeding. Without fish, these species are far more successful at reaching adulthood as long as they do so before the pool dries up. Though there are number of vernal pools all across the sanctuary, the one on Wood Thrush is most accessable to us and easiest to monitor consistently from year to year.

My venture into the rain on the night of March 26 was certainly rewarding. Dozens of Wood Frogs were calling into the night. The water temperature was extremely cold, offering the chance to pick up the sluggish frogs with a careful scoop of the hand. The frogs would become only a distraction from what I was really looking for. I wanted to see some Spotted Salamanders.

Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamanders and their relatives are known collectively as mole salamanders. They live the vast majority of their life underground consuming soil invertebrates like worms, insects, etc. This habit doesn't allow them to be easily located or observed. But once a year, during the first soaking rain of the spring, they emerge from their underground lairs to breeding in vernal pools and other nearby bodies of water. This is when they can be easily found. And I did just that. I saw 6 different Spotted Salamanders that night in that vernal pool. As they slowly cruised the bottom, using legs and tail to propel them along, I made an effort to hold each one for just a few moments, knowing I likely wouldn't see them again until this time next year.

This past Thursday, April 2 I made another trip to the vernal pool to check for any more salamanders. Of course, they were all gone. Back to their subterranean lifestyle for the rest of the year. Next post...I'll have more images of the wildlife living in the vernal pool.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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