This past Sunday we had our first amphibian foray of the year and headed over to Algonkian Park to explore the amazing network of seasonal waters and swampland that is over there.
The good news about all that snow that we had this year is that the swamp area and the vernal pools that run through Algonkian were full! We compared photos from last year at some of the same points along the trail and the comparison was dramatic. A vernal pool last year that was no bigger than a bathtub spanned over 100′ this year. It was great to see the water levels back up and the ground properly saturated.
Along our walk, Mike Hayslett, our field trip leader and director of The Virginia Vernal Pools Program, talked about soils, seasonal wetland habitats, lifecycles of the amphibian life found in these habitats, and other cool nature facts.
We did a bit of netting to try to find evidence of Marbled Salamanders as well. Marbled salamanders lay their eggs in the fall in the dry leaf litter. The female then waits and protects the eggs until the fall rain comes and fills the pools. The eggs then hatch and develop through the winter. At one of the pools we did find a Marbled salamander tadpole. It was not alive but we could still make out the markings to identify it. Salamander tadpoles are easier to find at night because they are nighttime predators….moving through the water column in search of tasty insects.
Other critters that showed up in our netting were various freshwater insects – isopods, coepods – as well as clams. It was really fun to explore these swampy waters and learn about the lifecycles of the animals that use them.
As soon as we have our first “Big Night” rainfall of the spring, the swamp will be crazy with activity from Wood Frogs, peepers, and other salamanders. Looking forward to that rain, hopefully this week!
I posted a few photos from our walk on our Facebook page – feel free to check them out.