Discovering Willowsford – March 24, The Grant
Field trip report by Donna Quinn
It was cold! And the forecast called for snow! But despite the chill and threat of precipitation, 12 hardy adventurers gathered for the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Discovering Willowsford walk in search of signs of early spring.
We headed to an area in the Grant where we might find vernal pools. Vernal pools are shallow depressions filled with water in spring. Because vernal pools go dry in summer and do not support fish, amphibians use vernal pools to breed. This provides protection from fish that would eat their eggs. The storm drain ponds in the Grant are an example of animals using habitat that is available. Even though the storm drain ponds are not vernal pools, they are probably located where vernal pools once were, or are in the path of the amphibians to their past vernal pools.
We found Wood Frog egg masses in the pond and learned even though we don’t often see Wood Frogs, we can find their egg masses in the spring. The eggs we saw were getting close to hatching. We could see little tadpoles developing in them!
Amphibians have a fascinating life cycle. You can read more in the Habitat Herald article, The Big Night: https://loudounwildlife.org/PDF_Files/Vol_17_Issue_4.pdf
After everyone had a good look at the Wood Frog eggs, we headed further down the trail to see what else we could discover. It wasn’t long before we heard an interesting bird call. When we looked up we were thrilled to spot a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, a bird found in open woodlands and wetlands. It’s hard to miss a Red-headed Woodpecker – the color of their head is something you just have to see for yourself to believe how red red can be. Red-headed Woodpecker populations have declined in recent years due to loss of habitat. It is very exciting the Grant is home to Red-headed Woodpeckers! (Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-headed_Woodpecker/id )
We also spotted signs of spring on the forest floor. This is Hepatica, a beautiful harbinger of spring. It gets its name from the three lobes of the leaf, which resemble liver; it is also called liverwort. Hepatica’s beautiful flowers can be blue, pink or white. We must go back soon to see it in flower!
This is Crane-fly Orchid, the leaf disappears late spring and it has no leaves when it blooms in summer. Yes, it is truly an orchid.
We crossed creeks, hiked over logs and had a grand time exploring the woods along the trail in the Grant. We even forgot how cold and raw it was – discovering interesting things along the trail can do that! Come join us on our next walk on April 21, rain or shine. We’ll have fun either way.