Life in Shallow Vernal Pools
By Sarah Steadman
Mike Hayslett, our masterful vernal pools guide and Virginia Vernal Pools director, offered enthusiasm and thoughtful teaching both in the classroom event on Friday evening at Morven Park and at the multiple field trips around the county this past weekend.
Hayslett began his 2018 itinerary of vernal pool education and field biology events for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy on Friday afternoon in Sterling at Park View High School’s environmental science class, taught by Anna Nunez. He spoke to two different classes and investigated a site where the school hopes to improve on an existing vernal pool on the grounds at Claude Moore Park adjacent to the school. Nunez will be applying for grant money to fund restoration of this vernal pool with her students next year.
The Morven Park evening field trip revealed very low water levels, the results of our area’s recent dry and windy weather. Indeed, at Gum Farm near Lucketts, many of our vernal pools are virtually bone dry.
In the center of some of the deeper basins, however, there is just enough water to support the obligate species that offer the teachable moments and wow factor for our participants. In these desperate remnants, we encountered wood frog egg masses (some were sadly stranded and drying out), Jefferson salamander egg masses, fairy shrimp, and marbled salamander juveniles. There is hope!
At the Willowsford Lodge in Aldie, a large group of residents and families explored their developing vernal pool site and discovered not only wood frog eggs but spotted salamander eggs! Willowsford’s new land steward, Patrick Boleman, is interested in starting an Amphibian Monitoring program next year, and suggestions were made for improving the current vernal pool site.
The Countryside community residents-only walk was attended by an enthusiastic, interested group who learned about wetlands in general and those in Loudoun County and Horsepen in particular. One participant shared her revelations about the Horsepen area, saying she had learned to see it through a naturalist’s eyes and really appreciated the opportunity Loudoun Wildlife had provided with such events.
The group saw spotted eggs, marble larvae, and wood frog eggs and larva. Hayslett found fingernail clams and said he’d only found them in half a dozen vernal pools statewide. Participants stood in the dark with flashlights looking for vernal pool critters and heard coyotes and barred owls. It was a gorgeously clear night to see stars far from light pollution.