Vernal Pools in Western MA
Vernal Pools: Community Resources & Events Supplement Interests & Education
Along with the greenery of spring comes a reawakening of wildlife, and some of western Massachusetts smallest and most fascinating creatures make their debut as soon as the snow melts! One sure sign of the change of seasons is the sound of peepers – noisy wood frogs who have made their way from their winter residences to the vernal pools that have filled with fish-free water thanks to the melting snow. Vernal pools aren’t just home to wood frogs, though. Their amphibious neighbors include salamanders, fairy shrimp, and tiny mussels, making vernal pools a fascinating (and usually temporary) incubator for many species.
Vernal pools truly come alive at a very specific time during the spring. On the first rainy night when the temperature stays above 40 degrees, frogs and salamanders migrate from their winter homes to their annual breeding grounds, filling the pools with the sounds of mating and an abundance of eggs. While it can be tempting for rainboot-clad kiddos to stomp right on into a big, shallow puddle in the woods, it’s important to know whether or not they’re romping about in a vernal pool. Such pools house the eggs of many species of frogs and salamanders, and humans’ springtime frolicking can easily disturb these eggs and negatively affect populations. However, spending an afternoon exploring along the edges of a vernal pools is nature’s classroom at its best! Families can learn to identify commonly found species, and can watch a vernal pool over the course of the spring, summer, and fall (and maybe even winter) to see how it changes…
Studies of vernal pools support learning in many areas of interest, and a close look at amphibian reproduction can help to spark children’s curiosity about other aspects of amphibian life. Young children can explore using field guides and identification keys while looking at egg masses or examining water under a magnifier, while older students can practice data collection and mapping skills while watching the pool change. Artistic kids can exercise their creativity by using the pool as a place to sketch, and to observe and record the fine, intricate, and beautiful detail that the pools hold. Digital cameras provide both a creative outlet (there’s so much to photograph!) and a tool for exploration (Tip: If you don’t have waterproof field guides or kids whose attention spans won’t tolerate stopping to ID everything you see, have them snap photos of what you’ve found and identify them later on.).
To support seasonal learning centered around vernal pools, attend one of the many upcoming local events for families! The first of these exciting educational opportunities is Arcadia’s Big Night, an annual event bringing life-size versions of vernal pool creatures to the woods at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. On Saturday, March 29th, 2014, families can visit the sanctuary for an enchanted and musical tour of the woods, during which they’ll learn all about vernal pools and spring’s amphibians. Families will explore the forest in groups leaving every 15 minutes from 5:45-7:45pm, and advance registration is required. Arcadia is located at 127 Combs Road in Easthampton, and can be contacted at 413-584-3009.
Additionally, the Trustees of Reservations will be holding many events throughout the spring honoring the organization’s designation of 2014 as the Year of the Salamander. Families can visit Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield for Life in a Vernal Pool, a pool-exploring and species-finding event, on April 12th from 10am-12noon, or the Vernal Pool Certification Workshop, an event on April 27th from 9am-12noon, where the skills for properly ID-ing and registering vernal pools will be taught. Pioneer Valley folks can join the Trustees for “Year of the Salamander” Vernal Pool Hike at Mt. Warner in Hadley on April 27th from 9-11am. Each of these events will give families with kids of all ages valuable (and exciting!) hands-on experience with vernal pools.
Intrepid families with slightly older kids can also help to support vernal pool populations by acting as Salamander Crossing Guards. While no local organization formally offers training, notification of migration nights, or organized crossing guard events, families who know of salamander migration hot spots can watch the weather in order to determine when the salamanders will be moving! Once they’re out and crossing roads to get to their vernal pool mating grounds, families can help them arrive safely by collecting them and ensuring that they make it across the road without being squished. Of course, since this happens at night, families should be sure to bring flashlights, wear reflective clothing, and be very, very careful when traffic approaches – it’s sad to lose a salamander to tires, but worse to risk your own safety in order to save them. Organized efforts often happen at the Henry Street Salamander Tunnels in Amherst. For info, call 413-256-6006 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other upcoming events:
- Saturday, April 5th from 1-3pm: Exploring Vernal Pools. Fitzgerald Lake. Florence, MA. (>$)
- Thursday, April 10th from 7-8pm: Introduction to Vernal Pool Ecology. Meekins Library. Williamsburg, MA (FREE)
- Saturday, April 12th from 9am-12noon: Explore & Identify a Vernal Pool. 413-628-4485 x4. High Ridge Farm. Williamsburg, MA (FREE)
- Saturday, April 12th from 9:30am-1230pm: Vernal Pool Exploration. Amherst, MA ($)
- A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools [educators]
- Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool [Ages 8yo+]
- Big Night for Salamanders [Ages 8yo+]