Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Vernal Pools

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: March Segment
Vernal Pools: Natural Habitats & Local Species as Community Resources

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts, Ashley Kohl and Seth Stutman, to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Thursday, March 26, 2015, highlighting how local habitats and native species can be used as a catalyst for learning. Through the lens of Vernal Pools and the animals that depend on them for survival, Sienna shares three methods of engagement as a way to support interests and education via Vernal Pools:

Vernal Pools: Methods of Engagement that Support Community-Based Learning

When looking for community-based resources that support learning via the lens of vernal pools, consider nature center, conservation organizations and your local library.

Phenology-based activities coincide with the natural changing of our seasons (our ultimate accessible community-based educational resource) and are great catalysts for learning through community engagement. Maple syrup season, filled with delicious community activities and opportunities, is our most recent seasonal activity here in Western MA.  But can you name other seasonal events coming our way as winter transitions into spring? The one we want to highlight this month is Vernal Pools!

As the seasons transition and habitats and animals respond to the change in weather and climate, Vernal Pools begin to emerge and come to life based on the timing of this change and the relationship plants and animals have with their environment! Taking advantage of these changes and getting out into your community to participate in nature-based learning activities will support the development of skills and integrated learning in a wide variety of subjects.

Methods of engagement as they relate to Vernal Pools can include nature-based learning, service-based learning and citizen scientist, and the embedded learning families can extracted from these engagement opportunities can range from ecology to natural history, entomology to zoology, scientific process to art!

The following methods of engagement and events highlight these community-based resources and the embedded learning you can extract from participation:

Methods of Engagement

♦ Nature-based learning

Before noon on Saturday, April 11, Bartholomews Cobble, a property of The Trustees of Reservations in Sheffield, invites families to come visit a large vernal pool on their property. During April, vernal pools teem with life and are the only place some amphibians can breed!  From 10am-12noon come look for egg masses of wood frogs and salamanders (and learn how to tell the difference between the two), along with fingernail clams and fairy shrimp. This natural community is a complex ecological system, one you will also learn how to identify and protect. (Prepare to get wet & muddy!) Learn how important these ephemeral habitats are for the survival of local species. 413-229-8600. 105 Weatogue Road. Sheffield, MA (>$)

Kestrel Trust offers an outing on Saturday, April 11 from 1-3pm to explore vernal pools!  Educator, Brandon Abbott, will interpret the local landscape and guide participants in gathering and inspecting vernal pool species up close, including fairy shrimp.  Equipment will be provided at this free family event.  Come curious, ask questions, and support an interest in learning about the importance Vernal Pools have in our ecosystem. Space is limited. Call for meeting location. 413-549-1097.

In the evening on Saturday, April 11 from 5:30-9pm, there are mysterious creatures and critters in the woods at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Arcadia’s Big Night is an annual event bringing life-size versions of vernal pool creatures to the woods in Easthampton. Families can take a guided tour (leaving the visitor’s center every 15 minutes) of the woods to meet characters who live in the vernal pools at the sanctuary. There will be frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp, and more. Along with the tours will be games, presentations, and real live pond critters for kids to meet. Celebrate spring and the unique habitats created by the change in seasons while learning all about vernal pools, local ecosystems and the life cycle of our most celebrated springtime amphibians! 413-584-3009. 127 Coombs Road. Easthampton, MA. ($)

On Saturday, April 25, 10am-12:30pm, is Salamanders and More! Vernal Pool Exploration. Come see what is in the water at the vernal pools at one of The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) newest properties, Mount Warner.  A vernal pool is a low spot in the forest that seasonally fills with water. Because predatory fish cannot survive in these temporary pools, they are one of the most preferred places for salamanders to lay their eggs in the spring. Join TTOR to learn more and see what we can find. Led by naturalist Aimee Gelinas. 413-532-1631 x10. 26 Mt Warner Road. Hadley, MA. (>$)

♦ Service-based learning

Intrepid families with slightly older kids can also help to support vernal pool populations by acting as Salamander Crossing Guards. 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 run over by passing motorists. 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 where volunteers clean sand and sediment out of tunnel entrances, repair & install fencing and do a general clean-up.  For info, call 413-256-6006 or email info@hitchcockcenter.org.

♦ Citizen Scientist

Pioneer Valley Citizen Science hosts a Salamander Watch that involves counting spotted salamanders and conducting an Egg Mass Count. These activities help document the health of local salamander populations as there are many environmental issues that affect salamanders, including climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity and invasive species.  Salamander Watch is a collaboration between Hampshire College and The Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, MA. Visit them online at www.pvcitizenscience.org to learn more and how you can participate.

Community-Based Resources

♦ Natural Habitats

♦ Native Species

♦ Nature Centers

♦ Conservation Organizations

♦ Libraries: Recommended Titles

  •  A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney [educators]
  •  Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool by Doug Wechsler [Ages 8yo+]
  •  Big Night for Salamanders Hardcover by Sarah Marwil Lamstein  [Ages 8yo+]
  • Discovering Amphibians: Frogs and Salamanders of the Northeast by John Himmelman
  • Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-By-Month Journey Through the Fields, Woods, and Marshes of New England by Mary Holland


♦ Natural History
♦ Ecology
♦ Life cycles
♦ Amphibians
♦ Scientific Process
♦ Entomology
♦ Art: Drawing/Photography

[Photo credits: (c) Sienna Wildfield]

Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Thursday, April 23!


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