Winter always seems to be reluctant to give up and go away. Many of us who spend a great deal of time outside count not just the days until spring but more significantly count “firsts”. Everyone seems to notice when the daffodils and crocuses break the ground in our gardens, and it is often still quite definitely winter. Skunk cabbage flowers, oddly shaped and waxy, have been “in bloom” since January. A plant whose chemistry creates heat around it can actually melt the winter snow it stands in. Look closely at this time of year, you might find an insect or two, a bee or fly, emerged a bit too early or sometimes even a salamander taking refuge inside the sheltering flower. Those are some things we have been looking at for weeks already and are now eagerly awaiting new “firsts”.
By Wednesday, March 13, we had experienced a stretch of some wonderful warmth: a spring tease. That day was rainy, heavy at times. The warm rain soaked the earth, softening and soaking deep into the soil, running into holes and burrows, melting the ice on vernal pools. The FIRST wood frogs emerged from the leaf litter in the woods and found their way to shallow melted pools and began to “quack” in the late afternoon sunlight. The FIRST Spring Peepers began their calling a bit later that night from marshy ponds and wet meadows. A bit tentative to start, the chorus will grow and swell over the next weeks as the weather becomes more consistently warm. Spotted Salamanders don’t make any noise and are far more secretive. They too emerge from woodlands where they have hibernated deep in burrows. All of these first ‘emergers’ are heading to the same habitat- vernal pools. These very special wetland areas are shallow ponds. They usually only hold water during the winter and spring and are too shallow to have predatory fish. They protect the eggs and larva just long enough for them to mature then most of these ponds dry up in the summer as the amphibians move onto land.
This three minute video features the creatures that get their start in vernal pools.
Vernal pools can be found on a number of Avalonia properties. In Stonington, you can visit the Hoffman Preserve, Knox Family Farm, Paffard Woods, White Cedar Swamp, and Deans Mill Preserve among others. It is important to leave these ponds undisturbed. The busy amphibians can be easy prey for predators. Their egg masses are fragile. It is important not to wade into these wetlands and to keep dogs on a leash when in the area. Many amphibian species, including those that emerge later, are in decline. Look and listen for these FIRSTS and you will know spring cannot be far away.
Written by Beth Sullivan.
You can learn more about vernal pools at www.vernalpool.org