Hello again! It has been awhile. I am talking to you, warm sunny days. And to you readers, and to myself, back here and finally typing a blog post.
Spring is starting and it is the time of year when way too much happens every single day. The Maple Buds are opening. I heard a Barred Owl, weeks ago, in a conifer next to my car at 7pm on a snowy day. This week I heard two talkng to each other around 9pm out my very own living room window, distantly coming up from Sligo Creek. They are mating, nesting, on eggs, probably on chicks already. It happened so fast! In February I saw a Bald Eagle carrying a large stick up to a nest it was building. The big predatory birds start early; their young need the time to grow up and learn their kinds’ bloody ways.
Right this minute though a lot of the nature I am experiencing seems to be second-hand. I’ve been reading nature books, I’ve been looking up #vernalpool and #spottedsalamander on this newfangled Instagram thing, I’ve been calling people and browsing for good vernal pool walks. So it feels slightly wrong to babble about vernal pools here. I have a lot to say about them, they are amazing, but I am mostly still in the learning and imagining phase. The ones I’ve see so far have still been icy and minimally occupied by creepers and crawlers. Normally I do some learning, then I go and see things for myself and think about them, and then maybe I blog about them. I have seen the pools, duh, but not much is in them yet so what I have to say is not so first-hand.
But whatever Vernal Pools are the coolest shizz around. Vernal means spring and these crazysexycool pools form at this time of year- the snow melts, the rains are frequent, and the temperatures are cool. All this water fills up depressions in the land. The water won’t be around forever though- as temperatures increase so does evaporation, and sometime in the summer the water may be all gone. This may seem like a scary situation in which to place one’s reproductive hopes and dreams (all those eggs in one ephemeral basket) but the temporal pressure attracts many a creeper. See, fish are unlikely to establish a population in an intermittently dry setting, and this eliminates a major predator of larval amphibians. I hear that the disappearing waters could even trigger some tadpoles or gilled salamander larvae to hurry up and metamorph into their lunged adult form.
In addition to these very specific advantages, a vernal pool is just an awesome shallow stillwater environment full of sunlight and nutrients and is obviously going to be bursting with life. The estuary of the woodland world. I visited them often as a child in search of frog eggs, salamander larva, and whatever else might be going on. However I have to give all the credit to my friend and sometimes blog-reader Elizabeth for making me aware of just how extravagant the vernal pool breeding situation can be. A couple of years ago she texted me a photo of a Spotted Salamander that she helped cross a road in Maine on Big Night, the first warm rainy night on the year. On this night, all of the Spotteds and some other species make their way to vernal pools (generally the one where they were born) for a crazy spotted sex-fest. Think Spring Break junior year of college but like the only one you will ever go on and your only chance to have sex for a year and also you are trying to have babies. Clearly there is not an exact human equivalent. Most species have a breeding season, but I don’t know of many that all set aside just one magical night for everyone to meet up and get it if they can. Because Spotted Salamanders live underground (making them members of the Mole Salamander family) it is quite rare to see them. This moment is the one major opportunity. Last year I missed Big Night, who even knows why. But this season I have been on the alert, and I have the muddy rain gear and red filter headlamp to prove it. However I have not seen much. I am not sure if I missed it… but I have reason to believe that Big Night may have happened south of here, and not yet north and west. It has gotten cold again. So I will keep you posted dear reader. Maybe this is my year! And maybe it could be yours.
I did spend one lunch break at a place I am told has some Spotteds breeding. The Wood Frog breeds around the same time as the Spotted Salamander, and in a similar wild orgy fashion. They are more often seen in the daytime. I saw nothing in the pond… but I did pause to examine some very exciting tree fruits that I believe are from a Chinquapin Tree tucked into a log.
It is amazing what you can walk right by even when you are paying attention.
This female Wood Frog was watching me the whole time! Wood Frogs are the species, along with Spotted Salamanders, associated with early spring emergence and vernal pool breeding. I believe she is a lady because she is so pink and quite large- over three inches. Males go to vernal pools first, so maybe she was just up from her soaked burrow, waiting for the pond to thaw a little more and warming up in the sun. She didn’t move a bit- it was probably safer to let me take photos than to jump and attract the attention of all the hungry birds and beasties watching. Fortunately for her I stopped and stared at the ground in a million other places, offering good cover for my attention (I hope!).