Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Vernal Pools in Winter

It’s still winter here.  It’s was warm for a few days and melted some of the snow.  Then it snowed several inches again.  Ah well, spring will be here soon.  Maybe you live somewhere warmer and spring has already settled in. Icy vernal pool in early March

This week we took a walk to check out some of our favorite vernal pools.  We learned about these cool ecosystems last year and have been observing them off and on through the changing of the seasons.

If you aren’t familiar with vernal pools, they are seasonal ponds.  Over the course of a year they fill and dry out.  The fact they dry up at times is essential to these unique systems.  Fish and other predators can’t survive when these pools dry out, so the vernal pools become the perfect place for frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp, caddis flies, and dragonflies.

Winter vernal pool as seen from walking path

We started studying the pools last spring to find salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers.   Now we make sure to take an occasional trip by our favorite spots to check the water levels and notice which animals are hanging around.

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Despite a couple of days of temperatures in the 50s, we found the pools were still filled with ice, but the ice was starting to get slushy on top.  All around us, the squirrels and chipmunks were busy, and the birds were singing.

Pointing to the deer along the trail

In the distance, the boys spotted some deer.

Deer along the trail - early March

At least a few of the deer spotted us as well.  We watched them for several minutes, and were surprised to realize there weren’t 3 or 4 deer, as we had counted, but 8 tails running down the hill.Early March on the Spring Peeper Trail Time to head home and wait for a few more warm spring days!

If you want to learn more about vernal pools, I highly recommend Frog Heaven by Doug Wechsler.   The book follows the yearly cycle of a vernal pool in Delaware. The pictures are vivid and helpful for identifying the different creatures found in vernal pools. We checked it out from the library last year to learn about spring peepers.  We ended up buying a copy to keep as a reference.

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Vernal Pool Unit Study

A local vernal pool

A local vernal pool

We continued our study of vernal pools this week.  We’ve had so much fun with this unit study and learned so much about these unique ecosystems. Vernal pools are filled with water part of the year but dry up for at least 2 months every year. Because these pools dry up completely fish can’t survive in them and that makes them the perfect breeding ground for many amphibians.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

Spring peepers and wood frogs come to vernal pools in late winter/early spring to lay their eggs.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

During the first warm rainy nights of spring, salamanders emerge from their underground burrows to make their way to these shallow pools and lay their eggs.

Fairy shrimp, caddisfly larvae, and water beetles also make their homes in these pools.

Salamander underwater during the day.

Salamander underwater during the day.

On one recent trip we were delighted to see a young salamander during the day. There was a lot of reflection on the water but if you look closely you can see the salamander.

Ribbon Snake

Some predators do of course enjoy visiting these pools. On a recent trip we came across a few ribbon snakes.

“Frog Heaven” by Doug Wechsler was a very helpful resource for this study and I am very grateful to our local naturalist for leading salamander walks on rainy spring nights.

What ecosystems have you explored near you?