Vernal Pools

During the Winter, Ranger and I try to come up with ideas for what to do come Spring and Summer.  I like to experiment with different things every year.  So, since we’ve covered most of the land in the County, I’ve been threatening to get a minnow trap and study all the aquatic stuff in local waterways.  While looking into this, I saw the words “fairy shrimp” and looked them up.

Ahh ! Now that was the tip of an iceberg.

We’ve all seen the ponds, and we’ve all wondered.  Could there be life in there, or will it dry up completely come Summer?  Those temporary ponds or pools we see out in the bush in the Spring have an awful lot going on, in a very short period of time.  The first one I saw was on a “town” hike with Ranger.  We were on the Port Hope Millennium Trail when we sat down on a bench to look over the freshly thawed wetland to the North.  We both heard a strange soft “quacking” sound behind us and turned to see something moving about in the icy water.  I didn’t have my power lenses with me so we couldn’t get a close enough look to determine what it was.  A few hours later, it occurred to me to call the GRCA office which controls the trail and ask if they knew what we saw and heard.   I left a message, and was very pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt return call from their resident biologist who told me they were Wood Frogs.

These fascinating little amphibians are 1 of 3 life-forms that rely entirely upon what are called “Vernal Pools”.  They soak in, or dry up by Summer so the creatures in them have to live Life in the fast lane.  This video is from last Spring on our morel trail.  Turn up your volume, they make the oddest sound.  Kinda like hundreds of tiny ducks quacking amongst themselves, and the sound is almost deafening when you’re up close.  The gray masses are hundreds of thousands of eggs.



When you hear them once, you’ll instantly recognize the sound while walking through bush trails or even on backroads.  The wife and I heard many as we wandered last Spring.

I always assumed those pools supported wildlife to some extent, but I had no idea they were essential to wood frogs, salamanders, and fairy shrimp.  To be honest, I thought fairy shrimp were something found in tidal pools on the coasts, not in freshwater temporary pools in Ontario.  I haven’t seen a salamander in half a century, not since I had relatives on Hamilton Mountain.  So you just know I’ll be skulking around those pools this year.  The only reason the salamanders, wood frogs, and fairy shrimp exist is because there aren’t any fish in the pools to dine on them.

So, soon enough, I’ll be donning my “Welly’s” and carefully taking up position alongside one or two of them with camera in one hand, and a jar in the other. I thought of this too late last year, so I’ll get an earlier start on it this time. If I see anything interesting, I’ll post it for you to see too.


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