Our first weekly feature will focus on amphibians and their migration to vernal pools, a type of seasonal pond, in and around the Scotia Barrens. Each spring these guys and gals saunter back to the exact same spot to find a mate often crossing hundreds of yards, a massive journey for a 2-inch creature!
Vernal pools are formed naturally by impervious soils or rocks that retain water for only part of the year. In the Scotia Barrens many of these pools are inadvertently man-made through the iron mining process. Vast quantities of iron-rich clays were mined and the resulting spoils were spread across the landscape. The ore pits became lined with the slower-draining clays and now retain water for many months out of the year.
Importantly, the pools do not hold water throughout the year. Fish or other aquatic predators can take up residence in permanent bodies of water, but as the pools dry up every year it prevents these hazards to the amphibians’ young from moving in.
More noticeable members of this cadre are the more vocal ones — wood frogs and spring peepers. They produce calls that can fill the night with a cacophony akin to a busy city street. Their more silent counterparts, the salamanders and newts, crawl through the leaf litter to the same locales in a more subdued trek.
For a preview of what to expect you can check out this awesome article and radio program about the vernal pools tour we typically hold in late March.
One of the most renowned locations for witnessing this herculean feat is the northeast corner of the Scotia Barrens. Great care should be taken during early Spring! Please don’t drive along Scotia Range Road after dark, as their migrations often take them over the road and it is very easy to squish these sensitive species. Always watch where you walk and explore only in small groups. Handling is also not advised as their skin is very fragile and oils on human skin can interfere with their ability to breathe.
For those wanting to see and hear this spring phenomenon, there are many entrances to the Scotia Barrens. Graysdale Park and GraysWoods Park are two easy places to park and take a quick stroll - or consider looking to access the area through the Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor or Patton Woods.
The varieties you can expect to find changes throughout the spring as does their life stage. Early spring often has more wood frogs and salamanders with the largest masses of eggs to be found. As the season progresses, more spring peepers and American toads are present and the eggs begin to hatch. Most of the activity for the amphibians is right after dark, but egg masses and the subsequent critters that live in the pools can be found at any time.
What to Bring:
Flashlight or headlamp if out near dark
A refillable water bottle
Sturdy and water-resistant footwear capable of walking on a forested path
Long pants and high socks may be preferred for additional protection from insects and ticks
Child carrier/backpack is recommended for very young children
Binoculars for bird and wildlife watchers
Pack out whatever you bring in
Follow local rules and guidance
Be considerate of others
If parking lot is full, consider entering the Scotia Barrens from a different location
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