Since the kids were off from school last week, I let them stay out a bit late and get a bit wild…learning how to be amphibian monitors! This was a special program with Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. First we attended training on the importance of identifying and tracking amphibian populations in Loudoun County, which has had a huge loss of natural habitat due to development. We learned how to monitor, record and report the data, and then set out at dusk to see what amphibians we could find.
As much time as we spend at Claude Moore Park, we’re rarely there after dark/bedtime, so this was a special treat for the kids.
First stop: the small Girl Scout-made pond behind the Visitor’s Center. We saw a Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander egg masses, which are the gelatinous-looking blobs on the stick Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Nicole Hamilton is holding out of the water.
Then we went into the woods and hiked off-trail to a vernal pool, to see what amphibians we could find there. I actually didn’t know much about vernal pools, but learned how important these seasonal pools are. If they had water year-round, fish would eat the young amphibians. But frogs and salamanders can take a gamble with these, that the eggs they lay will be relatively safe from predators, while also having lots of mosquito larvae to gobble up before the pool dries out for the summer.
We found invertebrates in the water, but no amphibians this time, despite a lot of careful searching.
The photos are a bit deceptive about how dark it really was. I hadn’t thought to bring flashlights, and was thankful for some loaners for the kids. Well, and I’d assumed that one of the children would surely melt down and we’d have to head home early. I was wrong. They were fascinated and delighted to be out so late in the forest, where everything looks and sounds so different at night.
After visiting one last vernal pool, we headed over to Frogshackle Pond. It was quite dark by this point, and we could hear many cheeping Spring Peepers, plus a few trilling toads.
And here is one of the Spring Peepers. I had no idea they were so tiny. This is a mature female, her sides rounded, full of eggs.
Now we need to decide where we want to go multiple times this year to monitor the amphibian population. I think I’ll have three willing helpers for this project!