Nights like these.
The wind was softly blowing ever so slightly, as if by dancing through trees only to remind me of its presence. The water rippled with every careful step I made into the heart of the vernal pool and the fog wafted over the surface of the murk just enough to cause the refraction of my headlamp to push my light beam to and fro. I love nights like these.
I decided to take a trip to my newly discovered hiking trail near the house Jess and I recently bought. This was my first nocturnal adventure here and I have to say although I was delighted to be alone in the woods in a new place, I was a bit unnerved a few times just thinking about how close I was to people’s houses that may not initially understand that I was merely there for the amphibians and nothing more. I have to admit that I almost screamed when I startled a rabbit and he tore off into the undergrowth after we locked eyes.
On my first visit to this piedmont NC paradise a few months back I saw in the topography of the land that it dipped almost to a valley and flattened out at the bottom. On that inaugural visit I found the ephemeral wetland fully lit with late summer sun and it was a sight that I had been longing to see. It was pristine habitat. An ephemeral wetland is sometimes called a vernal pool, ephemeral pool, or wetland and it is usually temporary and routinely dries up thus not supporting fish but great for amphibians.
I don’t think anyone else had discovered my newly found haven and if they had I imagine it wouldn’t have been considered the treasure I thought it to be and likely would have been avoided. To the untrained eye this area is just a swampy muddy mess but I see so much more. On my first few visits spanning a few months I found a plethora of amphibians much to my surprise and delight. I have found Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, Marbled Salamanders and Eastern Spotted Newts so far.
The reason for my trip tonight was to capitalize on the unseasonably warm few nights that we were having this week. For the first week in December we are seeing daytime highs in the mid 70’s and nightly lows in the 60s. This week has also been very rainy and overcast which creates the perfect storm for amphibian activity and gets my heart pumping. The main motivation for tonight’s wet hike was to check on the vernal pool itself, to see if it had begun to fill with water and to also check on the marbled salamanders to determine if their eggs had hatched yet.
Tripping off the beaten path down to the muddy area where the pool is situated I was almost immediately met with water, lots of it. The pool not only filled up but it’s actually much bigger than I imagined it would be. So far in my observations the pool has ranged from depths of 6-12 inches on down to almost completely dry, so I wasn’t prepared to see the pool quite this full. It was a welcomed surprise.
I didn’t have to go far to confirm the health of the pool because the first time my light struck the water I saw the leaf litter almost explode with newly hatched larval forms of marbled salamanders. This made me very happy considering there were a few times over the last month or two that I questioned whether or not if the pool would even fill up and I feared for my little aquatic friends. Thankfully nature’s much more resilient than I even give it credit and the marbled salamanders did exactly what they were designed to do, survive. The best part of the entire night was the beautiful volleys of Spring Peeper calls. There were even a few faint Chorus frogs calling as well but the night air was heavy with the calls and peeps of the tiny Spring Peeper above anything else.
I decided once I discovered the depth of the pool was knee deep according to my soggy jeans that I would head in the direction of the frog calls and see if I could see one of these elusive nocturnal anurans. After crossing over the pool stealthily and occasionally stopping, cutting my lights off and listening for the audible offender I made my way to the opposite shore and scanned with my headlamp and there he was. The light of my headlamp glistened like diamonds on the crossed back of a Spring Peeper chest high on a small sapling next to the pool. Success! Even if it was almost by accident that I found the little guy I was pleased beyond belief. I love these little frogs; they are one of the many native NC amphibians that truly give me joy.
These guys defy the odds by being able to breed, thrive and survive when most other amphibians are nestled deep in the ground below the frost line. They are designed with somewhat of a biological anti-freeze, glucose builds up in their cells and allows them not to freeze to death and allowing these petite frogs to occupy a niche other frogs are unprepared to inhabit. After taking a few blurry pictures in SITU with my Iphone of my new froggy friend I started back up towards the trail and made my way to drier ground. All in all tonight’s trip was short in duration but I don’t think it could have been much better. I love nights like these!