Vernal Pools: Annual Amphibian Migration

Amphibian migration will be any day now!

On a rainy evening (or two or three) very soon, all over New England, when the snow and ice are almost gone, and the temperature is 40 degrees or more, frogs and salamanders will make their annual spring migration.


They wend their way from their upland winter havens to the vernal pools where they hatched to lay their fertilized eggs in the water. Sometimes, however, roads cross these ancient paths, and many of them are killed. The Wendell State Forest Alliance invites families to help our fellow amphibian neighbors avoid this fate by participating as a salamander crossing guard!

Here’s how: Wash your hands (don’t use any lotion), put on rain gear and a reflective vest, take a flashlight and walk to the amphibian crossing closest to your home. Then wet your hands in rainwater, pick them up very carefully and carry them across the road in the direction they were headed. Touching them with dry hands can damage the protective coat on their skin. Ask members of your local Conservation Commission where amphibians crossroads in your town. As this involves activity in the road at night, children must have adult supervision.

The Hitchcock Center in Amherst has instructions for participating as a crossing guard at the Henry Street tunnels on “Big Night,” which you can download here and also apply towards the nearest vernal pool to your home. And Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton has an annual event for Big Night every March, perfect for families with younger children.

Read more about vernal pools in our post, Learning Ahead: Spring Landscape & Vernal Pools.

Mapping Vernal Pool Habitats Hosts Loads of Learning

Mapping Vernal Pools

Families can explore and map local vernal pools all on their own! The process of inspecting, mapping, and tracking present species is quite a project to undertake as a family, but is one that can provide endless opportunities for learning and exploration of the natural world.

Vernal pools are the breeding grounds for some of spring’s most exciting life – literally! Not only are they home to special species like fairy shrimp, who spend their entire lives in vernal pool habitats, but the watery mini-ponds provide a venue for salamander and frog species to lay eggs for late-spring hatching. While some vernal pools in western Massachusetts are well known (Sheburne’s High Ledges are home to a local favorite), there are certainly many, many more vernal pools whose locations have yet to be officially determined.

Families can explore vernal pools in their neighborhoods by using the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s GIS Data vernal pool maps, which can be downloaded either as a GIS layer (for tech-y families) or as a datalayer in an online map. While there’s still lots of snow on the ground, the sound of peepers will soon be serenading the hills on spring evenings, and vernal pools will be slowly coming alive with fresh water and lots of fascinating life.

But what about those vernal pools that have yet to be mapped by the state? Read the rest of this entry »

A Day at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

Searching for Spring

We picked up a map and headed straight to the vernal pool. It’s wet enough right now to be connected to the pond. It is full of amphibians and hatched eggs right now. Frogs big enough to be seen a few yards away are impressive to anyone, especially to small boys. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Spring has taken its sweet time coming our way. I grew up in a city, and now I live in a smaller one with my family. As a child my mother would take us out of New York around the change of seasons. She said she missed the small seasonal transitions you can only notice in the country and the woods: leaf buds unfurling in springtime, and the first tint of color on autumn’s leaves.

It has been damp this spring without much sun in these parts. Our snow covered mountains are gone. Occasionally, the minivan is warm in the morning, but recently we went searching for more encouraging signs of spring at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. It’s really just a hop down the road from us, but it was our first trip.

There are several different trails to follow at the sanctuary — short ones for small people, or people who have to be at work later that day — and longer ones for weekend mornings and sturdier legs. If you go into the Visitor’s Center you will get some good advice, but first take a nice long look at the white board detailing all the recent animal sitings (which includes deer ticks right now, so long pants tucked into rain boots are a good plan.) We picked up a map and headed straight to the vernal pool. It’s wet enough right now to be connected to the pond. It is full of amphibians and hatched eggs right now. Frogs big enough to be seen a few yards away are impressive to anyone, especially to small boys.

We didn’t have my oldest son Isaac with us on this trip but we are going to go back and try the Quest. It was perhaps a little too challenging for the younger kids on their own to accomplish this wildlife sanctuary treasure hunt, and I truly think they will enjoy it more if they are working together without much help from an adult. Older elementary school kids would be able to do it independently.

As for spring, we did find it: leaves unfurling, shiny green moss, birds squawking, and buds blooming. We feel a little more settled that New England’s snowy winter is behind us. We can crawl out into nature again. I will be celebrating by sending the boys out to play in the neighborhood while I pack away winter boots, hats, gloves and scarves for next year.

If you decide to go in search of spring this weekend, you should know there is a small fee to enter the sanctuary, but it is free to Mass Audubon members. That reminds me to tell you that right now annual family memberships are on sale for $29.


Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Salamander Crossing Guards & Vernal Pools

2008 Annual Amphibian Migration
By HF Contributing Writer, Sheri Rosenblum

After a winter of indoor activities, this is a great time of year to get outside and explore the local woods, especially if you are interested in the lives of amphibians. The snow is melting and vernal pools are appearing all over the Hilltowns. Frogs and salamanders are still in the woods, thawing out from their winter spent frozen under the snow. They are waiting for the first warm, rainy night of Spring to tell them it’s time to move to their breeding habitat, the vernal pools. Unfortunately, this first activity of Spring often requires crossing roads where most drivers are completely unaware they even exist. This recipe for disaster results in millions of deaths every year, with so many of them completely preventable. To follow is a look at what vernal pools are and how your family can help participate in protecting the amphibians that migrate from the every year.


A vernal pool is body of water found in upland hardwood forests in places that were previously glaciated (Ten thousand years ago these Hilltowns were covered up to 2 miles deep in ice!). In summer and fall, vernal pools appear simply as depressions in the forest floor, some as diffrent sized puddle, others as large as a couple of acres. But in the late winter, due to snow melt, spring rains and a high water table beneath them, they fill up like ponds and maintain their water generally into summer. The key feature about their formation is that since they are not associated with any running water system and because they dry out periodically, they cannot support fish. Hence, they have become a safe habitat for a variety of wildlife species that rely on these pools for breeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Review: 525,600 Minutes of a Vernal Pool

Watch and See: Vernal Pools in Western Mass

Follow a year in the life of a vernal pool in the Sawmill Hills of Florence, Massachusetts in this four minute video produced by The Northampton Wildlife Committee and Seven Generations Productions.

Here are some hikes and workshops planned for April 2008:

Saturday – 04/12/08
10am & 11:30am – VERNAL POOLS: REFUGE FOR WILDLIFE – (Northampton) Broad Brook Coalition (BBC) will sponsor Heather Ruel from the US Fish and Wildlife Services-Div. of Reality. 10am at the Forbes Library, Northampton and then at 11:30am at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area (FLCA) N. Farms Road entrance. Heather will start this program with a short visual presentation on vernal pools and the certification program in MA, and then we will meet at FLCA for a walk to our vernal pools. Attend both or either segments. Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that provide critical habitat for invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians such as spotted salamanders, wood frogs, fairy shrimp and spring peepers who are probably best known for their sharp peeping calls heard in chorus from wetlands in early spring. These habitats and their upland forests are essential for the survival of many of these species. For more information on Broad Brook Coalition, visit their website

Sunday – 04/13/08
1pm-3pm – ECOSYSTEM HIKE – (Northampton) The Broad Brook Coalition (BBC),Valley Land Fund (VLF), Northampton Wildlife Committee will be sponsoring Mike Wojtech, Timothy Brown, and John Body at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area (FLCA) N. Farms Road entrance. It’s all about Habitat! Mike, Timothy, and John will welcome the spring with a hike to explore some of the habitats at the FLCA. Forest ecosystems, vernal pools, lake, and old orchard systems will be explored. Hopefully there will be time to get out to Cooke’s Pasture, our restored and managed shrub land that is the focus of much effort on the part of the management team of the BBC. For more information on Valley Land Fund, visit their website at

Sunday – 04/20/08
1pm-3pm – EARTH DAY HIKE INTO THE SAWMILL HILLS – (Florence) Northampton Wildlife Committee and Nonotuck Land Fund sponsors: Come celebrate Earth Day with the Wildlife Committee and Nonotuck as we check the three substantial vernal pools and do some trail maintenance along the way. We’ll get to see lots of vernal pool activity and maybe the Pileated Woodpeckers will make an appearance! Meet at the parking lot behind the Arts and Industries Building on Pine Street and we’ll carpool up to the Avis Circle Trailhead.

Saturday – 04/26/08
10am-Noon – VERNAL POOL CERTIFICATION – (Easthampton) Mass Audubon at Arcadia Sanctuary hosts Nancy Childs, naturalist and Arcadia Nursery School lead teacher will be walking people through the steps of certifying a vernal pool. You will learn how to identify a pool with obligate species and vegetation, do the required mapping and documentation, and process the forms to have a vernal pool certified by the state. This certification brings added protections to the pool. Call the Sanctuary for more details and registeration, 584-3009. For more hikes and workshops at Arcadia, check out their website at: ($)

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