Vernal Pool Time Again

(Originally posted on Green Among Gray March 18, 2009)

UPDATE 3/20/09:

Albert Burchsted, a field biologist recently retired from the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York, was kind enough to relay some wonderful information for New Yorkers who may be interested in visiting vernal pools.

Anyone who can make their way to Staten Island apparently has a bounty of possible pools to investigate. Dr. Burchsted explains:

Along Manor Road south of Brielle and north of the intersection with Rockland Ave.: There is one vernal pool on the west side of the road just after the Jewish Community Center and across from the Pouch Boy Scout Camp. It can be seen on the satellite image of almost directly across from the Camp entrance.

At the N/W corner of Rockland Ave and Manor Road: Follow the blue trail north into the woods about 500 feet for a little pond at the junction of the first trail to the west.

On the south side of Rockland Ave near the Greenbelt Nature Center between Ashworth Ave. and Brielle Ave. (seen on

Two fishless glacial ponds that usually remain filled except for severe drought summers are found along the greenbelt trail at the end of Helena Road off Todt Hill Rd. about 1/4 mile south of Helena Rd (called Whitlock and Cliffwood) almost directly off the Cliffwood terminus.

There is one that forms near Parking Lot #2 along the South Loop Road on the College of Staten Island campus in Willowbrook, 2800 Victory Blvd.

A permanent, fishless pond enlarges each spring on the south side of Victory Blvd. by the traffic light entering Willowbrook Park (across from Morani Street) - this one is great for spring peepers (which should be calling right now) and is surrounded by marsh marigolds at the end of April (barely seen under the V of Victory Blvd and with a marshy area to the south). There are various ponds that form in depressions in the woods to the south of the archery fields in Willowbrook park. I have found wood frogs and spring peepers in them.

The book Secret Places of Staten Island by Bruce Kershner should list many more. There are only a few species of salamander left on SI. Ed Johnson at the Staten Island Museum can give you a checklist and more information of where you might find them.

Spring officially arrives this week. Celebrate by heading down to your nearest vernal pool and reveling in the glorious natural display that unfolds every year. Don't know what a vernal pool is? Read on (originally posted April 2008):

These shallow pools form in ground depressions in forested areas or meadows in early spring and are a great way to observe life-cycles of smaller animals such as frogs and salamanders.

Pools in the Midwest and East, often formed by snowmelt, typically have different characteristics than those in the West, but at any vernal pool you’re likely to see a variety of amphibians, from the spotted salamander to the Western spadefoot toad.

The best vernal pool shows come at night, when all the critters are active – and when you’ll get to hear these guys, a sound guaranteed to take you back to being a kid.

The beauty of vernal pools is that they are often so small you can find them in relatively compact places. However, finding them is half the adventure – they’re tough to pinpoint, since those most familiar with the pools like to keep them pristine and often won’t give precise locations. But here’s some info to get you headed in the right direction:

New York City: Matthew Brown, Supervisor of the Soil and Water Lab at Central Park Conservancy, hints that the Azalea Pond area in the Central Park Ramble might be a good place to start. Outside Manhattan, Queens' Cunningham Park and Staten Island’s Long Pond Park Preserve promise vernal pools.

Boston: The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says there are seven vernal pools in Boston. Many of the city’s Urban Wilds, such as the 90-acre Allandale Woods, would appear to be viable vernal pool locations, as would Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, just six miles from downtown, and Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.

Chicago: The guys at the Chicago Herpetological Society would sooner pass up a face-to-face encounter with a Fijian iguana than divulge vernal-pool locations. But they are chock full of species info and their members post some truly gorgeous photos. Also, the Chicago Wilderness Consortium offers plenty of facts about Chicago-area wildlife and indicates that vernal pools can be found at their Gompers Park Wetland.

So all you need now are your mudding boots, a flashlight, and a sense of adventure – a healthy sense of adventure that is – don’t wander around unsafe places at night and don’t trespass on private property. Report back with your findings!

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“Vernal Pool Time Again”