A Ribbit-ing Good Time!

Chorus frog (Pseudacris crucifer). Photo by Ari Kaufman, March 2013

Chorus frog (Pseudacris crucifer). Photo by Ari Kaufman, March 2013

An extra week of warmer weather made all the difference at Great Swamp Watershed Association’s annual Spring Peeper Party this past weekend. Originally scheduled for March 22, cooler temperatures and a late snow fall prompted us to push back the festivities until March 29, and we are so glad we waited!

Spring was definitely swinging by late afternoon on Friday when GSWA Board Member John Neale (Madison), and volunteers Steve Gruber (Long Hill Twp.) and Wes Boyce (Bernardsville) arrived to set up. The local peeper population sang with such exuberance that they could be heard above the noise of rush hour traffic on nearby I-287.

As dusk fell, naturalist-extraordinaire Blaine Rothauser (Florham Park), trekked our group of 21 intrepid kids and adults down the blue trail to the site of GSWA’s bench memorial to local environmental legend Helen C. Fenske, the remarkable woman who led the charge to preserve Great Swamp from the kitchen of her home in Green Village. This also happens to be the site of one of the CMA’s most active ephemeral wetlands, or vernal pools as they are more commonly known.

If you’re scratching your head over all this terminology, you’re not alone. Suffice it to say that an ephemeral wetland is little more than a body of water that exists for a short time after a rain fall or snow melt event. They are easy to overlook, but the crucial role they play as incubators for amphibians, insects, and even certain plants cannot be overstated. Without these shallow, unassuming depressions in the earth, our small corner of the planet might just become unrecognizable to us. Certainly our spring and summer nights would become all too silent.

Why? Because without our vernal pools all the chorus frogs, wood frogs, and other amphibians that fill the darkness with their comforting, familiar calls would simply disappear.

Our volunteers wasted no time showing our Peeper Partiers what is at stake. Moments after Blaine finished explaining vernal pool biology and its importance to local ecosystems, the team came back with a wood frog (Rana sylvatica) for everyone to inspect and admire. This was quickly followed up by a string of up-close-and-personal visits with a host of other amphibians, including a tiny chorus frog (Pseudacris crucifer) that graciously paused to pose for a photo before returning to important business under the water. That shot appears above, but for a larger version, as well as more photos from the evening, see the embedded slideshow below or visit GSWA’s Flickr page.

If you were at the Spring Peeper Party, thank you for coming. We hope you enjoyed learning more about vernal pools and Great Swamp amphibians. If you couldn’t make it this year, we hope you’ll join us next year when we do it all again!


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