Polk County’s Most Wanted Field Report: vernal pools

Published 4:20 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mole Salamander

Mole Salamander

This “Reports from the Field” is a follow-up article concerning the ongoing quest by the Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) and botanist, David Campbell, to find “Polk County’s Most Wanted” plants, animals and habitats.

Following the recent January publication of his article on vernal pools in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, Campbell decided to investigate likely areas within Polk County to see if he could find what he had been looking for (namely amphibian breeding sites).

Accompanying him in the field, Campbell’s son Jack, 9, came along to lend a pair of eyes for the hunt. Time of year, temperatures and rainfall all converged to create a set of highly favorable conditions for the search.

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After surveying likely low-lying areas for several hours, a very promising-looking vernal pool was found within a mixed hardwood forest dominated by beech and oaks.

The pool was a ‘classic’ in terms of size, appearance and location. The investigators felt confident. The bottom of the pool was covered in a deep layer of dead and decaying leaves.

Also, and most importantly, no fish were present.  The depth of the pool was approximately 24 inches at its deepest spot.  No signs of amphibians were immediately apparent, so a thorough search of woody debris surrounding the pond began in earnest.

In spite of the cold and heavy rains, several medium to large-sized logs and stumps were overturned within the course of an hour.

Still, no luck. Spirits were truly starting to fade until Jack turned over a small (and very flat) stone just a few inches from the edge of the pool…revealing a curled up, beautiful and obviously startled mole salamander.

This was a truly excellent find of a rarely encountered amphibian. Ten minutes later, another mole salamander was found under some dead leaves adjacent to the vernal pool.  Clearly, these salamanders were journeying to this pool in order to mate.  The presence of breeding populations of amphibians is always a good indicator of ecosystem health. All in all, a very gratifying day was spent in the field in pursuit of some of our lesser-known wildlife.

A special note of appreciation goes to all of the individuals who have been kind enough to contact PAC with locality data for vernal pools in Polk County. PAC is grateful for this information, and will be following up on these leads as soon as possible.

Continue to call 828-859-5060 and e-mail PAC at landprotection@pacolet.org with any possible sightings of previous or future “Polk County’s Most Wanted;” your reports do matter.

The purpose of the “Polk County’s Most Wanted” project is to gain a better understanding of the flora and fauna in Polk County and document the species present in the county.

PAC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit conservation organization (land trust) founded in 1989 to protect and conserve the area’s natural resources (PAC’s mission).

– article written
by David Campbell