Vernal Pool with Amphibian Eggs!

The big spring party is just getting underway. If you go to the woods, you might hear them. Look at a quiet corner of any little spring woods pond and see what you can see. It's the best amphibian party of the year, and it's taking place in a vernal pool near you RIGHT NOW! Go and see, go and see!

The weather report for Friday was split. Some forecasts were calling for a clear and sunny day, with some clouds mixed in. The one I saw called for rain around 1 pm. We took a gamble and I marked Friday as another vacation day from work. This time, we went to the woods to check out the amphibian show.

We ended up visiting some favorite spots in Sproul State Forest. The first stop was for a hike down past a cabin and the green-flowing spring near it. We meandered down into the woods to a little waterfall we know, and came across a large vernal pond (not this one) with a huge clump of amphibian eggs with dark centers. Wood frog was my best guess.

We walked back up out of the hollow and got in our car to head to the second site. It was around 12:30 when the skies darkened up and a few drops of rain landed on the car windshield. They were followed in short order by snow buds! "Look, SNOW!" I said to my husband. "No, it's NOT snowing," he said; "it CAN'T be." But it was.

While the morning had been rather sunny and nice, the clouds thickened up in the afternoon, the temperatures dropped, and the wind picked up. Was it my imagination, or did the woods seem darker and deeper than usual? We took some extra layers with us, and hiked in to the Pine Glen campsite, our favorite Sproul backpacking spot. I thought we might see more snow buds or rain, but that one little smattering was all we got.

This is the same little vernal pool that I posted a photo of last time we visited Pine Glen. Except this time, the ice was thawed and the pond had several masses of amphibian eggs. You may see some of the eggs in the lower right of the shot.

There was another surprise awaiting us at the little pond, though. As we approached the pond, a dark-colored, medium-sized, sinuous, lanky animal with a long dark tail ran away and disappeared into the woods. (The tail was long and thick and made up nearly a third of the creature's length.) As I am familiar with the strategies of animals who disappear quickly, I went and checked the nearby trees (mostly evergreen) but did not spy any animal in them.

My brain said this: bear? porcupine? otter? dog? Trying things on, you know, as the brain does. And then suddenly, the realization snapped into place: FISHER! Yes, we had just seen a fisher, disappearing into the wilds of my native Pennsylvania. I had read that they are the size of a house cat, but that was not our experience on this day. I'd say this one was about the size of a large fox, maybe even bigger than that. (And no, I didn't get a single photo - alas, it disappeared too quickly!)

Let me note that there were not fishers here when I was growing up. They are fierce predators who are famous for being one of the few creatures to serve as a predator to porcupines. (Yes, porcupines!) Fishers compete with bobcats for their favorite prey: squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, and carrion. They troll the forest floor looking for such treats, and are known to scamper up a tree if threatened; they may also hunt among the forest canopy as well.

Fishers were reintroduced into Pennsylvania about 20 years ago, in a joint project sponsored by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Frostburg University, and Penn State. The program, which originally included just five or six release sites for the creatures, has been quite successful, and fishers are extending their territory and can now be seen through much of the northern (and apparently central) part of the state. I have read that fishers have been reported in 57 out of 67 Pennsylvania counties.

So that was exciting and fun; I love meeting new creatures! I kept watch but it never returned to the pond while we were there. By the time the afternoon wore on, I was wearing nearly every layer I had brought. That's spring for you! Sunny and brisk in the morning, snow buds in the afternoon. And everywhere you look, water, and green, and eggs. And a bonus fisher! Welcome to the biggest amphibian party of the year!

I wanted the song to accompany this story to be about new beginnings. And so here it is. Just a couple of good friends having some good fun with a tune: here are R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder having a blast, with Begin the Begin.

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