Last Saturday, I attended a workshop on vernal ponds at Catawba, Virginia. After a morning lecture by Michael Hayslett, Naturalist-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College, we ventured out to Fenwick Mines, an historic and nature area in Craig County. There, we saw and heard toads mating as well as several species of salamanders including spotted, Jefferson, and marbled.
Vernal ponds are spring ponds in the woods that dry up in the summer. While we have 6 ponds on our land, 4 are used by cows and only one dries up in the summer. All are surrounded by woods. Nevertheless on Sunday, I ventured to our ponds on the back part of our land anxious to see what was happening in them. In the small pond that dries up, I saw lots of tadpoles--no salamanders or toads.
I began to hear the distinct song of toads in the direction of two ponds near our hay barn. As I ventured toward the pond of the toad songs, they stopped. Having seen them the day before, I knew exactly what was going on.
The American Toad is a frequent visitor to my gardens and only ventures to water in the spring when you can hear their distinct songs along along those of the spring peepers.
This toad was perfectly still and looked like he was irritated that I was interrupting his or her mating activity.
This toad was swimming in the direction of the other one and floated toward it. Maybe after I left, they hooked up.
After I walked about 100 feet away, I heard the toads calling again. I did not see or hear any toads in the other ponds.
Red Spotted Newt
NOTE: Clark corrected my id--it's a Red Spotted Newt, very common in this area but very hard to identify from my field guide.
One pond had newts and eggs in it (the only one). I was able to take this photograph and tried to identify the salamander with Peterson Field Guides (see note above). This pond does not evaporate in the summer although it gets downright mucky with the cows in it.
Here are salamander eggs but they didn't look like the ones I saw the day before which were round or oval shapes around the branches whereas this one was all along the submerged branch.
On Thursday--only 4 days later, I checked on the two ponds where I saw the toads and salamanders. There was no sign of either. But two Wood Ducks flew off as I approached one pond so maybe they were feasting on tadpoles. I also haven't heard any more toad songs so maybe toads only have short period of mating while the spring peepers are still going strong.
Thanks to the great workshop, I look at our cow ponds a whole different way.