Preschool Explorers Discover a Vernal Pool

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos by Gerry Beetham

Weather forecasters were calling for Tuesday to be the pick of the week and wow what a spectacular morning! Preschool Explorers and their caregivers were greeted at the Coy’s Brook Woodlands with the most incredible blue skies, beautiful sunshine and temperatures in the mid-50s. Preschool friends welcomed each other with hello-hugs, setting off our morning adventures to a sweet and wonderful start.

We paused on the pine-needle covered path to listen to the sounds of the woods. Standing still, with quiet smiles stretched across our faces, the sounds of a songbird chorus filled our ears. We paused to smell the minty-fresh fragrance of the shiny green leaves of Wintergreen (aka Teaberry/Checkerberry). As we continued along the trails we admired the leaves of the Beech Tree, noting similarities and differences to the Oak tree leaves. We crouched down on the path to feel the velvety moss and compared the feeling to the lichens we found nearby.

Down the trail, our “pool party” awaited us in the Atlantic White Cedar swamp. The vernal pool was beautiful as it glimmered in the sunlight. We excitedly crossed the logs that formed a bridge over the water to our “lab”, set up next to the vernal pool. Containers with spoons and magnifying lenses were ready and waiting for our arrival. Vernal Pools are incredible habitats for amphibians and invertebrates and our Preschool Explorers made some exciting discoveries this morning. One such discovery was a wood frog egg mass. We very gently touched the jello-like cluster and saw the black embryos in the center of each egg. Wood frogs lay fist-sized egg masses attached to vegetation at the water’s surface, with anywhere from 500-1500 eggs per mass. Carefully, we replaced the egg mass where we found it after wishing the future frogs “good luck and a happy life” in the vernal pool and beyond. 

The next activity involved sampling the leaf litter in the pool. We found mosquito larvae, amphipods, water striders, and isopods. Each of the vernal pool creatures lives in a certain part of the pool. We pretended to be bottom-dwelling vernal pool worms by wiggling all around as we imagined a worm would. We also pretended to move like crawling isopods, tried to impersonate a mosquito and swim like its larvae, and finally pretended to skate on the surface of the vernal pool like a water strider.

One of the day’s art projects involved coloring pictures of water striders, noting the location of the eyes, legs, and mouths on these semi-aquatic insects. Our adventures continued as we sauntered along in the sun and sat down together on a fallen log. We created our own vernal pool scene by gluing a yellow circle sun, a blue oval vernal pool and a green triangle tree onto some sturdy paper. We made our art creations come to life by skating a water strider picture attached to a popsicle stick back and forth through a slit in our vernal pool art. As we were sitting in the sunshine creating our vernal pool designs, above us flew an Osprey, a Red-Tailed Hawk AND a Bald-Eagle!!

After completing our art project, we studied a Redback Salamander I found under a log alongside the trail. Redback Salamanders are our most common and abundant salamander. Our Preschool Explorers marveled at this terrestrial amphibian.

A sweet slow amble along the trails with stops to notice leaves, rocks, stumps, trees, holes, lichens, mosses, and mushrooms was all part of our grand finale. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and the loads of delightful discoveries made at Harwich Conservation Trust’s magnificent preserve.

Thank you for a wonderful Tuesday morning, Explorers.

I am so looking forward to next week’s adventures together. 

Ms. Andrea


Preschool Explorers especially enjoyed using the magnifying viewers from Acorn Naturalists on today’s adventure. If you would like to check out this fun tool, please click here.