Exciting Finds in Charlottesville’s Vernal Pools

By Drew Chaney, Center for Urban Habitats

American Toad

Anaxyrus americanus

Family: Bufonidae


One late March day, I decided to check out the new boardwalk that was recently installed at Greenbrier Park in north Cville. It was pleasant outside, the birds were active, and spring peepers were calling incessantly. The boardwalk was added as part of a trail improvement project, and enables visitors to walk or bike through a series of vernal pools along Meadow Creek. As I explored this new addition to the park, I heard the loud trilling of American Toads coming from one of the pools. A scan in the binoculars found a huge number of toads calling, mating, and splashing about in the shallow, murky water. I watched this spectacle for a little while, then moved on, vowing to return with my camera soon.


The next day, armed with my DSLR and accompanied by a couple of fellow Young Birders, I returned to the pools. We trudged through the mud and found the toads still there, mating and calling away. We crouched down in the mud to photograph them, and were rewarded with some excellent shots. We watched the toads for a while, then noticed some strange, gelatinous spirals on the bottom of the pool — egg sacs.


We marveled at these twisting, pasta-like strands which would soon become new tadpoles, then moved on to another section of the park, where careful inspection of some different pools turned up an exciting find — Spotted Salamander egg masses. These are quite different from the toad egg sacs, in that the eggs are all contained in one large, jellyfish-like blob, as opposed to a spiraling chain of eggs.


Pleased with our finds, we returned to the car, greeted by our first Palm Warbler of the season, flitting and bobbing its tail among the swampy woods.


All in all, a good way to begin this spring season!

Photographs by Drew Chaney