Happy World Wetlands Day! Today we celebrate the important ecological contributions of wetlands.
Wetlands, like the one shown above, come in many shapes, types, and sizes. In today’s post, Mark Read, Chief Naturalist at Murphys Point Provincial Park, takes us on a journey through one of the wetlands he can find in our parks.
Imagine this. You are in your favorite provincial park, walking one of the forest trails.
It’s spring, and sunlight filtering through a canopy that turns green by the day warms the early-season air.
Birds announce their presence as they pass and in the distance a cacophony of frogs can be heard; mainly the trill of Chorus Frogs, but perhaps also the dry nasal squawk of some Wood Frogs?
As you climb a ridge on the trail and begin descending again, a small vernal pool appears before you, glistening in the filtered sunlight.
Being only temporary, these vernal pools will dry out by late summer, but until then, they are an important home for many creatures.
Walking through a wetland
As you stop to examine the pool, you realize you are faced with silence: where did the frogs go?
You decide to find out, so sitting at the base of an old gnarled maple at the edge of the pool, you settle in and wait.
Vernal pools are seasonal, so get out earlier in the season before they dry out.
Almost 10 minutes pass before the first Chorus Frog starts again. They say it has a trill, but to you it sounds more like running your finger through a comb. Surely that’s an easier way to remember this one!
As they start to get louder and louder, the chorus begins to reverberate in the small gap of the pool until an almost trance-like rhythm takes over.
Wow! Just wow!
wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)
And then, to your surprise, a wood frog emerges from the undergrowth, just an arm’s length away, so maybe you did hear them after all.
This proves that these pools are worth waiting quietly, so you grab a sandwich and wait in anticipation for your next encounter…
Vibrant spring pools
I’m sure many of us have had similar experiences, but if not, give it a try this spring.
Actually! Take a few minutes to sit quietly next to a wetland and see what happens.
Patience can reveal other wild animals, like these spotted salamanders. (Ambystoma maculatum)
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius Phoenician)
Vernal pools are just one example of a wetland, but, along with the more familiar permanent ponds and lakes, they are a common feature in many of our parks and conservation reserves.
As you return over the next few months you will see changes in water level, vegetation cover and associated wildlife.
Turtles will be sunning themselves on logs, damselflies and dragonflies will be gliding across the water’s surface, young gray (and green) tree frogs will be clinging to cattails, and red-winged blackbirds will be busy raising broods of chicks. .
Delve into the wetlands
If you want to explore the wetlands further, many of our parks offer programs during the summer.
Maybe there’s a BioBlitz going on where you can take advantage of some expert advice, or a drop-in Discovery where you and your family can explore at your own pace.
And of course, it doesn’t have to be about wildlife! Maybe you just want to relax on the beach or paddle board or canoe on the lake.
Whatever it is, I urge you to take the time to fully appreciate what these wetlands provide, not only to the wildlife (and humans) who use them, but on a much broader scale as a critical ecological service.
And protect them too!
Do you remember the silence when you first approached that vernal pool? Let’s make sure that doesn’t become a permanent reality.
Although provincial parks and conservation reserves currently protect 10.6% of the surface area of Ontario’s inland lakes and rivers, as of 2021, their protection status is considered “fair,” and that should concern us all.
To do your part, learn to love your local wetlands, share your passion for them, and contribute, where possible, to conservation efforts to preserve them.