On Saturday, May 2nd we had expected to meet with community volunteers for our 15th Annual Lake Mansfield Clean Up Day, but we had to cancel this much loved event to protect the health of community members. It was disappointing to miss this annual spring moment of shared joy and hard work, but we are eager to connect with you in new ways so that you can continue to be an advocate for the lake you love.
So much has changed at Lake Mansfield in the last 15 years. We have seen improvements in the beach area, the creation of a sustainable and accessible forest trail system, and the installation of native trees and pollinator gardens. None of this work would be possible without volunteer support and community contributions.
Recently the most important strides that have been made for Lake Mansfield have been accomplished in collaboration with the Town of Great Barrington’s Lake Mansfield Improvement Task Force through the development of a Lake Mansfield Improvement Plan. Your Lake Mansfield Alliance representatives have been integral members on this task force. Working together, we have accomplished tremendous improvements for the lake’s water quality.
Each week in May, we will be sharing an article from the Spring 2020 Lake Mansfield Newsletter. Later this month, the newsletter will be available to read in its entirety and download on our website. This week, Dale Abrams gives us an up-close look at the surprising variety of life found in vernal pools. Please share these stories with your friends and family to help us to continue to strengthen our care of Lake Mansfield on behalf of our entire community.
Be safe, stay healthy, and remember to connect with nature each day!
Christine Ward, Project Director
Lake Mansfield Vernal Pool
by Dale Abrams, Naturalist and GBLC Board Member
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things. One thing for sure is that folks are outside enjoying the fresh air along the shore of Lake Mansfield like never before. Sure, the road is safer now with one lane closed and dedicated to pedestrians. Folks are clearly appreciating fewer and slower cars in this space. A stroll by the lake has become a novel experience for many newfound and rekindled nature explorers. Something about the pandemic seems to be sending folks to nature for solace and renewal.
I've been visiting the lake and surrounding woods for decades, by day or night during all seasons of the year, and every time I do I feel blessed. Each season is precious in its own way. Spring is unique because it brings a secret parade by cover of darkness: a chorus of frogs heralds the return of amphibians to the lake shore and nearby vernal pools. Many walkers have paused in recent weeks to peer into a small roadside pool, sprouting with red dogwood stems, in search of the source of a strange quacking sound emanating from the algae and leaf-filled water. Some catch a brief glimpse of the elusive wood frogs who only linger for a few days before hopping back to their woodland home. With excited whispers in their voices, you can tell that these nature explorers are part of the all-welcome club of those who marvel at this timeless ritual of spring.
To truly experience these fascinating amphibians, one must dress like one and wade into an early spring night when the temperature hovers around 40-50 F and rain moistens the woods and nearby roads. When the weather is just right (for amphibians at least), stealthy salamanders and hopping frogs emerge by cover of darkness to return to their natal pools for a brief bacchanal rendezvous. Salamanders "congress', a writhing underwater courtship dance that may include 15-20 salamanders or more. Females wait in the wings to collect a gelatinous spermatophore gift from her chosen suitor before laying eggs that cling to underwater branches or stems. Wood frogs by the dozens or hundreds float almost invisibly on the water’s surface making odd duck-like quaking croaks to attract a mate. Amplexus is a frog mating stance during which the male hugs the female and waits until she lays two or three hundred glassy eggs before fertilizing them.
On warmer nights the air fills with the high-pitched voices of tiny spring peepers whose many calls blend into a ringing chorus that drifts well beyond the lake. If you venture out with a flashlight you may glimpse hundreds of paired eyes shining back at you. Or, if you cast a red lens beam into the water, you might spy the shy black and yellow spotted salamanders putting on an unpublicized show. Silent and unseen by most, these amphibious marvels are just a sampling of the special friends who share the vernal pools and other precious habitats in the greater Lake Mansfield natural area.
Please help us protect and restore this natural treasure for all creatures, great and small, and for future generations to enjoy; become a member and vote in support of the lake during town meetings.
Dale Abrams has served for many years as a member of the Great Barrington Land Conservancy's Board of Directors. He is also the education coordinator for Mass Audubon’s Berkshire Sanctuaries and a lifelong naturalist whose specialties include birding, wildlife tracking, and forest and wetland ecosystem studies.