Sunday, January 19, 2014

Projects 2013 - Toad Pool

In October 2012, I began a project designed to increase the toad population at Blue Jay Barrens.  Toads were once common visitors to the pond during the spring breeding season.  I still hear their mating calls at a distance, but it has been several years since they have been on this property.  Besides missing the toads, I am concerned about the population local Hognose Snakes which feed heavily on toads.  I believe that additional suitable breeding sites will help the toad population to rebound, so I am constructing a series of small temporary pools to serve that purpose.  This is the start of the first pool.

My working tools are a roto-tiller and a scoop shovel.  Tilled soil is scooped up and moved to its new location.  In this pool, excavation stopped just atop the bedrock.

I finished work minutes ahead of the rain and the pool quickly filled.  The local White-tail Deer population was quick to claim this as a preferred watering site.  Soil that was used to form a shallow dam at the low end of the pool suffered severe trampling.  The deer had the area looking much like a confined livestock area. 

The pool was constructed in an area primarily consisting of Tall Fescue, a non-native grass considered to be invasive in areas of native vegetation.  Elimination of the fescue was a primary consideration in choosing this particular site. 

The second consideration was the presence of this seasonal spring located just above the pool site.  My hope was that this spring would produce a strong enough flow to keep the pool full of water.

In January 2013, Jefferson Salamanders returned to the pond for their annual breeding activities.  I had hopes that the toad pool would also support the local salamander population, but knew it was unlikely that any salamanders would appear there the first year.  I was right.  The pool remained empty.

Salamander breeding in the pond was highly successful.  Dozens of egg clusters clung to the submerged tree branches.

Mild temperatures in February brought out several species of aquatic insects that filled the toad pool with eggs.  Since I was going to be making frequent visits to the toad pool through the coming year, I wanted to make sure there would be some interesting things to see.  I thought the insect larvae developing in the pool might support salamander larvae, so I moved a couple of salamander egg clusters from pond to pool.

These five week old eggs are showing well developed salamander larvae.

The stick holding the egg clusters was secured to the pool side so the eggs were suspended in the mid level of the water column.  I was curious to see if the newly constructed pool would be able to satisfy the needs of the developing larvae.

Wood Frogs were actively breeding in the pond, so I moved a few of their egg clusters into the pool. 

Salamander larvae wriggled free of their jelly-like egg masses in late March.

Wood Frog tadpoles, looking more like small leeches than amphibians, fell from their eggs on April 1 and spent several days lying on the pool bottom before becoming free swimming.  I witnessed one salamander larva making a meal of a newly hatched tadpole.

The Wood Frog tadpoles developed quickly and within two weeks were aggressively consuming algae in the pool.

Below normal rainfall in May was cause for concern.  This shot on May 23 shows the pool still full of water.  Had the spring not stopped flowing a week earlier, I would have been confident of the pool’s ability to hold water long enough for the salamanders and frogs to complete their metamorphosis and move away from the water.

A check of the salamander larvae on May 24 showed them to be in good health and vigor.  This individual illustrates the average stage of development and is about two weeks from leaving the water.  A few more rapidly developing larvae had already moved out of the water to hide beneath wet vegetation at the pool’s edge.

Wood Frogs were also well advanced and would be leaving the water soon.  Several had already moved away from the pool.

By May 30 the pool was in danger of disappearing.  Had there been a normal precipitation pattern, the pool would have remained full plenty long enough for the amphibian larvae to leave the water before it left them.

Even though there was still enough water to support life, predator tracks in the mud told me that the young salamanders and frogs could no longer survive in the pool. 

I netted the surviving pool larvae and moved them back to the pond.  The dozen or so remaining salamander larvae would be independent of the water within a few days.  Knowing that salamander larvae survival is often quite low in typical breeding pools, I was happy with the number of pool raised individuals that made it to the land dwelling stage.

The pool as of January 16, 2014.  Vegetation has closed in around the banks and things are looking more hospitable for local aquatic creatures.  So, why have I not mentioned the toads?  Because there were none in 2013.  I see toads occasionally through the summer, but I don’t know where they are breeding.  If I don’t get toad eggs this spring, I may have to corral those I find in the summer and make sure they meet at the right time next year.


  1. Hi Steve.... Long time since you have been here!! Nice to see you back with and interesting experiment !!
    Hopefully your get some of those toads to get smart ,and find the water!!
    At least you have provided a haven for the salamander to breed, and a drink for the deer!!


  2. No I haven't changed my name, : ) a slip up there with my B 's and G's!!

  3. Hi Grace. My fingers also have occasional difficulties connecting with the intended key.

  4. I stumbled upon your blog while seeking out info about a specific native (among many others) that I want to add to our property. I just had to say how impressed I am by what I've seen as I explored. I'm very impressed with the toad pond that you have created as well a how you are managing the property.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Thanks David. I hope to create a larger pool this summer.

  6. Cool! I'm sure you'll post about it when you do.

    Our soil is well draining, so I can't do a natural bottom pond, but I did put in a "glorified birdbath" (with a deep end). Stage two is to build a much larger pond down the slope and connect the two with a stream bed...then add pump to recirculate the water.

    I've had frogs for the first two years since building it--last year they spawned. I'd love to get salamanders.

  7. Hi David. I also have a well drained soil that won't hold a pool of water through the summer. Fortunately, temporary pools of winter and spring are prime for amphibian breeding. In order to create a permanent pool, I must use a watertight liner. The water garden that I've posted about on this blog is similar to the small pond you have created.

  8. I'll have to look for that post.

    I thought your pool looked more like a vernal pond...that was part of what made it seem so inspiring. You made me wonder if I could find a spot for a vernal pool on our 2 acres. Luckily, there is a depression at the edge of our property that fills with water from a drainage pipe by the road. I know the water recedes a lot by summer, but I'm not sure if it disappears. I have to wonder if that is a great breeding ground for toads and salamanders. (I see both in our yard at times.)

    I'll search for your water garden post.

  9. I found your water garden posts. I probably should've posted a response there...but there are so many posts I couldn't pick just one. Great photos...actually, it is nearing my bedtime, so I looked at the pictures and only read some of the text.

    The pond I envision for the (planned) streambed to spill into would probably be about the size of yours (hard to tell by the photos)...maybe a little bigger--a man can dream, can't he?

    I too have green frogs making their home in the small pond I already put in...and have had a garter snake hanging out there--but no water snake. I have water striders and various other water insects. My potted plants abound with moss like those in your pictures...and, although I plan to disguise the entire liner, the areas I've yet to finish are starting to accumulate their own moss and such.

    Who knows if I'll get around to building stage two and three this year or not, but seeing the wildlife your pond attracts sure is an inspiration.

  10. Hi David. The water garden is about 25 x 12 and the toad pool is roughly 10 x 20. Even small water bodies will attract amphibians. I once saw salamanders and wood frogs breeding in a 50 gallon rubbermaid stock tank that had been buried flush with the ground. Tree frogs regularly breed in 18 gallon tubs set beside my house and barn. I'm sure that any water areas you are able to develop will attract an abundance of wildlife species. Best of luck with your efforts. I'll be visiting your blog to check on your progress.

  11. Thanks for the dimensions it is even bigger than it looks--especially the toad pool. I'll be lucky to get mine as big as 25X12...but that sounds about right for the spot I have in mind for it.

    I'm hoping to find salamanders and tree frogs breeding in the pond I have or, maybe more likely, in the one I have planned. The upper "pond" is supposed to spill into various "tubs" along a short stream, as long as there are small pools of water in various places (and without much current, I would guess), there should be plenty of places for them to choose from...but having a larger body of water will not only please me, but should attract a wider range of wildlife--since it should have a greater variety of depths...and, some wetland areas (using more liners) for the pond to overflow into.

    Thanks...I just noticed you at my blog the other day. If I know you are checking up on me, maybe I'll be more likely to get that project done--if money and time allow.

    I'll keep checking back to see what I can learn from your management style. :)

  12. If it works as a motivational tool, just imagine me looking at your blog and thinking to myself, "Just why hasn't David gotten around to finishing that stream and pond?"