I had never heard of a vernal pool, and I do believe I have been missing out. Vernal Pools are these amazing little pools of water that only exist for short amounts of time. Vernal pools go through stages of life and are at their peak in spring. They are usually void of fish and allow for amphibian and insect species to thrive in their seasonal waters. The pools are dry and fill up with water from the melting of snow or rain waters and thrive with wildlife until eventually into the late summer months they dry again to await their next life cycle. The pools go through three distinct phases:
The Wet Phase: This is when the pools are full of water and life is teeming. Frogs and toads come to the pools to mate and lay their eggs before the pools dry up. Tadpole shrimp and fairy shrimp are swimming around usually undetected by the human eye. There are many other bacteria and pond life that can only be seen under a microscope in a sampling of the pool’s water. The wet phase is a mad dash to reproduce, grow and make it out before the thriving little pool turns into hard, dry dirt.
The Flowering Phase: The pools start to dry usually in March and then give way to a beautiful display of wildflowers in April and May. The fields burst with bright rings and paths of flowers ranging in color from white, yellow, blue and purple. Many of the species of flowers are only found in vernal pools and some are very rare to find. The display changes from week to week as new seedlings emerge and others die off to make room for them.
The Dry Phase: During this time the fields and pools are dry and brown, but there is still wildlife that comes to visit. Mammals and birds come to feed on the bulbs and seeds and the pool beds hold the eggs and cysts that will become the vibrant life of the next year with the first rainfalls in November.
I visited the Mather Field vernal pools and was amazed at the beauty of these amazing little pools of water. Sacsplash (http://www.sacsplash.org) gives docent led tours, as well as wildflower walks during peak blooming time. I chose to go out on my own and found the trails very easy to navigate and enjoyed the plank docks that are set along the banks of the pools to allow you to get closer and check out the life and plants in the water.
I was drawn to the pools largely for the wildflowers and they did not disappoint. Bursts of yellow covered the grasslands with pops of purple and white. The smell was sweet and there were birds and waterfowl enjoying the pools. During our visit we even spotted some raptors, and there were many tracks through the grasses from snakes and mounds of dirt from the California voles and Botta’s pocket gophers. The walk along the trail was peaceful and enjoyable, but I think we would have gotten some great information on the area and the wonder of the pools if we had attended a docent led tour.
If you enjoy wildflowers, tranquility and birds then I strongly suggest visiting the vernal pools at Mather Field. My son had a wonderful time taking his own pictures and exploring with his binoculars. SacSplash runs some fantastic programs for kids directly related to the vernal pools and all they offer to explore and learn about as well as other nature based programs. Find out more information at: http://www.sacsplash.org/our-programs/public-programs
For more information on tours of the Mather Field vernal pools please visit: http://www.sacsplash.org/mathertours
Vernalpools.org has a wonderful listing of all of the flora and fauna for identification. Kids can learn all about the things they saw while visiting the pools. You can find the plant and species listings here: http://www.vernalpools.org/species.htm