My own Vernal Pool, otherwise known as “THE SWAMP”

In my last blog I mentioned that I had a vernal pool in my backyard and someone questioned what that is. I didn’t really learn what a vernal pool was until I had lived here for about 20 years. I just knew it as our tiny pond that came and went.
We call our vernal pool “THE SWAMP”. The best thing about it, is in the spring it provides us with “pinkletinks”. Actually there is only one place in the world that calls them pinkletinks and that is Martha’s Vineyard, and of course my sister and I. What I am referring to are the little spring peepers, tiny tree frogs, that make a glorious, extremely loud peeping sound for a few months in the spring. It is actually their mating call.

h_crucifer_usgs.jpgSpring Peeper

In our house, every spring we take bets on which day we will hear the first spring peeper. At the sound of the first one I always call my sister so she can go out on her deck and listen (she lives one street over). It usually happens somewhere between March 22 and March 28th. Before my daughter moved back home I would call her too and bring the phone outside so she could hear.

You hear the first one, usually after a warmer day in spring. One lonely sound, maybe two and within a few days the sounds expand and you hear hundreds maybe thousands. Each female lays about 900 eggs. To me it’s like music and one of the first harbingers of spring. I get excited now, just thinking about it. It really is the small things in life that make it worth while.

The technical definition from Wikipedia for a vernal pool is this:

A vernal pool is:

“a seasonal body of standing water that typically forms in the spring from melting snow and other runoff, dries out completely in the hotter months of summer, and often refills in the autumn. Vernal pools range from broad, heavily vegetated lowland bodies to smaller, isolated upland bodies with little permanent vegetation. They are free of fish and provide important breeding habitat for many terrestrial or semiaquatic species such as frogs, salamanders, and turtles.”

vernal-pool.jpgThe vernal pool in June when there isn’t much water in it.

We called it the Swamp because I was convinced when the kids were small that it contained quicksand and it would surely suck down my kids. It sounded better than “Hey kids, don’t go near the vernal pool” I hoped that threatening them with swamp and quicksand would keep them away from it.


Once, when the kids were little, our dog chased a squirrel into the swamp and he couldn’t get out of the muddy quagmire. My husband had to jump in to save the dog and had a tough time getting himself out carrying our large English Setter. I could only envision that happening to the kids.

sarah-and-damon-at-nobska.jpgImagine that happening to these sweet children. I did.

I threatened them with 30 minutes in the corner if they ever went near it. None of this Super Nanny one minute for every year of their age. They got 30 minutes if they went near “THE SWAMP”.My daughter never went near it and she would squeal on her brother if he went within ten feet of it so I felt almost safe about it.

The swamp contained various other animals including a muskrat, bullfrogs, mosquitoes by the millions, birds and probably the skunk that sprayed me because they like to munch on baby spring peepers.

My children and all their little visiting friends survived the Swamp and so did I. I would have wished it away if it weren’t for the sound of the pinkletinks in the spring. We also get ducks in it in the spring. A few times they have nested there and had their babies which was fun.

Who knew I could go on this long about vernal pools.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. moonbeammcqueen
    Jan 07, 2008 @ 13:59:39

    What a wonderful post! I’d never heard of spring peepers– are they indigenous to your area of the country?

    The photo of your children is adorable– like something from an ad. Thank goodness they stayed away from the pond– it would have been awful to lose one of those precious kids in quicksand. It’s only the obnoxious ones that should be pushed in.


  2. joanharvest
    Jan 07, 2008 @ 14:12:27

    Yea, I have a few neighborhood kids that I wouldn’t mind encouraging to get closer to the swamp. But I’ve made such a big deal over it the last 33 years, I think there’s rumors of it being haunted by SWAMP MAN.

    Spring peepers are an east coast thing, from Florida to Canada and you will only find them in vernal pools and ponds. Look up spring peeper on Wikipedia and at the bottom of the page you can click on a sound wave of them. Listen to the collective one loudly and that’s my backyard in the spring.


  3. CuriousC
    Jan 07, 2008 @ 16:02:52

    Love the pinkletinks! I have never heard that. As a real estate agent, when a looker at an Open House remarks, “It’s so quiet here!” I have to bite my tongue NOT to tell them about tree frogs. Thank you! This is great!


  4. Wendy
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 00:58:27

    I miss peepers. They don’t have them here. But do not feel bad about not knowing what a vernal pool was, because they just invented that word in like the late 1980s/early 90s. I swear to God, that is a new reference. And I remember it was the late 80s/early 90s because PDO was assigned to write about them and that’s when we all learned about them. No one had ever heard of them before.
    Isn’t that correct, Barbara? Vernal pool is a new thing.


  5. Wendy
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 00:59:02

    That photo of the kids is just darling.


  6. Barbara
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:31:30

    Wendy’s right. The first time I copy edited PDO’s story about a vernal pool, I insisted a vernal pool was nothing more than a swamp that dries out in the summer. But no, a vernal pool was the new buzzword for a swamp that dries out in the summer.

    It’s like what the word “issue” has become, a meaningless buzzword for “problem.” People aren’t crazy anymore, they now have mental issues. Nor are people raging assholes, instead they have anger issues. Please. In my lexicon, a crazy person is crazy and an asshole is an asshole.


  7. joanharvest
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:48:46

    Sister B.
    I love it. You are so right.


  8. leafprobably
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:40:15

    we had a goldfish pond when I was little, and a large swimming pool. Somehow we got a whole heap of frogs and let them free in our pond. The next morning they were happily splashing around in our swimming pool, they seemed to prefer it in there.


  9. joanharvest
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 02:15:34

    The pinkletinks are nocturnal. We never get to see them. We only get to hear them. Did you jump in the pool with the frogs?


  10. Trackback: Finally, I Heard Pinkletinks « Whatever I think
  11. Brian Macker
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 16:02:34

    No picture of the vernal pool when it is full? Shame on you.

    Sorry about that. I will have to post one. We even get ducks in it. EcoDude- very cool!!!


  12. Alan Carriero
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 16:07:36

    Hello Joan-

    I’d like to know if the photo of the gal in quicksand that appears at the URL below is copyrighted and if so, might I be able to obtain permission to use it.

    Thanks for you consideration,

    Alan Carriero


  13. james
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 21:31:08

    We heard one and we was looking hard for it. we found it and it is an actually cool looking frog. We have it in a jar but fixing to let it go. I feel bad I messed the poor little dude up with his mating call lol


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