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Vernal Pools Hike - 5/26/2012


About twenty hikers gathered around the Sierra Club’s Abel Collins, our outing leader, to find out what he’d spotted. Held between his thumb and forefinger was a baby snapping turtle, no bigger than a silver dollar, which he had spotted making the long journey from one side of the hiking path to the other. The turtle stayed stock still apparently hoping the group would think it was dead or, even better, a boring rock not worthy of anyone’s attention. Abel humored the turtle, placing it safely in the grass on the side of the trail as the group moved deeper into the Great Swamp at this year’s Vernal Pools Outing.

From there, the list of interesting wildlife sighted (or heard) grew quickly. Two black water snakes were spotted sunning near one of the first watering holes we passed. Once they realized we had seen them they slithered their way into the water where they swam silkily until out of reach.  They then dove out of sight, making everyone standing near the edge of the pool a bit uncomfortable.

For those not interested in snapping turtles and snakes, the hike up to the man made vernal pool also provided a variety of interesting plant life. Ferns and wetland grasses grew everywhere making the forest especially lush and green. Flower lovers stopped to take pictures of swamp loving irises, and native orchids that dotted the path.  

Just before reaching the vernal pool Abel stopped the hikers to fill them in on a little local history that existed just off (and under) the path they were standing on. Apparently, after a dead whale washed up on an RI beach a few years ago, the state decided to drive it to the Great Swamp and bury it where it would decompose over the course of a few years. Some people say the ghost of the whale still haunts hikers who stay in the park too long after sundown.

When the group finally arrived at the vernal pool it was greeted by a chorus of frogs. As the hikers walked along the seasonal pond’s edge the frogs leapt in, revealing themselves for a split second before disappearing under the water. Over the years, the pool has grown reedier as more sediment settles at its bottom, but it is still prime habitat for a variety of animals.

The walk continued along the edge of a watery manmade lagoon where hikers spotted a beaver lodge, box turtles, and a goose nest in the tall grass that had been raided by a hungry animal which made a feast of about a dozen of its large eggs.

The hike attracted a variety of people from those who had never been to the Great Swamp to those who were making their second trip of the day. Another couple said they had not visited the park in twenty years despite living just down the road, but now remembered what a great spot it is and said they were excited to come back with their kids. Abel brought along his family, the youngest of which alternately spent the hike braving the trails on foot and taking in the sights from his dad’s shoulders. One woman was able to identify each individual bird call, when, to most of the group, the woods sounded like a confusing mess of song.

All went well on this day in the Great Swamp. Even the light spring rain was a welcome relief from the warm humid weather.

Great Swamp Hike   Great Swamp Hike Iris

Great Swamp Orchid   Great Swamp Turtle

Contact Information:

Sierra Club Rhode Island


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