Wildlife Wednesday: Clear Creek revisited

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After our last visit to Clear Creek State Park, we brought some tadpoles home so the kids could observe their incredible transformation into frogs. My plan is to eventually build a permanent wildlife pond in our backyard so that we can have a nice suitable environment for critters, year round. For now, our tadpoles have set up residence in the kids’ turtle sandbox. It’s not perfect but they seem to like it.

After a hot week with no rain, the water in the frog pond was getting dangerously low for our pollywogs so a return trip for fresh water was in order. Now you may be asking, why not just fill it with the garden hose? Well, one does not simply fill a frog pond with just any H2O. The water we drink and the stuff that keeps amphibians alive are a bit different. The chlorine and chloramine that makes water safe for us to drink would be a death sentence to a frog or salamander. They do make water conditioning products which can treat tap water to make it safe for animals, or you can use distilled water; but if we’re being honest, we really just wanted to get a bit more exploring in.

When we arrived at the park, the kids were begging to go to the swimming area. There is a creek fed pond that has a beach section, so we stopped to take a look around. On the way down to the water, there is an educational sign about Northern Water Snakes which actually came in handy.

Before the kids waded into the frigid water, we took some time to walk around the perimeter of the pond. There were children across the pond in the midst of their own creature quest, and I couldn’t help but smile. It is always great seeing the next generation taking an interest in nature. As I admired their spirited search, I had almost forgotten about our own until Evan yelled “SNAAAAKE!!!”. I looked down at the water to see a gorgeous water snake searching for crayfish among the rocks. I waded in and grabbed its tail just as the head dove under a large rock. It squirmed and tried to wedge itself further under the rock. Finally, so as not to injure the reptile, I lifted the rather heavy mini-boulder off of the serpent and it came writhing free. I brought it onto land and the kids from across the pond spotted us and came dashing over.

As I held the snake, the kids took turns petting it and asking questions. One little girl congratulated me on catching it. I told them about the sign and pointed out how easily they can be mistaken for other snakes. This one specifically was a brilliant copper and brownish pattern, which I could definitely see being confused for a copperhead. They then showed me some of the creatures they had discovered. After awhile I decided it was time to release the snake back to search its dinner.

When we got to the other side of the pond, we noticed the water was teeming with great big tadpoles! They were much larger and more elusive than the tadpoles that we caught on our last visit.

As we dragged our nets along the weedy bank, we came up with dozens of salamander larvae in different stages of life. I have always had a love for salamanders, being one of the few species of amphibian that I did not come across very often growing up. Now, to see them so abundantly is amazing!

Swimming along with the tadpoles were several Eastern Newts, another species I never thought I would see in such prolific numbers. One animal I rarely had trouble finding were crayfish, or craw-dads as we called them. These little guys are so much fun to watch!

Once we had exhausted our search area and caught a sufficient number of specimens, the kids finally got to play at the beach while I took our critters to the van. Once those crazy kids had adequately frozen themselves, we decided to head over to the frog pond to get water before going home. After filling several containers, I noticed a cute little wood frog hopping through the grass around the pond. These frogs are pretty amazing! They can survive in some pretty harsh environments and even freeze over the winter. These particular frogs are not actually aquatic, they live mainly in leaf litter in the forest, but do congregate near water during mating season.

My little explorers were so pleased with our adventure, they really did not want to leave! Fortunately, we brought a little bit of the great outdoors home with us so they can explore any time. We even caught something I have never seen before, which is in the beginning of the video below. Hit up our comments section if you know what it is!

Keep checking in for updates on the happenings around our frog pond, there’s sure to be some exciting developments! Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!!

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