Spring Creatures of The Night, May 17th

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

Friday, May 17, 2024
8:00 – 9:30PM

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

Cost: FREE

Registration is REQUIRED.

Join the Clifton Institute for a night-time exploration of their trails and vernal pools while participants listen for frog calls, look for insects, and see what animals swimming in the ponds.

Cancellation policy: If you register and can no longer attend this event, please let the Clifton Institute know as soon as possible so that they can open your spot to someone else.

By registering for this event, you are affirming that you have read and agree to the Clifton Institute liability release policy.

Vernal Pools: Introduction to a Unique Wetland Habitat, August 2nd

Photo Courtesy of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy


Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Rust Library
380 Old Waterford Rd NW
Leesburg, VA 
+ Google Map

Learn more and register here.

Vernal pools, also known as ephemeral or seasonal pools, are an important yet often overlooked wetland. As the name suggests, they are temporary pools only holding water for a brief time each year. During that time, they are home to mysterious shrimp, developing dragonfly larvae, and are critical breeding grounds for several of our local salamander and frog species. These vernal pools are in rapid decline due to development. Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Jenny Erickson for a look into the wildlife that utilize these pools and what we can all do to help protect these sensitive wetlands. This program is co-sponsored with the Loudoun County Public Library.

Questions: Contact [email protected].

Spring Creatures of the Night, May 19th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Friday, May 19, 2023
8:00 – 9:30 pm
Cost: Free

Registration is REQUIRED.

The Clifton Institue
6712 Blantyre Road
Warrenton, Virginia 20187

Join this night-time exploration of The Clifton Institute’s trails and vernal pools while you listen for frog calls, look for insects, and see what animals are swimming on the ponds.

Nature’s Ephemeral Oases

Cover photo: Ana Ka’ahanui (Capital Nature)

By definition vernal ponds are ephemeral; how we endeavor to sustain their wellbeing does not need to be.

The idea to create an educational outreach film that would emphasize the importance of vernal ponds and enhance our understanding of them originated with FMN Beverley Rivera, FACC Philip Latasa, and their colleagues at Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC). The finished product beautifully illustrates the concerted efforts of concerned citizens and passionate master naturalists to learn more about vernal pools in Fairfax County and to communicate knowledge gained to educate our communities – of all ages.

The ‘cast’ of characters for filming at Eakin Park – Photo: Sarah Glassco

Friends of Accotink Creek are committed to protecting, promoting and restoring the water quality, natural habitat, and ecological well-being of the Accotink Creek watershed. To that end, back in spring 2021, spurred on by a grant from Virginia Lakes and Watersheds Association, FACC put out a call for FMN volunteers to help film on a weekend when FACC was to bring in Mike Hayslett to consult on a potential restoration of a vernal pool and evaluate some existing pools in Fairfax County. Three FMNs responded with a willingness to film: Sarah Glassco, Ashley Zywusko (now in Central Rappahannock chapter), and Kathryn Pasternak. At the time, Ashley and Kathryn were in their FMN training class, so this would be their first volunteer project. By the time production began FMNs Kim Schauer, Ana Ka’ahanui, and Tammy Schwab, along with additional FACC people, were involved and they would all make major contributions to the project.

Mike at a Nottaway pool – Photo: Sarah Glassco

In addition to the consultations, FACC objectives were to make a couple of videos for Fairfax County Elementary Schools. To make these films more compelling to kids they gathered some parents and their children to accompany Mike at Eakin Park. The organized ‘cast’ included a girl scout troop and some other interested youth. The first day Mike toured various wetlands in Fairfax County with the FMN/FACC team and Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) officials Tammy Schwab – Manager Education and Outreach, John Burke – Natural Resources Branch Manager, and Dan Grulke – Manager of Lake Accotink Park. Sarah, Ashley, and Kathryn filmed the events over Mike’s three-day visit, including an extensive interview at Eakin Park. Sarah provided subject matter for filming and provided help transcribing the interview. At the end of the weekend Kathryn collected all film footage, notes, and field data, proceeded to her studio and went into production mode. Future spin-off films will target elementary school level audience and will be distributed accordingly.

Mike Hayslett – Photo: Sarah Glassco

So why vernal ponds? Vernal ponds are so called because they are often, though not necessarily, at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and heavier seasonal rains. Vernal meaning – ‘of, relating to, or occurring in the spring’. There are many local names for such ponds, depending upon where in the country they occur – sinks, wallows, kettles. But one term most people have not typically attached to them is ‘important’ – enter Mike Hayslett, Principal of Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC. The problem, Hayslett has said, is that many people view the pools as soggy nuisances, “so there’s a real disparity in the public’s understanding of their biological significance.”
Mr. Hayslett is a former biology and environmental instructor at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia schools, plus a member of the Allegheny Highlands chapter of VMN. He has spent his career pursuing the study, awareness, and conservation of freshwater wetlands known as vernal pools in and around his native Virginia. The film clearly illuminates Mike’s passion for vernal pools … his raison d’etre.

Evaluating area for restoration at Lake Accotink – Photo: Tammy Schwab

Because of his in-depth expertise, Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC) asked him to consult on one site identified for potential restoration at Lake Accotink. Accotink Creek watershed runs 25 miles through one of the finest wildlife corridors in Fairfax County. The creek meanders through the county parks of Eakin, Americana, Wakefield, Lake Accotink, and Accotink Stream Valley. It continues south through Ft. Belvoir and the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, converges with the waters of Pohick Bay (which is fed by the Pohick Creek watershed), and drains into the Potomac River as the mouth of Gunston Cove, therefore contributing to the water that constitutes the Chesapeake Bay.

Marbled Salamander in search of a vernal pool – Photo: Jerry Nissley

Kathryn Pasternak became an FMN in 2021 but she is also a veteran of wildlife, conservation, and cultural films and recipient of two National Emmy Awards for ‘Best Science and Nature Program’. She spent 15+ years at National Geographic Television working on high-end television programs for international distribution. Since 2007, she’s been producing media independently both as a freelancer and small business owner. Therefore, she was adequately prepared to do the additional research into the lifecycle of vernal pools and to get additional film footage over the next two vernal mating seasons required to complete a visually compelling and scientifically accurate story. Through the collective efforts of the FMN ‘film crew’ and the FACC ‘production contributors’, FCPA officials, and an enthralled ‘cast’, Kathryn (Pasternak Media) produced an exemplary product that illustrates the value of educating the public on the vital ecological benefits of vernal ponds.

For example, vernal ponds favor native species because many non-native species cannot tolerate the extreme seasonal changes in environmental conditions for the local area in which the pond exists. With an inevitable end and an unstoppable beginning, these ephemeral oases may not look like much, but they shelter many imperiled species and play a pivotal role in the ecologically networked-webs of many forests and open depression wetlands.

Wood frogs mating – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Wood frog tadpoles – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Despite being dry at times, vernal pools teem with life when filled, serving as critical breeding grounds for many amphibian and invertebrate species. The most obvious inhabitants are various species of breeding frogs and toads. Some salamanders also utilize vernal pools for reproduction, but the adults may visit the pool only briefly. Other highly specialized inhabitants are daphnia and fairy shrimp. The latter are often used as an indicator species to decisively define a vernal pool. Other indicator species, at least in parts of NoVA, are the wood frog, the spade foot toad, and a few species of mole salamanders (spotted, tiger, and marbled). The tiny Pea Clams discovered in one pool were thought to be a first encounter in Fairfax County and

Spotted salamander – Photo: Krista Melville

Pea clams – Photo: Sarah Glassco

evidence was sent to a lab in Ontario, Canada for verification.







To me, one of the most fascinating single phenomena of vernal pools is simply the explosive appearance of life in the just recently thawed waters of an emergent spring pool.

The film elicited a foundational precept instilled in me during my FMN-101 training that is worth repeating, ‘an awareness of nature (or a thing of nature) leads to understanding; understanding leads to appreciation; appreciation leads to caring; and caring leads to conservation’.

Without further ado, and just in time for the 2023 vernal pool season, here is their film journey through some vernal pools of Fairfax County – Fairfax Vernal Pools with Mike Hayslett

Flowery Waters of Spring: Ecology & Conservation of Vernal Pool Wetlands in Virginia, Apr. 11th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria
Thursday, 11 April 2019
7:30 – 9 pm

Program and talk with Michael S. Hayslett, Principal of Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC. Mr. Hayslett is a former biology and environmental instructor at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia schools. He has spent a career pursuing the study, awareness, and conservation of the freshwater wetlands known as “vernal pools” around his native Virginia. His research has focused on amphibian ecology, but this Master Naturalist is fascinated with all aspects of these special little ecosystems and with natural history in general.  Brought to you by the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Learn about vernal pools, March 3rd

Mount Vernon Government Center
2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria VA
Sunday, 3 March 2019
1:30 pm, social gathering, 2 pm program

Vernal pools, which are pools that dry up in the summer, are vital habitat for salamanders, fairy shrimp and several species of frogs. Vernal pools occur throughout the Washington area and play an important role in the environment.

Karen Sheffield, the Manager of Huntley Meadows Park, will present this program on vernal pools. She will discuss the animals and plants that inhabit these shallow pools of water. The program is brought to you by the Friends of Dyke Marsh and cosponsored by the Friends of Mason Neck State Park, the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park and the Friends of Accotink Creek.

Vernal Pool Exploration: Adventure and Education

On a recent sunny April afternoon, educator and vernal pool expert Michael Hayslett led a captivating exploration of vernal pools in the Accotink Creek watershed. Vernal, or ephemeral, pools are seasonal wetlands that provide essential habitat for a variety of life and breeding grounds for frogs and salamanders. Hayslett is conducting an inventory of vernal pools in Fairfax County as part of an initiative by the Fairfax County Park Authority.  He shared his vast knowledge with locals from conservation volunteer groups, youthful naturalists and local governments. Vernal pools are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated with human impact, and this inventory will support efforts to monitor and protect them.

Hayslett nets the pool. Photo by D. Lincoln.

After decontaminating his boots by scrubbing them in a tub of bleach and water to protect amphibians from the dreaded chytrid fungus, Hayslett waded into a pool and began swooping the water with a net. He explained that in order for a pool to be classified as a vernal pool, it must house at least one indicator species. In this region there are four indicator species; the presence of wood frogs, spotted salamanders, marbled salamanders, or the less common fairy shrimp would indicate that the water is a vernal pool.

Hayslett scooped tadpoles into Ziploc® bags filled with water and handed them to his enthralled crowd, talking them through the steps to identify the tadpoles. Did we have an indicator species? How long were the tadpoles? Were their backs very black? Did their bellies have a golden tinge? Bingo. They were wood frog tadpoles, an indicator species: this was a vernal pool. Hayslett had hoped to also find fairy shrimp.

Invertebrates collected at the site.  Photo by D. Lincoln.

While he did not find any fairy shrimp that afternoon, Hayslett has discovered some in Fairfax County.  Unlike frogs and salamanders, fairy shrimp never leave the pool, even as it dries out, but their eggs can remain viable in a dry environment for hundreds of years, hatching only when rains replenish the pool. The eggs can be transported to other pools by wind and by birds.

But why would anything adapt to a pool that’s constantly drying out? The biggest advantage is that fish can’t inhabit them so there’s no competition or predation from hungry fish. The disadvantage, of course, is that these fleeting pools can dry up before the creature has matured from its aquatic to its terrestrial stage, for example, from being a tadpole that needs water to survive, to a frog that can live on land and only needs water to breed. In Virginia, vernal pools range from natural upland wetlands independent of a stream, some of which date back twenty thousand years, to manmade structures that become functional vernal pools.

As the hike proceeded up the trail along the west side of Lake Accotink, the group moved on to a large manmade pond near the old railroad bed.   Some surmise the pond, which is about the size of a baseball field, was built in the 19th century to hold water for the steam locomotives.  Although the pond had held more than a foot of water a month ago, it was now a mud flat. The reason? A stand pipe, that was built to keep the water below a certain level, had been deliberately caved in, allowing the pond to drain under the railroad bed to the lake.  A dead and dried-out mass of wood frog eggs indicated that the pond could be productive as a vernal pool if it was not intentionally drained.

Smashed stand pipe. Photo by D. Lincoln.

Ironically, many such drainage efforts in the 20th century were intended to control mosquitoes. As it turns out, the mud flats are highly productive mosquito breeding grounds, whereas the damselflies and salamanders, who thrive in vernal pools, actually feed on mosquitoes and decimate mosquito populations. This provided an object lesson in how vernal pools have been destroyed through incorrect practices, but they could be brought back to productivity with relatively simple restorative measures.

Water levels in many Lake Accotink Park pool complexes have been controlled by culvert pipes installed to drain high water toward Accotink Creek. Fairfax County’s vernal pools are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated by human impact on the environment, and hopefully Hayslett’s inventory will support efforts to protect them. Hayslett encouraged anyone who has knowledge of a vernal pool that may not have been inventoried to contact him: Principal Consultant, Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC,

Submitted by: Dave Lincoln and Beverley Rivera, Friends of Accotink Creek

Explore vernal pools at Lake Accotink, April 14th

Saturday, April 14th

1.00-4.00 pm, Lake Accotink

The Friends of Accotink Creek invite you to join them for a vernal pool exploration led by Mike Hayslett, a passionate and dedicated champion of these special habitats! This is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a lovely spring day in nature, learning about some of our intriguing neighbors like fairy shrimp and spring peepers and spotted salamanders!

The group will meet in the lower parking lot at Lake Accotink, below the dam.
Youth are welcome! Please dress for the weather. Some areas will be muddy, and there’s some possibility of ticks and poison ivy, so long pants and boots are recommended.

Mike Hayslett (Virginia Vernal Pools LLC), a state expert on vernal pools, is conducting an inventory of vernal pools in Fairfax County, as part of an initiative by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands, rare ecological features that provide essential habitat for a variety of living beings, including frogs and salamanders. They are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated with human impact, and this inventory will support efforts to monitor and protect them.

Please RSVP at the meetup  or by email to [email protected]. If the group doesn’t get enough participants (12) then they will need to cancel the event, so it’s important to RSVP!

Fairfax Vernal Pools Tours

Saturday Feb 24, Kutner Park – 1-2.30pm – 3901 Jermantown Rd, Fairfax, VA 22030 (Sign up here:
Monday, Feb 26, Old Colchester Park – 9.30am-12pm – 10721 Old Colchester Rd, Mason Neck, VA 22079 (200 feet before the entrance gate to the Fairfax Yacht Club) Sign up here:

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands, rare ecological features that provide essential habitat for a variety of living beings, including frogs and salamanders. They are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated with human impact.  Michael Hayslett (Virginia Vernal Pools LLC), a state expert on vernal pools, will lead the tours.  He is conducting an inventory of the pools as part of an initiative for Fairfax County Park Authority and is being aided by the Friends of Accotink Creek.  For more information, contact Kris Unger at [email protected], or 301-980-5621.