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Vernal pool searching at Alewife
- Minuteman Regional High School

Winter Wonderland*

by Ellen Mass, Jan. 13, 2003

Today, we crunched through inches of snow and ice, walking through, and around the perimeters of the silver maple forest which are mostly wetlands and vernal pool areas. In some areas the pond surface and shore are separated by no more than a few inches. Ten Sophomores from Lexington Minuteman Regional High School's Environmental Technology Dept., with teachers Dan Stark and Carol Zanin, visited to the area in order to ascertain where the vernal pools may be when they visit in the spring, and they found plenty. Devoid of vegetation, clear topographical transition lines from forest, to scrub, lowland to upland, river to pond revealing high bush cranberry, large willows which gave way to red and silver maples, speckled alder and large choke cherry everywhere. Dan Stark, organizer of the visit from was taken back by the size of an American Elm tree close to the water line, but especially amazed by the huge silver maple whose perimeter may set a record for Mass., he wondered. The snow kept feet firm on the ground, protected from the uneven terrain, and was filled with fox, coyote, rabbit, and squirrel tracks. Large woodpecker holes were found in the wetland area in a hollowed out small dead tree. Piliated holes had previously been found by Ralph Yoder in the forest center, but these were too small.

During the trip Mark Kirk of the Friends of Alewife Reservation showed the group the kestrel boxes, put up with MDC help. Suzie Watson, FAR member took the students to the vernal pool area she had noted in her previous photography trip.

Behind the forest near River/pond edge fresh kill of a headless red tailed hawk lay on the ground with beautiful marbled golden and brown underside and feathers. Mink, already inventoried in the area, may have taken the bird said Stark, as that is typical behavior , to grab a part without a mess and without dragging. The cut was clean. Protecting itself from the cold, A puffed up mocking bird perched for a pose in its favorite multiflora rose, an invasive. Students uncovered the snow to solid ice of potential pools, where the terrain was open and no water flowing in or out, and vegetation absent as well as other plant characteristics which would indicate wetland species .Several "nurse" trees that were downed, still alive, which had secondary trees growing perpendicular to the host tree. Grey birch and white birch dotted the area.

Minuteman students explored the area and showed both great curiosity, a firm understanding of the task at hand and the importance of the certification process. They will be coming out regularly in the Spring to complete the process. FAR will submit the findings to the state.

* FAR members Mark Kirk and Ellen Mass had previously gone to Lexington Minuteman to give a presentation to the students about the area. They used GIS maps to locate - and professional inventories to talk about - this rare complete urban wild in the Boston area.

Minuteman team assesses vernal pool and trees by Little Pond.

Teachers from Minuteman, Dan Stark, Carol Zanin, with students,
along with Mark Kirk and Ellen Mass, assessing vernal pool and dead Raptor.

Students Laura Flammia and Javier Cambindo facing the camera;
the other students are, from left to right:
Will Minogue, Bessybel Cambindo, and Stas Michalski.

Photos by Suzie Watson