The following ode to Murphys Point appeared in The Perth Courier on May 1 in Stephanie Gray’s “Past Deadline” column.
Get ye a naturalist!
People, I have some important advice.
If you don’t have a naturalist in your life, get ye one. Seriously. Find one without delay, and then go for a walk outside.
Why? Because naturalists know cool stuff about nature. Going outside is awesome, but doing so with a naturalist is like having someone wave a magic wand to reveal nature’s secrets as you go.
I attended the annual general meeting for the Friends of Murphys Point Park on April 27. I have been with the group since it began in 1995 and worked at the park as a student prior to that.
After the meeting portion, we were taken outside for what was dubbed a “spring” hike. (When we first planned this we put “spring” in quotations because, at that time, it really didn’t appear that spring would ever come.)
Anyway, the hike was led by Tobi Kiesewalter, the senior park naturalist at Murphys Point, and we didn’t know what he had planned until he got started – a little excursion to a nearby vernal pool.
Last year at this time we did a pond study as part of our Super Kids In Parks program, and it took me back to when I was a kid exploring puddles and ponds and creeks and rivers, looking for critters big and small.
Sunday’s short walk was packed with information. First Tobi reminded us to be vigilant about ticks (one obliging specimen turned up for a demonstration). Then we happened upon a Northern watersnake, which complied with being interpreted. Leopard and wood frogs treated us to a few calls. All this before we even got to the main event!
Vernal pools are the little ponds that form in the spring from runoff and melt water. They gradually dry up over the summer, so you don’t tend to find any fish in them. Despite their temporary nature, however, they are tremendously important to our ecosystem.
Tobi described them as the nurseries of the forest, and it is not an exaggeration to say they are absolutely teeming with life. All of the tiny little organisms in a single scoop of water from a vernal pool have a role to play. Even the shocking abundance of mosquito larvae helps to signify a healthy ecosystem – and those mosquitoes may eventually be food for some other (more likeable?) creature. Besides, mosquito larvae breathe using snorkel appendages that come out of their rears. That’s funny. A naturalist told us. See what I mean?
Last year, during the pond study, we encountered something I had no idea existed here – shrimp! They are not like the ones we eat, but are miniscule, orange, translucent crustaceans called fairy shrimp. They have so many appendages it looks as if they have undulating feathers on their sides. These adults lay their eggs in the vernal pool, and the eggs can remain dormant for years, even when the pool dries up.
I can’t help but grin like a goof when presented with fairy shrimp. There’s just something about them that makes me smile – a little secret I never knew about the forest.
We also saw frogs’ eggs, a water beetle that breathes by using an air bubble like a scuba tank, a woven “house” of weeds made by a caddisfly larva, and more.
I never fail to learn something new when I spend time with a naturalist, especially one who is as passionate about his subjects as Tobi is. Within a few minutes I was vividly reminded of why places like Murphys Point Provincial Park are so important, and why I am glad to be involved.