The Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program started data collection activities on February 19th and 20th in cool but sunny weather. We met our ambitious goal of completing monitoring at three different wetlands in one weekend with each wetland offering unique experiences. Monitoring done in this first round of wetland visits included well data downloading, water sampling, amphibian observations, site visit surveys and setting up photo stations.
We were very pleased with the volunteer turn out with the following coming out to each site: Robertson Millpond – 9, Hemlock Bluffs – 7, and Mason Farm – 6. These group sizes allowed for a good amount of hands-on amphibian searching and data collection experiences. With one exception, our meeting locations worked out great and a change will be made for future monitoring visits at Mason Farm (we will now meet at the gravel lot close to the entrance of the UNC Golf Course and carpool into Mason Farm).
A post monitoring site visit survey has been sent to all volunteers to gather information about their feelings toward the various elements of this pilot project and this will help inform decisions on upcoming site visits and other program activities and events.
Dr. Mike Burchell and Molly Landon (NC State Dept of Bio&Ag Engineering) led each group through the process of downloading well data as well as collecting water samples and recording water data with a YSI gauge.
We quickly learned that working in two groups with different goals in the same area needed to be timed better so that amphibian surveying did not disturb the water where water sampling was to be done. This new process of collecting water samples before or clear of the amphibian search was followed at all following monitoring sites.
While Robertson Millpond resulted in no amphibian observations, we were very lucky to find several salamanders and a couple of tadpoles at the other two wetland locations. It didn’t take very long for a volunteer to spot our first amphibian at Hemlock Bluffs and between the two monitoring sites at this nature preserve we observed an adult marbled salamander, several larval marbled salamanders, a four-toed salamander, and two spotted salamanders.
We observed two tadpoles at the monitoring locations at Mason Farm as well as dozens of marbled salamanders in the larval stage. Check out all of the weekend’s iNaturalist observations here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/north-carolina-pilot-volunteer-wetlands-monitoring-program
The potential habitat disturbance issues of having too much time and too many people doing the amphibian surveys was brought up and will be discussed by the team to make sure that we are following best practices for these surveys. We also will work on improving the process of completing each iNaturalist observation while also making sure to follow survey timing protocols.
While doing our amphibian surveys, a crayfish, an eastern mudminnow and an eastern mosquitofish were captured in nets. We also observed a very handsome male yellow-bellied slider at Robertson Millpond as well as a beautiful great blue heron in the marsh at Mason Farm. These observations are also available to view on iNaturalist here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/north-carolina-pilot-volunteer-wetlands-monitoring-program
NC Wetland Assessment Methods Documentation (NCWAM):
The NCWAM is a technical wetland assessment method that requires in-depth discussions about wetland function, which may not be of interest to everyone. After Robertson Millpond, it was decided the team should only spend time with those interested in learning how to conduct a wetland functional assessment using NCWAM. The results from the post monitoring volunteer survey will help inform us how to move forward using NCWAM for the VWMP.
It was great to finally begin our data collection for the VWMP and though parts of the experience were challenging as we overcame some learning curves, it was also very rewarding as we were able to successfully record data in each program wetland.
Stay up to date on the Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program here: http://carolinawetlands.org/index.php/learn/volunteer-monitoring-program/