All posts by Patty Cervenka

Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program Completes Four Days of Successful Wetland Monitoring

The volunteers and project team for the Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program enjoyed our second round of data collection activities on four consecutive days in early June. Since we were concerned that trying to fit all of the planned monitoring activities would be difficult to complete in a timeframe that would work for volunteers and the VWMP team, we split this monitoring series into four days. The weather cooperated and we had four straight days of warm temperatures and mostly clear skies. 

Our schedule included collecting well and water sampling data on the week days of June 2nd and 3rd and a combination of amphibian observations, site visit surveys and vegetation surveys on the weekend of June 4th and 5th.  

Water Monitoring

Dr. Mike Burchell (NC State Dept of Bio&Ag Engineering) led our group of volunteers in taking water level and water quality samples to analyze and compare to previous sampling data.

Even with the need to do water monitoring on the weekdays, volunteer turnout was good and all of the volunteers were able to get great hands-on experience. We’re looking forward to getting our first glimpses of the results of this sampling as it compares to the sampling done in February. 

Dr. Burchell discusses the water level with Paul

Amphibian Survey

Following the expertise of Thomas Reed (Wake County) we did an amphibian survey at all three wetland locations and the results are available to view on iNaturalist in our project page. Highlights of our survey were observations of a few Green Frogs, an American Water Frog and a Northern Cricket Frog. We also encountered a Spotted Salamander, a Northern Dusky Salamander and a Southern Two Lined Salamander. 

An American Water Frog (Genus Lithobates) sits along the edge of the marsh at Mason Farm Biological Reserve

This time out in the field, we reduced our amphibian survey time since it was deemed a potential habitat disturbance by having too much time and too many people doing the amphibian surveys. We also learned from our previous site visits to take our time and make sure the iNaturalist observations are completed immediately while in the study site and paid particular attention to recording water data when an amphibian was observed in water. 

Wildlife Observations

Other wildlife observations (not included in our monitoring data) including our encounter with a Ring Necked Snake can also been seen in our VWMP project page on iNaturalist.

A Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis Punctatus) in Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Vegetation Surveys

Fetterbush (Eubotrys Racemosa) Recorded at Robertson Millpond Preserve
Project Manager, Amanda, works with volunteers on surveying a vegetation plot

Amanda Johnson (VWMP Project Manager) and Rick Savage (Carolina Wetlands Association Executive Director) led us in completing vegetation surveys for 10 x 10 trees & shrubs vegetation plots and 5 x 5 herbaceous vegetation plots.

This survey activity resulted in 159 total vegetation observations that can be accessed through our iNaturalist project.

On our project page, you will be able to view all of the photos and recorded information on each species in our study area vegetation plots. 

Planning and Logistics

Overall, things went pretty smoothly with cold water and snacks helping us to power through our monitoring days. All of our meeting locations worked out great except for one day at Mason Farm where the designated lot was full of attendees at a nearby sporting event. We will again adjust the meeting location for future monitoring visits at Mason Farm and will now meet inside the farm at the grassy area near our site area 1 (this may require us to limit the number of volunteers we can have out at Mason Farm at a time).  

We still feel the need to figure out a way to not feel so rushed to complete all of our monitoring in the time given so will continue to reevaluate the schedule for future site visits. 

Make A Difference Week

Finally, as part of this round of monitoring visits, we represented Carolina Wetlands Association as participants in the Society for Ecological Restoration’s Make a Difference Week project.

We conducted litter sweeps at all three of our wetland sites in the VWMP.

Participating in the Society for Ecological Restoration’s Make a Difference Week

Next Steps

Our next field work days are planned for September of 2022.

A post monitoring site visit survey will be sent to all volunteers to gather information about their feelings toward the various elements of this phase of the pilot project and this will help inform decisions on upcoming site visits and other program activities and events. 

Stay up to date on the Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program Website and feel free to reach out to the volunteer coordinator at with any questions. 

We want to thank our contacts at each of the wetlands in our program: Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Mason Farm Biological Reserve and Robertson Millpond Preserve. 

Photo Gallery:

Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program Data Collection Begins at All Three Program Sites

Dedicated volunteer Mattie searches for amphibians

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.

Water Monitoring: 

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.

Amphibian Survey:

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: 

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. 

Wildlife Observations: 

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: 

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. 

Rick Savage looks on as volunteers search out amphibians

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: 

Photo Gallery:

Volunteer Wetlands Monitoring Program Kicks-Off With Field Training Session

A volunteer collects a water sample from Robertson Millpond Preserve.

On February 5th, 2022, the field work portion of the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program was kicked off with an in-person training session at Robertson Millpond Preserve in Wendell, NC. We enjoyed a cold but sunny morning at this beautiful Wetland Treasure site. 

The training session was attended by 17 program volunteers regardless of the wetland location they signed up to focus on. Some had experience in the field, and some were new to wetlands, monitoring protocols and field work, but all came with a curiosity and commitment to help collect important data that will help us track the status of the wetlands in this pilot program. 

Our morning began with Rick Savage (Executive Director of the Carolina Wetlands Association) giving a brief summary of the project and introductions of the team. 

Then Thomas Reed (amphibian expert from Wake County) talked about our host site of Robertson Millpond Preserve. Amanda Johnson (VWMP Project Manager) gave a high-level introduction to iNaturalist and Wildnote. And last, Patty Cervenka (VWMP Volunteer Coordinator) provided a pre-field work safety briefing. 

Starting at the lower monitoring site (#2), the volunteers split into two groups with half starting at the station with Dr. Mike Burchell and graduate student, Molly Landon, (both from NC State University Dept of Biological and Agricultural Engineering) to observe the installation of wells and to learn about water monitoring procedures.

The other half worked with Thomas Reed on learning how to carefully find, observe and record amphibians in the study area. As it is early in the season and the temperature was in the mid 30s, only one amphibian was found. The adult Southern Two-Lined Salamander we found was observed, photographed, logged in Wildnote and returned safely to its habitat. 

Observing a Southern Two-Lined Salamander

The two groups switched as we moved to the second monitoring site (#1) at Robertson Millpond. Despite a thorough search, no more amphibians were found, and this site proved to be more challenging to install the well. The team from NC State stayed behind after our training session to make sure the well installation was completed successfully.  

Using iNaturalist and Wildnote to collect data on wetland observations.

One other unexpected issue occurred when our iPad app for iNaturalist was not finding our location correctly, so we were unable to successfully submit observations within the GPS site boundaries.

However, the plan to use Wildnote as a backup worked very well and this problem will be solved for the next site visits by removing those boundaries.

Overall, this was a highly successful outing with just the two above-mentioned challenges. Our next in-person event will be the introductory monitoring days scheduled for all three wetland sites on February 19th and 20th. For the complete schedule and more information on the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program visit HERE >