All posts by Patty Cervenka

Meet VWMP Principal Investigator THOMAS REED

This is the first in an interview series of the principal investigators of the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program.

For more information on the program, please visit the VWMP page HERE >

Thomas Reed

Open Space Assistant Manager for Wake County

Project Herpetology Expert

VWMP Site Representative for Robertson Millpond Preserve

Where did you grow up and if not the Raleigh/Durham area, what brought you here? 

I grew up in Union County, NC and moved to the triangle in 2015 to attend NC State. I have been in the triangle since and currently live in Chatham County.

Where did you go to school and what led you to your career? 

I have a BS in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from NC State. Growing up I was always in the woods chasing snakes and turtles and when I realized I could pursue working with wildlife as a job I knew it was the route I wanted to take. Since going to NC State, I have had many field research related positions working with flora and fauna from butterflies in North Carolina to snakes and frogs in China.

Could you tell us about your job at Wake County? 

I am the Assistant Manager for Wake County’s Open Space program. The Open Space Program currently conserves over 8,500 acres in Wake County with goals to manage and maintain these properties for the preservation of natural resources, water quality, and cultural/historic significance. I also work with the public to coordinate research permits on the sites we manage and conduct inventory efforts on rare flora/fauna.

What sparked your interest in your area of expertise?

Reptiles and Amphibians have always been the animals I was most interested in growing up. Something about the way they looked and behaved caught my attention when I was very young, and I continued to research and search for them whenever I had the chance. I was fortunate to have multiple volunteer opportunities with local museums, zoos, and universities that could help me further my knowledge and allow me the pursue working with these misunderstood animals

What do you enjoy most about your role in the VWMP? What is your favorite memory so far working in the wetlands with the VWMP volunteers? 

I love having the opportunity to help people get more hands-on experience working with the natural world around them while also contributing to research efforts. Being able to show someone the beauty of a marbled salamander or even a terrestrial leech is an opportunity to spread awareness for conservation efforts and help people gain a greater appreciation for wildlife. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having the opportunity to get involved with research efforts and interacting with nature hands-on outside of a classroom. Working with the amphibian inventory efforts is particularly close to my heart as I love helping people have a better understanding of the connections between such a small animal to the larger wetland system as a whole.

VWMP Completes Third Round of Wetland Monitoring

The September monitoring outings for the Volunteer Wetlands Monitoring Program (VWMP) were a great success. Seven program veteran volunteers as well as two new volunteers joined us over the weekend. We were concerned about the forecast for this outdoor field work but we were very lucky to only have some light rain on day one and the threat of potential thunderstorms on day two never materialized, thankfully.

Volunteer Tom Schwarcz earns his Carolina Wetlands Association cap for volunteering over 25 hours to the VWMP.

Water Monitoring

Our monitoring outings at each site this time out was kicked off with water monitoring working with our NC State University water team headed up by Dr. Mike Burchell and graduate student, Molly Landon.

We observed that even with some recent heavy rainfall, the hot and dry summer left some of our wetland sites without any standing water to sample. Water samples and well data were taken by our now very skillful volunteers and we are starting to see how this type of activity might be scaled if this program is expanded in the future.

Dr Mike Burchell, Mattie Frazier and Megan Dunn take the new YSI meter out for it's maiden voyage.

Plant Communities

Once a year we are tasked with filling out surveys on the plant communities and the invasive non-native plant species we’re finding in our study areas.

Amanda Johnson works with volunteers on assessing the plant communities at Mason Farm.

Plant communities are groups of plants sharing a common environment that interact with each other, animal populations, and the physical environment. This helps us understand the bigger picture of the health of the wetlands we’re studying. We used Wildnote to log this information and look forward to sharing this data in the near future.

Invasive Species Mapping

We also recorded plant life in our study wetlands that are non-native, invasive species. Invasive plant species spread quickly and can displace native plants, prevent native plant growth, and create monocultures.

Ace, Chase and Mickey Jo record non-native plant in the area around the marsh at Mason Farm.

The participants in the VWMP do not remove those plants since they are part of our study area. However, it’s a common activity for organizations and volunteers to strategically remove these plants to restore a natural environment back to healthy and diverse native plant communities.

Wildlife Observations

We did not perform an amphibian survey As part of this quarter’s monitoring this time out but we did record sightings of the wildlife we saw in iNaturalist in the VWMP Project.

We found several frogs, a male box turtle and a Green Heron watched over us as we worked at the Mason Farm marsh. Even though not officially in one of our study sites, pictured is our siting of one of North Carolina’s most feared but beautiful snakes, the copperhead.

You can see all of our observations by clicking HERE.

A copperhead sits still for our photos just outside of our monitoring area.

Check out the Facebook posts HERE and HERE about this event.

Visit the Volunteer Resource Page for more information on the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program.

VWMP Volunteers Visit the Walnut Creek Wetland Center in Raleigh to Learn About Assessing Wetland Quality

– Amanda Johnson & Patty Cervenka

For our July activity for the VWMP, Project Manager, Amanda Johnson demonstrated how the NC WAM can be used to evaluate the condition of a wetland. 

The group gathers for a review of the objectives for the day - Photo Credit - Kathleen Schwarcz

This volunteer activity included a review of the NC WAM manual, preliminary desktop analysis, and a visit to the Walnut Creek Wetland Center in Raleigh, NC on the morning of July 23, 2022.

Practicing the NCWAM at the Walnut Creek Wetland

The NC WAM is a field method that can be used to determine the level of function of a wetland relative to the reference condition (where appropriate) for each of 16 NC wetland types.

To complete the NC WAM assessment form that will generate function ratings and an overall wetland rating, a desktop analysis and field assessment is required.

NC WAM Manual

To use the NC WAM in any official capacity, one must go through the training class (3 days of training and an exam) to become certified as trained.  This activity was for demonstration and research purposes. The latest version of the NC WAM manual can be found here: NCWAM Manual | NC DEQ.


The objectives of this volunteer activity were to:

Volunteers Kathleen and Tom


  • Become familiar with the purpose of NC WAM and how it may be used
  • Practice using the NC WAM assessment form
  • Develop an understanding of what factors may affect the condition and health of a wetland

We are looking forward to the upcoming VWMP activities including a visit to the new Carolina Wetlands Association office to review some of the data we have collected so far and our wetland monitoring site visits in September. For more information on the pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program, visit the VWMP Webpage

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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. 

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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: 

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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 >