Vernal pools at Warm Springs


What a treat. Yesterday I got a chance to visit and photograph the Warm Springs Seasonal Wetland, which is a closed part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Warm Springs, May 2010 Warm Springs, May 2010

For a number of years now I have known about the vernal pools of the Warm Springs area of Fremont, California. This grassland landscape has low hummocks and swales that define shallow pools during the wet winters of California. As the seasons progress the pools dry out and stay dry through our rainless summer and early fall seasons. Living in the extreme wet/dry cycles of the vernal pools requires a fair bit of genetic ingenuity and Warm Springs is home to rare species of flora and fauna – each adapted to the circumstance of the landscape. Examples are the California tiger salamander, Ambystoma californiense, which spends the majority of the year aestivating (a summer hot/dry stress variant of hibernation) underground and the tadpole shrimp.

I hiked out to a couple of the vernal pools with Ivette Loredo of US Fish & Wildlife to take a test round of aerial photographs. The images in this set show a broad expanse of grassland punctuated by small pools (now largely dry). The periphery of these pools display several interesting and rare wildflowers. Most of the yellow ringing the small pools is Contra Costa goldfields (Lasthenia conjugens), a member of the Aster family. It is a colorful spring annual, golden yellow in color and about 3 to 4inches tall with light green finely divided leaves. A rare and endangered species, it is only found at the edge of vernal pools in a few California counties. Next to the Contra Costa Goldfields and toward the center of the vernal pools we saw mats of blue and white Downingia. They can apparently tolerate deeper water and thus have this interior position. The pools also had subtle light green tones of Woolly Marbles.

The photographs also show a series of rectilinear enclosures that are part of a study on the benefits of moderate grazing on the protected landscape.

Here is a gallery of other images from the session, all of which were taken from a Sutton Flowform 16 kite. I started with the Sutton Flowform 30 but it was pulling hard enough to make me work. A shift down to the 16 provided just enough lift for the dSLR cradle and allowed me to adjust altitude with ease:

I am taking these documentary photographs under a Special Use Permit from the US Fish & Wildlife. Kite flying is prohibited over the Warm Springs Seasonal Wetland without a Special Use Permit as is access to this part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

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