Conservation biologist Maia Persche writes about the plants & wildlife that visitors to the Roger Popple Nature Area in downtown Reedsburg, WI might find.
The dream of my life / Is to lie down by a slow river / And stare at the light in the trees– / To learn something by being nothing / A little while but the rich / Lens of attention.”
Silver maple and boxelder trees form the overstory of the Baraboo River Floodplain Forest, creating habitat for an abundance of wild species. Look for the silvery undersides of the maple leaves, especially as they move in the wind before rainstorms.
On the ground, wildflowers bloom throughout the season: dark purple violet flowers in the spring, yellow and orange touch-me-nots in mid-summer, and bright red cardinal flowers near the end of summer.
Tree Swallows are aerial insectivorous - birds that catch insects in flight. Look for their graceful flights over the river, and their iridescent blue-green feathers changing color in the light, and listen for their clear whistles and chattering calls. They lay 3-4 white eggs in hollow trees, and in the autumn they gather in large flocks to migrate to the southern United States and Central America.
Belted Kingfishers hunt by diving into the water to catch fish, and nest in long tunnels which they excavate into riverbanks using their bills and feet. Their rattling call is easily heard from a distance.
Wood Ducks nest in quiet backwaters and along forested streams. Listen for their high-pitched whistling alarm calls when they are startled out of the water. Males have bright green and white markings on their faces, and females have a white tear-drop shape over each eye. They nest high in hollow trees and when the ducklings are ready to leave the nest, they leap out of the cavity and flutter to the ground.
There are more than 170 firefly species in North America, and Photinus pyralis is the most common in Wisconsin. On summer evenings, watch for male lightning bugs as they fly above meadows, wetlands, and backyards, using the ‘lanterns’ on their abdomens to create a flash pattern that is unique to their species. Females sit motionless on tall grasses and respond with their own light signals, and the larvae live on the forest floor where they are predators of snails and other invertebrates.
Gray Treefrogs change the color of their skin from gray to green based on temperature and humidity, and can match the color of the tree rock or rock where they are sitting. They climb up to 30 feet into trees, and call most often on warm rainy days. Listen for loud musical trilling that lasts up to three seconds.
Raccoons and Virginia Opossums hunt for insects and crayfish along the riverbank during the night, leaving tracks in the mud. Look for the backward-facing toe on the hind feet of the opossum and the five delicate toe marks of the raccoon. The large tracks of river otters can be identified by webbing between the back toes, tail marks in the mud, and slides down steep banks into the water.
Mammals of the Great Lakes Region by Allen Kurta
Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley
Reptiles and Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by James H. Harding
Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region by Merel R. Black and Emmet J. Judziewicz
Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs by Lynn Frierson Faust