Seasonal Sightings, Wisconsin Nature

Seasonal Sightings: Summer Wildlife In Our Newest Ponds

This summer, take a hike to two of Schlitz Audubon’s newest wetlands: Dragonfly Pond and Molly’s Pond. Created in 2019 as part of the Stormwater Wetland and Ravine Restoration Project, the two ponds both protect surrounding habitats and offer a refuge for native plants, amphibians, and waterfowl.

A variety of native species have already begun to flourish in Molly’s and Dragonfly Ponds despite being only three years old. Aquatic plants like broadleaf arrowhead and tall, pur­ple-flowered pickerelweed thrive along the ponds’ edges, flowering throughout the summer. Basking painted turtles show off their own bright coloration on sunny days.

Aquatic Species Found in Our New Ponds

This spring, our volunteer wetland monitors discovered blue-spotted salamanders in Molly’s Pond for the first time. Less tolerant of poor water quality than other pond species, salamanders are indicative of a healthy aquatic environ­ment. Throughout the summer, look closely for their aquatic larvae, which possess large, external gills protruding around their necks and typically develop legs earlier in their life cy­cle than other amphibians.

The ponds also support a robust population of green frogs and bullfrogs, both “true frogs” in the family Ranidae. These species require deeper, permanent ponds like Molly’s and Dragonfly because their young spend two seasons as tad­poles. On warm, sunny days, look for the green-brown tad­poles of either species in shallow waters, occasionally swim­ming to the surface in pursuit of insects, or otherwise resting in the mud or on sunken logs. From June through early Au­gust, listen closely for the frog chorus. Though the two spe­cies’ outward appearances are similar, the larger bullfrog is easily distinguished by its recognizable mating call, a deep ribbit or jug-o-rum. The green frog produces a short glunk, reminiscent of the twang of a banjo. You can identify a quiet frog on sight by the presence of dorsolateral folds, a pair of ridges on the back of the green frog that are notably absent on the bullfrog.

The Emergence of Dragonflies

As summer progresses, keep an eye out for the green darner dragonfly. Distinctive for their bright green and blue bodies, look for these large dragonflies swooping through the air over wetlands, hunting other insects with astonishing accuracy. Like the true frogs, green darners rely on permanent ponds like Molly’s and Dragonfly where their young spend most of the year as aquatic nymphs. These nymphs transform into adults in early summer, which then lay their eggs in the pond, starting the cycle anew. In September, look for a second wave of dragonflies to emerge. Living alongside the year-long res­idents of their own species, these migratory green darners fly south to warmer habitats shortly after their late summer emergence, returning in the spring to lay eggs as the weather turns.

Just a short hike from the main building, Molly’s Pond and Dragonfly Pond are excellent stops on sunny day’s hike. Bring a guidebook, keep your eyes and ears open, and enjoy the summer.