St. John's Marsh

St. John's Marsh

Marsh Wildlife

During the spring and summer, I try to walk the main path once every week or two. Every visit I see new wildlife, or traces of wild life.

There is a large population of white tailed deer, generally I see no thing of them but footprints in the mud.

Coyotes live in the area. I actually saw on once, just a quick glimpse. Eastern coyotes are very blonde and very shy. They are starting to prowl even close to the main park area, I can tell by the hair they shed and the scat. I always take a close look at what is in the scat, so far they seem to be staying away from human garbage. Smart coyotes, as long as they do that, no one will try to control their population. So far the scat has plenty of animal hair and bones, even deer hair. On one occasion I found what seemed to be fresh coyote fur on a trail in the back part of the marsh. It was when I was walking back out, what passes for the apex predator there seems to have been shadowing me. Although I'm sure I wasn't in any danger, it puts life in perspective to be followed by any sort of apex predator.

Red fox live there, I've see the footprints, and maybe scat, but that is all.

I've seen cotton tail rabbits, muskrats (many!), opossum, racoon, woodchuck, even mole trails. There is a bumper crop of muskrats this year(summer 2005), actually saw a pair mating in the water this spring (05).Occassionally there are recently hunted small rodents left on the trail. Apparently the ecosystem is working.

If I am luck, a great blue heron will show up. In old celtic legends, this bird symbolized the Creator. The ancient Egyptian legends have a story of a heron phoenix, the Benu. One of the creation legend (there are over a dozen different stories) say the Benu perched on the first mound of solid land then formed and layed the egg the world hatched from.

I've found great horned owl feathers, and seen red tailed hawks. An occasional turkey buzzard will fly near the edges of the marsh.

Song bird abound, different species of sparrow then I see anywhere else. The common and imported house sparrow is rare in the marsh. American robin are plentiful there. I've never seen such a large concentration of red winged blackbirds. American goldfinch are there this year (2005). I recently saw a blackburian warbler feeding, on the ground (may 05). I mention it because the bird book and some web sites say it rarely comes down from the tree tops. Purple martins fly through all the time going after flying insects, may be a barn swallow will fly past. The mourning doves remind me of the passenger pigeons that once flew through this area. Blue jays squawk from the trees, and there are the starlings (an imported species). My last trip I finally saw a little brown wren, special to me.

Different water fowl frequent the marsh, of course. Actually, these are the birds that helped the area become protected and set aside for future generations to enjoy. Canada geese occasional nest there, and the snipes call at dusk. I've seen coots, mallard ducks, black duck. There several pair of mute swans (imported species) nesting there.

Amphibians find plenty of places to call home, American toads, blanchard's cricket frogs (a ground living tree frog!), leopard frogs,and green frogs show up at the most unexpected moments. Tree frogs can be heard all over the place. There is plenty of habitat for salamanders, but I have not seen any.

Midland painted turtles are common there, I've been the females laying their eggs. Last spring I found painted turtle footprints in mud and made plaster casts. Blandings turtles and snapping turtles show up occassionally, but they are secretive. There is habitat for the endangered spotted turtle. Unfortunately the DNR is modifying the habitat to control an important marsh grass, the modifications may not support the spotted turtles.

The marsh is prime snake habitat. The most common is the eastern garter snakes are the most commonly seen. Most of them have minor red markings on their sides. Since the population is isolated, they may be heading toward a new subspecies. The butler's garter snakes also live there. Some sort of black water snake lives there, probably kirkland's water snake. The tiny and very cute northern brown snake are common in the marsh. A several of years ago they were basking all over the trails (2003), now they have gone back to basking in the brush and are much harder to find. The marsh is also a refuge for the only venomous snake in this state. The massasagua rattle lives there, I saw a mother and baby once. Massasagua are very shy and retiring, although the baby was only too happy to try to bite my cane tip, the mother slid off into the reed and disappeared. The whole encounter took less then a minute, but was very powerful. I only offered the cane to the baby to confirm the species. After a few seconds I pulled the cane back and let the baby leave with no harm done to it, although it may have been scared enough to avoid humans from now on.

wren11 @ eskimo.com
Copyright 2005. coded by M. Wren
last modified November 28, 2005