Monday, January 8, 2018

Paradise Valley?

Photo by Noah Froh

Did you know there is a place called Paradise Valley in Waukesha County? Hard to imagine the origin of the name. It’s about as flat a landscape as I’ve seen anywhere in Wisconsin.

Someone tried to farm the wet soil here for a while until it proved unfruitful. The Wisconsin DNR purchased the land in 2012 and began a management plan that has been encouraging it to revert to wetland. The Bark River channel once flowed through the “valley” but the farmers diked the property and diverted the river. Now, with the dike breached, the river simply floods into the marsh.

I was introduced to the place recently by DNR wildlife biologist Dianne Robinson. She hosts regular tours of wildlife areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. The theme this time was tracking. We walked along the snow-covered roads that divide the marsh, watching for tracks along the way. There were plenty.

Larger animals, like weasels and coyotes tended to follow a straight line, taking advantage of the road just like we do. The smaller tracks of field mice, voles and the like tended to wander across from side to side. We learned to distinguish between dogs and coyotes and that the “thumb” of a mink is on the outside of its paw where our pinky is.

Robinson showed us how to measure the size of the print. People often overestimate, she said, because the impression in the snow can be quite a bit larger than the actual footprint.

We also saw sled tracks that veered off into the marsh grass. Paradise Valley is a popular spot for hunting and trapping, Robinson told us.

We saw the most tracks when we ventured out onto the frozen Bark River. However, with the thermometer reading a neat 0° Fahrenheit and wind chills approaching -15, we didn’t linger long.

The most surprising find was a cache of fish carcasses in amongst the cattails. Robinson speculated that they might have been hauled up by some predator before the water in a nearby pond froze over. More likely, she thought, the wetland dried up under them, leaving them high and dry to be picked apart by birds and passing animals.

The DNR website provides a long list of recreational opportunities for the Paradise Valley Wildlife Area. In addition to hunting and trapping they include birding, canoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, wild edibles gathering and wildlife viewing. There is even an accessible blind for hunters with disabilities. The sight lines are totally unimpeded under a sky as broad as the horizon.

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce Noah Froh, who is a student at Bennington College in Vermont. Noah, whose home is in Milwaukee, is interning with me during the winter interim period. This was our first outing together. Noah contributed the photo featured at the top of the post.

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