About the wetlands

Wetlands act as a sponge, collecting water that would otherwise flood the surrounding landscape, including urban areas. The soils and plants in a wetland help clean water that eventually replenishes water that ends up in our wells, lakes and streams. They support an incredible amount of wildlife by providing shelter, food and water.

Wetlands are lands where water settles from the surrounding area and slowly soaks into the soil after rains and snow melt. As a result the land is literally wet or will have standing water much of the year, if not year round. These areas are legally defined in Wisconsin as areas where plants that require generally wet conditions grow, and the soil is a particular type found in wetlands known as hydric soils. Wetland scientists can recognize these soils using clues that include texture, color and smell. The plants they look for are primarily plants that are native to Wisconsin.

RCC’s Focus

Nancy with MonitorsFor several years, the Rock River Coalition (RRC) has focused on Zeloski Marsh, the former Zeloski Muck Farm. The Rock River Coalition’s (RRC) current focus is on the site of the Zeloski Muck Farm, which was restored to wetland and prairie in 2006. The area is part of the Lake Mills Wildlife Area located just west of Rock Lake and Lake Mills. Located near the center of the newly established Glacial Heritage Area, the marsh is easily accessible from three parking areas and the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. For more information about the marsh’s restoration history and purpose, see this Outdoors Wisconsin segment .

In 2012, RRC was awarded a Citizen-based Partnership Program grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). The funds were used to conduct post-restoration monitoring of birds, frogs and toads, dragonflies and damselflies, plants, and water quality. Surveys were conducted by volunteers that included citizen-scientists, UW-Whitewater staff and students, and the RRC Wetland Monitoring Coordinator. In May 2013, a BioBlitz was held to wrap up the yearlong surveys by creating a 24-hour snapshot of life in the marsh.

Although the BioBlitz generally closed the formal monitoring being conducted through RRC for now, we would welcome the formation of an ongoing monitoring group, perhaps Friends of Zeloski Marsh, to continue documenting life in the marsh. Much of the data collected by monitors is shared on easily accessible sites, such as the Wisconsin Odonata Survey for dragonflies and eBird.org for birds. Once you register on these sites, it’s also very easy to add your own sightings!

The monitoring process

In general, RRC’s wetland monitors have followed the protocols listed in Monitoring Your Wetlands-Nine downloadable fact sheets packed with how to information. The fact sheets are also a great resource for anyone who has a site they’d like to study on their own or with an organization, such as a Friends group.

Angelica-portraitBirding at Zeloski Marsh is so popular that lists of sightings are available on eBird for nearly every month since the restoration was completed in 2006! Master birder Nolan Kollath identified a Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) at Zeloski Marsh in early June 2009. The identification marked the 200th species that visits or uses the marsh. Pre-restoration surveys at the site had noted only a handful of species. These results exemplify the need to preserve and restore Wisconsin’s native areas. RRC wetland monitors have also participated in the International Crane Foundation’s annual Crane Count, the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Wisconsin Bird-a-thon and special marsh bird surveys at the marsh. You can see Nolan Kollath in action at In Wisconsin: Bird Watching by “Ear”

Frogs and toads have been monitored from spring through mid-summer using the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey protocol. Data is shared with the WDNR and has been provided to Wisconsin Nature Mapping  along with data of other animals seen that don’t have specific websites for sharing information.

This map (PDF) shows locations of frog and toad surveys

During the 2012-2013 grant period, water quality monitoring was conducted at sites monitored prior to the restoration. Water from Zeloski Marsh and the surrounding area drains to Koshkonong Creek on its way to the Rock River. Consistent monitoring can potentially determine if water quality is improved due to the wetland restoration. See the map (PDF) for more information.

Get involved

If you are interested in learning more about wetland monitoring or Zeloski marsh, please contact the Rock River Coalition at info@rockrivercoalition.org.