“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The crocuses were up and ready to blossom when they were battered by freezing rain and snow twice this week. The storms showcased the flower’s resilience and their beauty is resplendent framed by ice. Crocuses are one of the first flowers of spring and a symbol of hope after a long, cold winter. Spring has finally arrived at the Horicon Marsh!
The stunning breeding plumage of the male Northern Shoveler catches your eye as you travel through the Horicon Marsh today. He is easily identified by his oversized bill, which he uses to skim across the water’s surface to find tiny crustaceans and seeds to eat. Flocks of Northern Shovelers were joined by Greater Scaups, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots.
Flocks of Tundra Swans, identified by yellow spots at the base of their bills (the lore), and Trumpeter Swans swam among the Canada Geese along Highway 49. It was a treat to drive through the auto tour which is now open to vehicles.
Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon. Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.
The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.
When they spotted a delicious morsel, they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.
This gull snaps up a frog from the water.
The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.
The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.
Herring Gulls chip away at the icy surface of the Horicon Marsh to find frozen fish underneath. It is not a good idea to flaunt your fish filet.
This juvenile Herring Gull aggressively responds to a gull that got too close to its fishing hole.
The birds battle for open fishing holes. If a gull gets a large piece of fish, the rest of the flock gather around to try and steal some for themselves.
After chaotic flapping of wings and loud squawking, a victor eats the spoil.
Meanwhile, the Canada Geese were honking, hissing, and sticking out their tongues in their own displays of aggression.
They flare their wings and run offenders off of their turf, a muskrat house, in this case.
In contrast to the aggressive displays of the gulls and geese, the pretty House Sparrow is content to flit and perch in shrubs along the Marsh.
According to the American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America: Eastern Region, House Sparrows are a member of the Eurasian family called weaver-finches. The House Sparrow was first introduced in Brooklyn, New York in 1850 and is now one of North American’s most common birds.
The American Goldfinch perches peacefully with the House Sparrows.
Bird activity is increasing at the Horicon Marsh as we head into spring!
A small flock of American Goldfinches flitted among the shrubs this morning at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center. The nonbreeding plumage of the male is striking and a glimpse of its showy plumage to come this spring. American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait until June when they can pluck the fluffy seeds of wild thistles to line their nests.
Canada Geese were flying and honking overhead. The Marsh is still covered in ice, but these are signs that spring is just around the corner.
Frosty artwork was on display when I opened my front door this morning. Random shapes and lines with intricate strokes adorned the storm door. Several inches of snow had fallen on the Horicon Marsh by this morning making the air moist. Our 9 degree morning temperature cooled the glass on the door to a temperature past the dew point. The dew point is the point where air gets so cold that water vapor in the air turns to liquid. If it is cold enough, like this morning, we get to see ice crystals when the liquid freezes on the glass.
The light and dark areas were created by a snow covered Colorado Blue Spruce Tree in the background. The surface of the window influences the pattern that is formed. Scratches and streaks of residual window cleaner affect the design.
“I hide myself in the quiet white of winter and
nestle in her comforting folds of cold oblivion.”
Red twig dogwood branches contrast with shades of tan, walnut, and gray in the winter wetland vegetation. The absolute silence is welcoming and comforting. Winter hiking has its own unique pleasure.
Wildlife leave evidence of their activity in the slushy snow. It was quiet on the trail, except for a few birds flitting away, as I walked by a feeder near the building. The absence of snakes makes winter hiking especially appealing.
The Horicon Marsh has alluring beauty in every season. Solitude and stillness captivate in winter.
A cedar little library has been installed near the entrance of the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center off of Highway 28.
It is stocked with a variety of field guides to birds, mammals, wildflowers, trees, and insects so you can identify the wonders of nature that you find on your visit to the Horicon Marsh. Books are available to be used while you visit the Center and area trails. Return them to the library before leaving for the next visitor to use. The staff at the Center plan to add more children’s books from their Story at the Marsh series.
The library was crafted by Jerome T. Traughber, in memory of his father, Jerome R. Traughber. Jerry T. upgraded the original plans and added mortise and tenon joints. He also added rustic hardware to complete the custom design.
You can read more about his design process at traughberdesign.com.
Two benches were also added at the Education and Visitor Center in memory of Jerome R. through the generosity of many family members and friends. Their kindness and thoughtfulness in attending the funeral and visitation and through sending cards was greatly appreciated by the family of Jerome R.
Jerome R. taught science classes at Van Brunt Elementary School for 34 years. He developed the conservation site near Horicon High School. The site included trails through woodland and wetland areas for students to study nature and the environment. He was a Friend of the Horicon Marsh for a number of years. He loved teaching science and he loved being in nature.
The family thanks the staff at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center for installing the library and benches. Thank you to Liz Herzmann, Wildlife Conservation Educator – Wildlife Management, for her help and suggestions in coordinating the memorial. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the memorial for Jerry R. He would be pleased that visitors to the Marsh can enjoy educational books during their stay and rest a while on a bench overlooking an area he loved.
This Rough-legged Hawk perches high in a dead tree along Highway 49 to survey the Horicon Marsh. Dark patches on the undersides of the wings were noticeable in flight. The tail feathers are white at the base and dark at the ends. These field marks, along with legs feathered to the toes, help to identify this hawk. Rough-legged Hawks nest in the arctic and visit the Marsh during the winter. Another sign of impending winter is the layer of ice on the Marsh. Three days ago, I drove on Highway 49 as I headed to Tom Dooley Orchards to buy some delicious apple squares from their bakery. There were hundreds of geese, swans, and ducks swimming in the water along Highway 49. Today, the geese are walking on the ice.
The auto tour off of Highway 49 will be closed to vehicles November 18-26 for gun deer season. Wear blaze orange if you plan to hike. Tom Dooley Orchards will be closed for the season on November 24th. You may want to stock your freezer with apple squares to tide yourself over until next season.
The patch of yellow at the base of the bill is a helpful field mark to identity the Tundra Swan. Tundra Swans nest in the arctic and stop at the Horicon Marsh during migration. They are North America’s most numerous swan species. Trumpeter Swans, on the other hand, nest at the Horicon Marsh during the summer. They lack the yellow patch at the base of the bill.
The slope of the head helps to distinguish the Canvasback from the commonly found Redhead. Male Canvasbacks have red eyes and black beaks. Male Redheads have a rounded head, yellow eyes, and a gray beak with a black tip. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The species name of the Canvasback, Aythya valisineria, comes from Vallisneria americana, or wild celery, whose winter buds and rhizomes are its preferred food during the nonbreeding period.”
The Green-winged Teal is not likely to be confused with another species of duck. They are one of the tiniest ducks. The striking green and chestnut color on the head and neck of the male sets it apart. They are typically found at the Horicon Marsh during the summer and during migration.
There were Hooded Mergansers, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, and a host of other waterfowl swimming in the water along Highway 49 today. It is a great time to visit the Horicon Marsh and see the variety of species migrating.