Birds on Ice

Rough-legged Hawk at the Horicon Marsh

Rough-legged Hawk

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.

Canada Geese at the Horicon Marsh

Canada Geese

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.

Look Alikes

Tundra Swan and Cygnet at the Horicon Marsh

Tundra Swan and Cygnet

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.

Canvasback at the Horicon Marsh

Canvasback

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.”

Green-winged Teal at the Horicon Marsh

Green-winged Teal

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.

 

A Morning with Swans

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swan

There were at least six Trumpeter Swan pairs preening, eating, and swimming in the water along Highway 49 this morning.

Trumpeter Swans with Cygnets at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans with Cygnets

This family looks like an a cappella quartet singing a harmonious morning melody.  The parents are actually warning another pair of swans nearby.  They straighten their necks and give a short, honking call, making it clear the other pair is getting too close.

Trumpeter Swans and an American Coot at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans and an American Coot

An American Coot is unimpressed by the majestic display of fluttering wings.  A Trumpeter Swan’s wingspan can be over six feet.

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Though they are North America’s heaviest flying bird, they have amazing agility in their necks and wings.  We are fortunate to have a growing population of Trumpeter Swans at the Horicon Marsh

Common Birds in Steep Decline

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes stand in the Horicon Marsh oblivious to the rain.  The Trumpeter Swans enjoy the view to the west while the Sandhill Cranes enjoy the view to the east along Highway 49.

Northern Pintail at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Pintail

This Northern Pintail dabbles in the water for aquatic insects.  Northern Pintail populations declined throughout most of their range at a rate of 2.6% per year between 1966 and 2012, resulting in a cumulative decline of 72%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline by the 2014 State of the Birds Report.  Thirty-three birds common in the U.S. are listed.  These birds have lost more than half of their global population over the last four decades.  Many of the birds on the list nest at the Horicon Marsh.  Thankfully, there is a Comprehensive Conservation Plan at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and wildlife and land management plans at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.

 

Beauty or Beast?

Snapping Turtle at the Horicon Marsh

Snapping Turtle

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is:  who cares?”

–Tina Fey

Snapping Turtles are known for their strong jaws, not their beauty.  It may be tempting to pick one up, but it is not a good idea.  If you grab its tail, you can injure its spine.  If you grab it anywhere else, it may surprise you with the reach of its very long neck.  Snapping Turtles are known to be more friendly when they are in the water than when they are on land.  This one was enjoying watching cars go by on the auto tour off of Highway 49.

Sway for Prey

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

The Great Egret slowly swayed his neck back and forth as if remembering a song and having to move to the rhythm.  He was surveying the wildflower area for prey.  He needs to work on his moves since he was unsuccessful in retrieving  a tasty morsel for dinner.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

He soon moved on.  He had plenty of room to roam since it was a quiet evening for birds at the Horicon Marsh.

Morning at the Horicon Marsh

Female Belted Kingfisher at the Horicon Marsh

Female Belted Kingfisher

This female Belted Kingfisher was loudly and incessantly chattering behind the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitors Center.  She has an extra chestnut band that the male Belted Kingfisher does not have.  It is one of the few bird species in North America in which the female is more colorful than the male.  She is a beautiful blend of slate gray, copper, and chestnut brown.  Belted Kingfishers nest by burrowing three to six feet into a bank and making a dome shaped chamber at the end.

Dickcissel at the Horicon Marsh

Dickcissel

This colorful Dickcissel was flitting among the shrubs by the Education and Visitors Center.  This grassland finch will likely soon migrate to Venezuela, the most common spot you might find them in the winter.

Spider Webs at the Horicon Marsh

Cooler nights and morning dew showcase the intricate work of spiders.  It is amazing to see hundreds of webs glistening across a meadow.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull enjoys the calm, sunny morning near the auto tour off of Highway 49.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Gulls need to stretch in the morning, just like humans.

Cedar Waxwing at the Horicon Marsh

Cedar Waxwing

The exquisite coloring on the Cedar Waxwing is striking with red tipped wings and yellow tipped tail feathers.  Waxy red secretions highlight the wing tips.

Frog at the Horicon Marsh

This little frog was content to sit under the boardwalk at the Education and Visitors Center.  The boardwalk provides easy hiking into the marsh with several benches to sit and enjoy the wildlife.

Field Guides to Birds

Several trips through the Horicon Marsh in the past week revealed the Trumpeter Swan cygnets are growing in elegance with gray feathers accented with pink bills.  Petite Pied-billed Grebe chicks lazily float in the water along the auto tour. A Ring-billed Gull plays with a fish before downing it in one gulp.  All the photos turned out meh. So, I thought we would chat about field guides to birds.

Field Guides for Birds

Field Guides for Bird Identification

Let’s take an inside look at seven commonly used guides.  Over 200,000 Canada Geese migrate through the Horicon Marsh each year.  What information does each guide provide about this ubiquitous marsh bird?

American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America: Eastern Region

American Museum of Natural History
Birds of North America: Eastern Region

The American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America:  Eastern Region includes over 450 photos of birds perched, standing, or swimming.  Photos of variations between juveniles and adults and between male and female adults, are included where differences occur.  A seasonal map clues us in on whether we can expect to see this bird at the Marsh.  The bottom of the page has space to write in the date and place of sightings.  A feature I especially like about this guide is the similar species section.  Photos of other birds that may be easily confused with a Canada Goose, like the Greater White-Fronted Goose or the Cackling Goose are shown with differences in field marks highlighted.  Nesting, feeding, bird length, and weight contribute to the usefulness of this guide.  I use this guide often.

Sibley Birds East

Sibley Birds East

Sibley Birds East is David Allen Sibley’s field guide to birds. This guide includes drawings and brief notations about field marks.  Drawings of variants and a map are included.  Written information is brief.

Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Donald and Lillian Stokes include a number of photos for each species with variations noted.  The text is primarily information on field marks and includes subspecies and hybrids.  They also include a map.

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America

Peterson Field Guide to Birds
of Eastern and Central North America

Roger Tory Peterson includes a few basic paintings of each bird.  Several species are on each page.  The text includes information about similar species and habitat.  A map of occurrence is included.  Larger maps and a life list checklist are provided in the back of the book.

Waterfowl of Eastern North America

Waterfowl of Eastern North America

In Chris G. Earley’s Waterfowl of Eastern North America, each bird gets a generous two page spread.  There are several photos of each bird in its natural environment with information about adults, eclipse males, and juveniles.  A pithy quote adds to the enjoyment in reading this guide.  “‘What man so busy that he will not pause and look upward at the serried ranks of our grandest wildfowl…a harbinger of spring or a foreboding of winter.  Certainly the Canada goose commands respect.’ This was written by Arthur Cleveland Bend in 1925.”  Similar species are listed. Nature notes from Earley provide interesting facts you won’t find in other guides.  For instance, “Canada Geese once showed the widest range of size and shape differences of any bird species in the world.”  The back of the book has comparison pages grouping similar birds on a single page for quick reference. Earley has other guides including Sparrows and Finches, Warblers, and Hawks and Owls available at Firefly Books.

Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide

Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide

Stan Tekiela’s handy little field guide is packed with information in a small volume.  There are several photos of each of the 111 common Wisconsin species in the book.  Species are grouped according to their most prominent color.  He lists information about nesting, eggs, incubation time, fledging, migration, and food.  In a “Stan’s Notes” section we learn about the bird’s behavior and conservation.  “Eliminated from the state in the 1900s.  Reintroduced in federal refuges in the 1930s and to local and state lands in the 1960-70s.” An essential fact is, “will hiss as if to display displeasure.”  If you have moved too close to a Canada goose when its goslings are nearby, you will have experienced its “displeasure.”  The compact size of this guide makes it easy to carry with you.  Other guides by Stan Tekiela include Trees of Wisconsin and Wildflowers of Wisconsin.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The National Audubon Society guide has one photo of each bird and includes 508 species.  An icon along the side of the page displays bird shapes and colors to aid in identification.  Written information is separate from the photos which makes it more cumbersome to use.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Text includes descriptions of the bird, its voice, habitat, nesting, and range.  Helpful notes at the end elaborate on bird behavior.  “When people speak of ‘wild geese,’ it is generally this familiar species they have in mind.  Their V-shaped migrating flocks are a common sight in spring and fall.”

The Sibley Guide to Birds and Sibley Birds East

The Sibley Guide to Birds
and Sibley Birds East

You might be wondering what is the difference between the Sibley field guide and the larger Sibley Guide to Birds?

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, contains some of the same drawings as Sibley Birds East.  There are additional drawings of subspecies with brief notes on field marks.  Maps for the subspecies are included.  I use The Sibley Guide to Birds when I am having difficulty identifying a bird and I want to compare a photo I’ve taken with illustrations in this guide.

You will find some of these guides in the gift shops at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center located on Highway Z or the Education and Visitors Center for the State Wildlife Area located on Highway 28.  Do you have a favorite field guide to birds?  Share your insights in the comments section.

 

 

Macro Photography and Playing with Light

Sunflower

Sunflower
35 mm macro lens, ISO 200, 13 seconds at f18

I couldn’t resist taking macro shots of a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers my best friend gave me to cheer me. The sunflowers were spectacular!  I used a small aperture to increase depth of field.  I turned off the lights around the flowers. When the overhead light was on, the petals were overexposed and there were shadows in the center of the flower. I used a small flashlight to light the flower for this image.

Mini Maglite

Mini Maglite

The camera was on a tripod and set on the self-timer mode. During the 13 second exposure, I waved the light from the flashlight all over the flower.  The flower remained dark for the rest of the 13 seconds. I experimented with the amount of time the flashlight was lighting the flower until I got an image I was satisfied with.  This resulted in more even lighting in the final image.  It was so simple and fun!  You might enjoy trying this on a rainy day.

Lichen at the Horicon Marsh

Lichen

My mood for macro continued and I discovered this lichen on a wood fence on Palmatory Street in Horicon.  Lichen is fungus plus algae or cyanobacteria.  Fungi cannot make their own food.  They need one of the other two substances.  Soil fertility is improved when fungus joins with cyanobacteria.  Lichen can colonize on almost any undisturbed surface.  I love the texture of the wood with the leafy lichen.  It grows less than 1 millimeter per year.  This lichen has been growing a very long time.

Lichen at the Horicon Marsh

I think the gray green color would be an excellent interior paint color.  I suppose “Lichen Gray” would probably not be a big seller.

Chicory at the Horicon Marsh

Chicory

The subtle bluish-purple petals of Chicory delight the eye. If you can identify the insect, please let us know in the comments section.  I looked at hundreds of photos of bees and wasps and didn’t see an exact match. Chicory, intermingled with Queen Anne’s Lace, edging back roads is one of many reasons I am grateful to live in Wisconsin.

Bird Body Language

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

I’m not sure what this bird posture means.  He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.”  He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”

Great Egret Preening at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret Preening

He may just be stressed because he is molting.  He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.

Red-winged Blackbird at the Horcion Marsh

Red-winged Blackbird on Common Mullein

Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory.  They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory.  This may be the most abundant bird in North America.

Mallard at the Horicon Marsh

Male Mallard with Summer Plumage

The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.  He has his nonbreeding plumage.  He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.