Native Plants at the Horicon Marsh

Shooting Star

The Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) is a unique and beautiful native plant that grows in moist meadows, prairies, and open woods. Native plants occur naturally in an area without human introduction. I purchased my plant at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Wildflowers for Wildlife event. Native plants are an excellent choice for gardens around the Horicon Marsh because they attract bees, birds, and wildlife. They require less maintenance. You can find native plants for your area using the handy native plant finder at the National Wildlife Federation website.

Bees extract the pollen from the narrow tube by shaking their bodies against the tube to shake the pollen out. Shooting stars are also called Roosterheads and Prairie Pointers. They thrive in part shade, grow up to 18 inches tall, and bloom from May to June. They are a member of the Primrose family and can also be found with white flowers.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has compiled a list of nurseries that carry native plants for Wisconsin and adjacent states.

A Morning for Shorebirds

Dunlin

Shorebirds probed for insects in muddy areas left by receding water at the Horicon Marsh. The Dunlin is easy to identify during breeding season by the large black patch on its belly. Flocks of Dunlins spread across the Marsh on the north side of Highway 49.

Least Sandpiper

The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world. Small shorebirds are known as “peeps,” which gives new meaning to the sugary, marshmallow candy with the same name. The Least Sandpiper can be distinguished from the Semipalmated Sandpiper, which has dark legs, and the Pectoral Sandpiper, which has a heavily streaked breast and orange coloring at the base of the bill.

Semipalmated Plover

The Semipalmated Plover is the most common Plover seen during migration. This Plover looks similar to a Killdeer, but the Plover has a single black neck band. The Killdeer has two black neck bands. Semipalmated means the toes are webbed for only part of their length.

Barn Swallow

This Barn Swallow is masquerading as a shorebird by probing in the mud for food. Barn Swallows typically snatch insects from the air during flight. This Swallow was successful choosing an atypical menu.

Whooping Crane at the Horicon Marsh

Whooping Crane with Sandhill Crane

It is exciting to see a Whooping Crane at the Horicon Marsh. There are only 101 Whooping Cranes that follow the Eastern Migratory Route through Wisconsin and only 849 Whooping Cranes in the world, according to the International Crane Foundation. In the 1940s there were only 21 birds. Unique reintroduction methods have built up the crane population to its current number. Ultralight aircraft with crane-costumed pilots fly along the migration route to teach cranes bred in captivity their migration path. Currently, captive bred crane chicks are introduced to Whooping Cranes in the wild in the hopes that the adults will adopt the chick and teach it the migration route.

Whooping Cranes are the tallest bird in North America. It is one of only two cranes found in North America. Sandhill Cranes occasionally travel with Whooping Cranes. Notice the band on the leg of the bird shown above. Careful monitoring has helped to save this federally endangered bird from extinction.

A Horicon Marsh Haiku

Frost

Frosty door and brow

Fifty-five below wind chill

Still I love the Marsh

Frost at the Horicon Marsh

A foot of blowing and drifting snow enveloped the Horicon Marsh yesterday. Temperatures are dropping to historic lows. The expected wind chill tomorrow is fifty-five degrees below zero. Wildlife is hibernating at the Horicon Marsh. It is a good opportunity for us to hibernate, too. Heat up your favorite hot winter beverage, wrap up with a blanket, and take the opportunity to check out a field guide. Spring will be even sweeter after enduring the bitter cold.

Swimming, Perching, or Strolling at the Horicon Marsh

Killdeer at the Horicon Marsh

Killdeer

This fluffy adult Killdeer keeps watch on the rocks along the edge of the Horicon Marsh. Two juvenile Killdeer are nearby. You can see one hiding in the rocks behind the adult.

Juvenile Killdeer at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Killdeer

This juvenile Killdeer has not developed the red eye ring yet. The double dark neck bands are becoming visible.

Common Moorhen Chicks at the Horicon Marsh

Common Moorhen Chicks

These little black fluff balls with red beaks and crowns are Common Moorhen Chicks. Their parent stays nearby and occasionally holds up a wad of marsh vegetation for the chicks to munch on.

Common Moorhen with Chick at the Horicon Marsh

Common Moorhen with Chick

It also uses marsh vegetation to build a platform for its nest.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes tilt their heads back and call in between feeding. This was the only pair in the area.

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

The Great Egret prefers to quietly stroll in the shallow water.

Tree Swallow at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Tree Swallow

This juvenile Tree Swallow prefers to perch higher. He hasn’t developed the bluish green upperparts and he has a partial breast band.

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon

Perching even higher is this juvenile Peregrine Falcon. Peregrine Falcons may reach speeds of up to 200 mph when swooping or diving for prey according to Chris Earley in Hawks and Owls of Eastern North America.

Whether swimming, perching, or strolling, the diversity of birds at the Horicon Marsh is amazing!

Nesting Season at the Horicon Marsh

Eclipse Male Wood Ducks at the Horicon Marsh

Eclipse Male Wood Ducks

A trio of nonbreeding male Wood Ducks floats in the Horicon Marsh on a 70 degree calm Friday evening.  Wood Ducks nest from April to August. Drakes begin molting their colorful breeding plumage in July, but retain their white throat, colorful bill, and distinctive red eye.

Eclipse Male Wood Ducks at the Horicon Marsh

Molting birds are flightless for 3-4 weeks. Handsome new breeding plumage will develop later this summer.

Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe

The striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebe practices diving amid short marsh reeds. Pied-billed Grebes nest from April until October and may have two broods.

Pied-billed Grebe at the Horicon Marsh

Adult Pied-billed Grebe

The adult Pied-billed Grebe stays within a few yards of its young and still has its breeding plumage. The male and female look alike. They can dive up to 20 feet and stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.

Mallard with Chicks at the Horicon Marsh

Mallard with Chicks

Mallards have a long nesting season from February to September. They typically have one brood.  The ducklings are following their mother’s example, skimming the surface of the water for insects and vegetation.

Muskrat Tracks at the Horicon Marsh

Muskrat Tracks

A muskrat has been busy walking through the mud that is present along Highway 49 since the water level has been lowered. Dragging his tail creates the line between the tracks.

Growing Chicks

Barn Swallow Chicks

Barn Swallow Chicks

The Barn Swallow chicks have grown a lot in just one week.  Last week, they were lying on the edge of the nest and only perked up when a parent brought dinner. This week, they are alert and perching on the edge of the nest. They are starting to get their chestnut neck bands. Shortly, they will fledge. It’s a delight to watch their progress. The parents are becoming more aggressive in their flybys, keeping predators from their nest.

Barn Swallow Chicks

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallows

These hungry Barn Swallow chicks are protected from wind and rain nestled in an awning above a door.  The chicks lie in a pile with their beaks open. When an adult flies in with a juicy insect, the chicks perk up and start cheeping, as if to say, “Pick me!”  Barn Swallows nest between May and September and have 4-6 chicks in their brood.  A deep chestnut color on the throat, a reddish orange belly, and a forked tail set this swallow apart from others.

This photo was taken through a glass door to keep from disturbing the nest. When shooting through glass, use a shallow depth of field.  Your subject will be clear and the glass will not be as evident.  It works best if the subject is not too close to the glass. This was shot at f4, 1/200 sec, 400 ISO with a 135 mm lens.

The chicks are growing quickly. They are expected to be in the nest for only 15-27 days!

Breakfast with the Birds at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Crane with Chick

You can’t beat an early Saturday morning at the Horicon Marsh watching a pair of Sandhill Cranes feed their chick. The parent probes deep in the mud submerging its entire beak searching for insects. It clamps the tasty morsel in its bill, lifts it from the soil, and turns toward its chick.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Crane Feeding Chick

The chick intently watches and when he sees the insect in his parent’s bill, he eagerly runs to his parent to be fed. The adult drops the bug into the chick’s open beak. The adult waits to be sure the hand off was successful and the chick downs his breakfast. The chick walks back and forth between his parents who readily share their prey.

Sandhill Crane with Chick at the Horicon Marsh

The family continues meandering together along the edge of a drift of cattails. They quickly walk into the cattails to hide when they sense danger.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Crane at the Horicon Marsh

Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Crane

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds were also feasting this morning and found their breakfast among the feathers of the Sandhill Crane.  The crane allowed them to pick insects from its back. The crane didn’t let the blackbirds get near its chick.

Female Blue-winged Teal at the Horicon Marsh

Female Blue-winged Teal

If you are like me, and you have difficulty identifying female dabbling ducks, there is a handy comparison chart in Waterfowl of Eastern North America by Chris Earley. The female Blue-winged Teal has a gray bill, white around the eye with a dark eye line, and white at the base of the bill.

Spotted Sandpiper at the Horicon Marsh

Spotted Sandpiper

Shorebirds can also be a challenge to identify. The Spotted Sandpiper makes it easier with its distinctive spots on the breast and flanks during spring and summer breeding season.

Least Sandpiper at the Horicon Marsh

Least Sandpiper

This little sandpiper took some digging into the field guides to identify. The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world at 5-6 inches long. It has short yellow legs, an all black, slightly downturned bill, and warm chestnut shading on its back and crown.  He was feeding along the shoreline of the marsh.

Goldfinch Perched on Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Goldfinch Perched on Wild Parsnip

The striking yellow and black Goldfinch is easy to identify. Be sure to use a telephoto lens, if you are taking pictures of it on this plant. The deceivingly pretty, lacy yellow flowers of Wild Parsnip, adorn a plant that will burn a human’s skin. Brushing against the leaves, in combination with sunlight, causes redness and blisters.

Do you have a favorite field guide to birds? Let us know in the comments section. The little library located at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center is stocked with a variety of field guides available to be used while you visit the marsh.

Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Wild Parsnip

A sea of cheery yellow Wild Parsnip is a pretty backdrop to the purple and pink blooms of clover and milkweed. Don’t give in to the temptation to pick a bouquet!  Oils from the leaves of Wild Parsnip that get on your skin, combined with sunlight, cause a painful rash and blisters. Stay on the trails when you are hiking to avoid contact with this plant. David J. Eagan highlights the chemicals involved in causing the skin burns and how to treat it in his article “Burned by Wild Parsnip.” The Wisconsin DNR has more pictures of Wild Parsnip in its invasive species photo gallery. An excellent article that outlines methods for controlling this pesky plant can be found on the Integrated Pest and Crop Management website.