The female Mallard on the right did not appreciate the male Mallard’s behavior on the left. In the next photo she is a blur swimming away. Can you come up with a caption for this photo? Share your captions in the comments section.
Would you rather live in a high rise condo, a house built over the water, or camp on the ground gazing at the stars overhead? It is amazing that birds use such a variety of locations and construction methods to build their homes.
Barn Swallow homes are like high rise condos for birds. They like to build their nests out of mud high on a building. You may see them on barn beams or above outdoor light fixtures on homes. Barn Swallows gather mud pellets in their beaks. They add their saliva to the pellet and carry it to their nesting site. Barn Swallows vibrate their heads as they apply a new wet pellet to the drier structure. This distributes moisture and molds the new pellet onto the nest in progress. They may use up to 1,500 pellets to build their cup shaped nest. Adding grass contributes to the durability of the nest. After multiple trips to get a beak full of mud, I’m sure they work up an appetite. One of their favorite foods is aerial insects.
Another bird that enjoys aerial insects is the Forster’s Tern. They also plunge-dive for fish to eat. Their nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground. The lack of construction leaves them more time to go fishing.
The American Bittern builds its nest piling up cattails and sticks making a thick platform a few inches above the water. Nests are 10 to 16 inches across and may rest on a small mound on the ground. Bitterns usually stand among the cattails with their beaks pointed in the air so they blend in to the vegetation. I almost drove right by this one. When he was ready for dinner, he started looking at the water and swayed his head side to side. Was he trying to lull his dinner into thinking life was good in the marsh muck? Then, with lightning speed, he plunged his head in the water and plucked a frog from the mud.
If you disturb a bird’s home, you will ruffle his feathers.
He will not be happy with you.
Whether it’s high, low, or somewhere in between respect a bird’s nest wherever you find one. It’s their home sweet home.
 Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011), 84.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 211.
Bird identification can be a challenge and that is part of the fun of birding. It’s exciting to discover a species we haven’t seen before. Let’s take a bird ID quiz and start with the bird that was easiest for me to identify today. He was spotted along the south side of Highway 49. Do you know what it is? Your answer is worth 2 points.
It is a Ring-billed Gull. It is a bit hard to tell in this picture because the fish is partially impaled on the end of the beak, but there is a dark ring there. The Herring Gull has a red spot on the bottom part of the beak (mandible). The Ring-billed Gull has yellow legs. The Herring Gull has pink legs. Also notice that the Ring-billed Gull has a red eye ring around its yellow eye. You get extra points if you can identify the fish.
This is the next bird I saw. He was frolicking in the water, which is a bit unusual for this bird, in my limited experience. I have always seen it wading. Your correct answer is worth 3 points.
This photo gives us a solid clue as it reveals the bird’s yellow legs.
This is a Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is dark and slender. The Greater Yellowlegs has a bit thicker bill with a slight upturn at the end. The length of the bill is about equal to the length of the head in this Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is about 1.5 times the length of the head for the Greater Yellowlegs.
Now let’s look at the most difficult identification of the day. Is this the Short-billed Dowitcher or the Long-billed Dowitcher? Your correct answer is worth 5 points.
Here is another angle.
Apparently, the best way to distinguish the Short-billed from the Long-billed is by their call. You can listen to the Short-billed Dowithcher’s call here and the Long-billed Dowitcher’s call here. Today, there were several Dowitchers wading in the water and they weren’t talking. They were eating. They were probing their long beaks up and down in the water and mud like long sewing machine needles. I think this is the Short-billed Dowitcher. The Short-billed has an orange wash to the face, neck, breast, and underparts. It has variable spotting on the upper breast. The belly can include some white. The Long-billed is brick-red on the underparts and has dark upperparts with reddish markings. It has a barred breast with no white areas on the belly.
How did you do on the quiz? Did you get all 10 points plus the bonus points for the fish identification? I referred to Birds of North America: Eastern Region, Editor-in-Chief Francois Vuilleumier, Field Guide to Birds by Donald and Lillian Stokes, and The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley for my information today. Do you have a favorite bird ID book? Please share your favorites in the comments section.
This ruggedly handsome Great Egret is adorned with his white breeding plumes cascading over his tail. The plumes are present only in spring and early summer. Both male and female egrets have them. Once valued for use on hats, egrets were almost hunted to extinction. Great Egrets are aptly named since they are the largest egret.
It was a highlight to see this beautiful bird roosting in a tree today, but, as you can see, I blew the highlights. Some of the white feathers are overexposed. Once that happens, there is no getting the detail back in post processing. What can I do to improve this photo? Here are 6 strategies to deal with overexposure on white birds.
I am excited to try these strategies and stop overexposing the abundant white feathered birds at the Horicon Marsh. I will let you know how the strategies work in a future post.
If you would like to read an excellent article about the manual exposure mode written by John and Barbara Gerlach you can find it here. You might also like their book Digital Wildlife Photography. Their chapter on exposure strategies will give you more details and examples.
What strategies do you use to keep from overexposing your shots? Join the discussion in the comments section.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 200.
I know. I know. You are thinking, “Lisa, we just saw pictures of these American Coot chicks two days ago. They are always eating!” It’s true.
I’ve been mulling over why I am perfectly happy taking photos of Coot chicks again. Perhaps I am drawn by their semi-cuteness. Maybe I’m a sucker for observing the tender moments between the parents and their chicks. Sometimes I’m motivated by wanting to get a better shot the next time I see them. There’s an aspect of comfort in seeing that they are surviving and thriving. For the present moment, the Coots are what are here.
These birds are also absorbed in the present moment. Often, that involves eating. Sometimes, it means napping. At other times, it means floating in calm water on a warm Sunday afternoon. They are not distracted by “to do” lists and cluttered lives. Their full attention is given to what is important. At the moment, it is teaching their little ones how to pull up yummy underwater marsh vegetation.
Maybe that’s one thing that draws me to the Marsh. It is an opportunity to come away and to be engaged in the moment rather than inundated with life’s many demands. It’s a chance to come away and single-task, just like the Coots.