“Though the walk into the lake may be familiar,
It is never the same.”
Norbert Blei, a Door County author, penned this line in his book, Meditations on a Small Lake. He could have been writing about the Horicon Marsh. The clouds have changed from patterned puffs to watercolor wisps as autumn is fading into winter. The auto tour and other areas are closed unless we are wearing blaze orange due to deer hunting season.
Green-winged Teal rest before heading further south. Some will spend their winter in the Caribbean, which sounds like a great idea.
This female Ruddy Duck was either camera shy or very hungry. She frequently dove beneath the surface of the water. It was a challenge to find her when she resurfaced. Ruddy Ducks tend to migrate east or west to the coasts.
Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes found tasty treats in fields where farmers recently harvested their corn. Juvenile Sandhill Cranes lack the red patch on their head. They have small brown patches on their sides. Iron stained feathers are only present on the adults.
It was a peaceful evening and I would have stayed out longer but it was getting too dark to shoot (with my camera). There is comfort in the familiarity and excitement in seeing nature change.
“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.”
Henry David Thoreau
I suppose it seems odd to be thankful for a marsh. The birds of the Horicon Marsh have been a source of joy,
There are moments when I have said, “Awwwww,”
out loud to myself when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera and was treated to incredible facets of nature. The Marsh has been a refuge where I have relaxed, discovered, and explored.
I am thankful for you, my readers. You both know who you are. I appreciate your encouragement and support.
This blog is a fun, creative outlet where I have the opportunity to share the wonder of nature at the Horicon Marsh. I have much for which to be thankful.
Note: The date of the post is usually the date the photos were taken. I think it is important to know when you might see certain things at the Marsh. Today’s photos are some of my favorites taken over the past couple of years on excursions to the Marsh.
Deer hunters emblazoned with orange clothing were sprinkled throughout the Horicon Marsh today. The auto tour is closed for our safety. Gale force winds the last few days stripped the trees of their leaves, except for a few tenacious ones clinging in defiance of dropping temperatures. The surface of the water is already starting to freeze as a result of 30 degree temperatures the last two days. Geese were standing on top, rather than in, the shallow marsh water.
I don’t know what type of clouds filled the sky today, but let’s just call them amazing. I used my polarizing filter to try and capture the contours. Turning the filter can darken the sky and works well if you are 90 degrees to the sun. A polarizing filter does not work well if the sun is in front of you or behind you. It darkened the sky and I lost about two shutter speeds, which was fine since I wasn’t shooting wildlife on the move.
These were taken on Palmatory Street in Horicon and along Highway Z.
I have always liked the texture on this building and the trail leading to the woods. If you follow it, you can walk all the way to the Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28.
This is facing the same direction as the building. It is fascinating how the clouds start in a straight line high in the sky.
Hanging 20-30 feet above the ground and suspended on a couple of twigs is an intricately woven home to a family of unknown birds. “Without support from below, both attachment and construction rely on elaborate binding, weaving, and knotting to create a secure nest. This produces some of the most extraordinary constructions in the natural world.” Intricate knots and stitches weave together grass material to form the nest. A typical nest might contain 10,000 stitches! Hanging at the edge of a branch protects the nest from predators.
Wild cucumber vines dotted the edges of the auto tour. Wild cucumber is a member of the gourd family.
The Northern Shoveler held its large beak at the surface of the water as it swam. Dabbling ducks have little comb-like projections inside their beak that filter out small food items in the water. These projections are the densest in the Northern Shoveler so it can strain out smaller invertebrates. Dabblers feed at the surface and may stick their head in the water. Divers go deeper with their whole body going under the water.
I sat in my car on the side of the road on the auto tour and the only sound was of the satisfied smacking of lips, or beaks, in this case.
What was the dark, unusual duck swimming with the rest of the Mallards? I pored over my field guides when I returned home. Is it a rare find that flew in from an exotic location? Finally, in The Sibley Guide to Birds, there is a reference to domestic Mallards. The drawing looks exactly like this one except for the beak color. Sibley says, “The common domestic forms [of Mallards] are found on farm ponds and in city parks. Interbreeding produces a bewildering variety of plumages and sizes; some bear little resemblance to the parent species.”
This Gadwall was swimming with a friend in the water along the auto tour.
This female American Wigeon was swimming nearby.
Once again I had to do some research to find out the identity of this beautiful bird. It wasn’t easy to find in my field guides.
This view from the back reveals the stunning markings.
This is a solid clue as to his identity. I think he wanted me to know he is an immature male Red-winged Blackbird.
A multitude of Sandhill Cranes come in for a landing in the water at the Horicon Marsh along Highway 49.
They join the other Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese that are already resting there. It was another fun day at the Horicon Marsh!
Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 94.
 Chris G. Earley, Waterfowl of Eastern North America (Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2005), 50.
 David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds (New York: Chanticleer Press, 2000), 89.
A cacophony of sound filled the air along Highway 49 with Canada Geese honking, ducks quacking, and Sandhill Cranes making their unique rolling call. Hundreds of each species spread throughout the water. Each species banded together in its own area and all the species were relatively congenial with one another.
A small flock of Snow Geese joined the symphony. Oh for a 1200 mm lens!
Snow Geese have two color forms. The white form is mostly white with a few black tail feathers. The blue form has a white head and a dark body. The Snow Goose is also called the Blue Goose because of the blue gray feathers on the dark body of the blue form.
A Tundra Swan stayed away from the crowd by swimming alone on the north side of the road. The eye of the Tundra Swan is more distinct from its beak than the Trumpeter Swan’s eye. The Tundra Swan also has a bit of yellow coloring in front of the eye.
The eye catching Northern Pintail was paddling along and dipping its head in the water beside the auto tour.
It was another great afternoon spent at the Horicon Marsh.
This was taken at the small wayside on the east end of Highway 49.
Mallards are one of the most common and familiar ducks on the Horicon Marsh. It is so ordinary to see them that it is easy not to give them a passing glance. This wasn’t always the case. Between 1914 and 1930 the Marsh was drained and used for agriculture. Ducks were rare and so were Canada Geese. Legend has it that a “Duck Liberation Day” was held in 1935 after a dam was built in Horicon and the Marsh was flooded again. Help was sought to release as many domestic ducks as possible at the Horicon Marsh, in the hope that their release would encourage wild ducks to migrate here. There were 1,180 ducks banded on Duck Day. The ducks were released as the high school band played and school children cheered. Duck Liberation Day was a success. Almost all domestic ducks come from the Mallard species. We now have at least 25 species of ducks on the Marsh. The next time you see an ordinary Mallard, let it remind you that it is part of the history of an extraordinary place, the Horicon Marsh.
If you would like to read more about this fascinating history, information from today’s post was taken from Wild Goose Marsh: Horicon Stopover by Robert E. Gard with photography by Edgar G. Mueller.