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