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.
The Waved Sphinx Moth is normally nocturnal, but this one was resting in the shade on this 93 degree day at the Horicon Marsh. He is over 3 inches long. The white spot in the middle of the forewing is a reliable field mark. This common moth can fly up to 12 mph. They use their long tongues to eat nectar from tubular flowers. Their caterpillars are called hornworms because of the horn or spur that protrudes from their posterior. The main host plant is the ash tree. Unfortunately, Emerald Ash Borers are destroying this important host. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides information about what we can do to preserve our valuable ash trees to facilitate the survival of species like the Waved Sphinx Moth.
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.
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.
Barns Swallows chose a challenging spot to rest when they attempted to perch on a wide metal railing. A flock was flitting along the edge of the auto tour. I am puzzled as to why they chose such a slippery slope on which to land. The Barn Swallow’s feathers are a beautiful blend of blue and chestnut. Barn Swallows are the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world.
When they tried to walk up the railing, their feet slipped, and they rapidly flapped their wings to stay on top. Picture the flailing of arms while walking on ice. It was comical to watch.
“The Swallows live in air and feed when flying, and so have undeveloped perching feet, unfitted for walking,” says Florence Merriam in her book Birds of Village and Field – A Bird Book for Beginners. They were persistent in trying to perch here though they were having difficulty holding on with their delicate feet.
“Although the killing of egrets is often cited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, it was the millinery (hat-making) trade’s impact on Barn Swallows that prompted naturalist George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 Forest & Stream editorial decrying the waste of bird life. His essay led to the founding of the first Audubon Society,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Sandhill Cranes exemplify grace and beauty while preening beside the auto tour at the Horicon Marsh. Ornithologists predicted their extinction in the early 1900s due to wetland drainage and unlimited hunting, according to Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America by John Eastman. They were classified as threatened until 1973.
Thankfully, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibited hunting Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds which helped to save them from extinction. Currently, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan lists them as a Species of Low Concern.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain (for Canada), the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and Japan, and the U.S. and Russia. The Treaty gives the Secretary of the Interior and individual states the authority to protect migratory birds, including their nests and eggs. Violations result in misdemeanor charges and fines up to $15,000. Selling migratory birds, in violation of this law, constitutes a felony. A treaty with Russia protects ecosystems against pollution and other environmental degradations that affect migratory birds.
The Spotted Sandpiper is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. Its numbers have declined, but not to the extent of the Sandhill Crane. Loss of wetland habitat and the effects of herbicides and pesticides affect their ability to raise their young. The Horicon Marsh is a welcomed haven for them. The male takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the chicks.
This view reveals more of his spots.
Speaking of spots, can you spot the Black-crowned Night-Heron?
Tightly grasping a willow branch, he was tossed to and fro in the wind. I was surprised he held on for so long as he whipped forward and back.
Black-crowned Night-Herons must enjoy sultry evenings at the Horicon Marsh. I saw three in a row perched, strolling, or standing.
The Black Saddlebags Skimmer was drawn to this particular dead stalk. There were many to choose from, but this was his favorite, for some unknown reason. His name comes from the coloring of his wings that resembles saddlebags. His body is black. Even though dragonflies have six legs, like other insects, they cannot walk. They are predators of mosquitos. This is a species we definitely want to protect!
The Horicon Marsh has been aptly recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.
I haven’t seen a lot of Gadwalls at the Horicon Marsh but “Gadwall have increased in numbers since the 1980s, partly because of conservation of wetlands and adjacent uplands in their breeding habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Their habit of nesting on islands within marshes gives them some protection from predators,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. It is the largest conservation program in the United States affecting private lands. Farmers volunteer to remove land from agricultural production and plant species that improve the environment. They receive a rental payment in exchange for taking the land out of farm use. Contracts last 10-15 years. The program has improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species. Wisconsin has five State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) projects.
Waterfowl populations were at historic lows in the 1980s. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed in 1986 by the United States and Canada. It was signed in 1994 by Mexico. The scope of the plan is international and it is implemented at the regional level. It is designed to restore and develop waterfowl habitat.
Gadwalls are one example of the success of these programs.
Common Yellowthroats are more numerous that Gadwalls, but they may be harder to spot as they flit in and out of thick shrubs. They have one of the largest breeding ranges of any North American warbler, spanning from southern Canada to Mexico. Yellowthroats thrive near freshwater marshes, like the Horicon Marsh, salt marshes, and drier upland areas. This adaptability allows them to have such a wide breeding range.
Here he is from the front.
Redheads are native only to North America. The largest nesting population east of the Mississippi River lives at the Horicon Marsh.
The goslings are growing and can be seen at multiple locations around the Marsh.
A flock of Common Grackles forages in a marshy area along the auto tour. Grackles are the number one threat to the corn crop, but today they are satisfied with insects.
This falcon was perched high in a dead tree along Highway 49. Do you think he is a juvenile Peregrine Falcon or a juvenile Prairie Falcon? Tell us what you think in the comments area.
Prairie Falcons and Peregrine Falcons are about the same size. Prairie Falcons have dark axillary feathers which can be seen in flight. When this falcon took off from his perch, he did not have dark axillary feathers. The underside of his wing had a uniform spotted and barred pattern. Both juvenile Peregrine Falcons and juvenile Prairie Falcons have vertical stripes on the front. A distinctive feature of the Peregrine Falcon is its white throat that extends to the sides of the neck. The white area is divided by a vertical black band that descends below the yellow-rimmed eye. It is more likely to see a Peregrine Falcon at the Horicon Marsh than it is to see a Prairie Falcon, according to several field guides. If you answered “juvenile Peregrine Falcon,” the evidence is in your favor.
The role of conservation, the thrill of seeing a particular species of bird, and the challenge of identifying birds, are some of the reasons we enjoy the Horicon Marsh.