Posts in Category: Auto Tour

Spring Bird Species at the Horicon Marsh

Forster's Terns at the Horicon Marsh

Forster’s Terns

Forster’s Terns perch on last year’s cattails along Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. English botanist Thomas Nuttall named this tern after Johann  Reinhold Forster, a naturalist who accompanied the English explorer Captain Cook on his epic second voyage (1772-75), according to Birds of North America: Eastern Region. If you could have a bird named after you, what species would you choose? Share your choice in the comments section.

Blue-winged Teal

Male Blue-winged Teal

A pair of Blue-winged Teal swim in the water along the auto tour. They are usually skittish and fly away quickly when approached, but this pair was content to swim and eat while being photographed.

Female Blue-winged Teal at the Horicon Marsh

Female Blue-winged Teal

The female Blue-winged Teal looks similar to most other female dabbling ducks, but she is distinguished by a patch of blue on the upper wing coverts.

Fish at the Horicon Marsh


Schools of fish swim with their backs out of the water and their dorsal fins exposed. It may be related to shallow water in that area or it may be related to water temperature. Fish may swim near the surface in spring due to cooler temperatures.  In summer, they may swim deeper where it’s cooler.

Double-crested Cormorant at the Horicon Marsh

Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant swims with its body submerged and its bill in the air.  It has beautiful blue eyes.

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Shoveler

The yellow eye of the Northern Shoveler contrasts with its metallic greenish to purplish head feathers.  Flocks of Shovelers continue to swim along Highway 49.

Female Red-winged Blackbird at the Horicon Marsh

Female Red-winged Blackbird

This female Red-winged Blackbird looks nothing like its mate. They like to nest among the cattails from March to June.

Gull at the Horicon Marsh


What type of gull do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

Bird activity is picking up at the Horicon Marsh and many species are nesting. Be careful driving on Highway 49. You may need to wait for goslings crossing the road.

Lots of Flocks

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Shoveler

The stunning breeding plumage of the male Northern Shoveler catches your eye as you travel through the Horicon Marsh today. He is easily identified by his oversized bill, which he uses to skim across the water’s surface to find tiny crustaceans and seeds to eat. Flocks of Northern Shovelers were joined by Greater Scaups, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots.

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swan

Flocks of Tundra Swans, identified by yellow spots at the base of their bills (the lore), and Trumpeter Swans swam among the Canada Geese along Highway 49. It was a treat to drive through the auto tour which is now open to vehicles.


Birds on Ice

Rough-legged Hawk at the Horicon Marsh

Rough-legged Hawk

This Rough-legged Hawk perches high in a dead tree along Highway 49 to survey the Horicon Marsh.  Dark patches on the undersides of the wings were noticeable in flight.  The tail feathers are white at the base and dark at the ends.  These field marks, along with legs feathered to the toes, help to identify this hawk. Rough-legged Hawks nest in the arctic and visit the Marsh during the winter.  Another sign of impending winter is the layer of ice on the Marsh.  Three days ago, I drove on Highway 49 as I headed to Tom Dooley Orchards to buy some delicious apple squares from their bakery.  There were hundreds of geese, swans, and ducks swimming in the water along Highway 49.  Today, the geese are walking on the ice.

Canada Geese at the Horicon Marsh

Canada Geese

The auto tour off of Highway 49 will be closed to vehicles November 18-26 for gun deer season.  Wear blaze orange if you plan to hike.  Tom Dooley Orchards will be closed for the season on November 24th. You may want to stock your freezer with apple squares to tide yourself over until next season.

Common Birds in Steep Decline

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes

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.

Northern Pintail at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Pintail

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.


Beauty or Beast?

Snapping Turtle at the Horicon Marsh

Snapping Turtle

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is:  who cares?”

–Tina Fey

Snapping Turtles are known for their strong jaws, not their beauty.  It may be tempting to pick one up, but it is not a good idea.  If you grab its tail, you can injure its spine.  If you grab it anywhere else, it may surprise you with the reach of its very long neck.  Snapping Turtles are known to be more friendly when they are in the water than when they are on land.  This one was enjoying watching cars go by on the auto tour off of Highway 49.

Morning at the Horicon Marsh

Female Belted Kingfisher at the Horicon Marsh

Female Belted Kingfisher

This female Belted Kingfisher was loudly and incessantly chattering behind the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitors Center.  She has an extra chestnut band that the male Belted Kingfisher does not have.  It is one of the few bird species in North America in which the female is more colorful than the male.  She is a beautiful blend of slate gray, copper, and chestnut brown.  Belted Kingfishers nest by burrowing three to six feet into a bank and making a dome shaped chamber at the end.

Dickcissel at the Horicon Marsh


This colorful Dickcissel was flitting among the shrubs by the Education and Visitors Center.  This grassland finch will likely soon migrate to Venezuela, the most common spot you might find them in the winter.

Spider Webs at the Horicon Marsh

Cooler nights and morning dew showcase the intricate work of spiders.  It is amazing to see hundreds of webs glistening across a meadow.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull enjoys the calm, sunny morning near the auto tour off of Highway 49.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Gulls need to stretch in the morning, just like humans.

Cedar Waxwing at the Horicon Marsh

Cedar Waxwing

The exquisite coloring on the Cedar Waxwing is striking with red tipped wings and yellow tipped tail feathers.  Waxy red secretions highlight the wing tips.

Frog at the Horicon Marsh

This little frog was content to sit under the boardwalk at the Education and Visitors Center.  The boardwalk provides easy hiking into the marsh with several benches to sit and enjoy the wildlife.

Diverse Beauty at the Horicon Marsh

Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar

You would think this colorful, tiger-striped caterpillar would turn into a beautiful Monarch butterfly, since it is eating Milkweed leaves, wouldn’t you?  This is a Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar or Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar.  He eats Milkweed just like a Monarch caterpillar eats.  This eye catching caterpillar turns into a drab beige Tiger Moth or Tussock Moth.

Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar at the Horicon Marsh

Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillars hang out in groups of up to 50 caterpillars.  They have quite an appetite and can decimate a Milkweed plant leaving only bare stems.

Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar at the Horicon Marsh

This group of caterpillars found the Milkweeds planted near the Education and Visitors Center on Highway 28 at the Horicon Marsh.

Dense Blazing Star Liatris with Queen Anne's Lace at the Horicon Marsh

Dense Blazing Star Liatris with Queen Anne’s Lace

Drifts of Dense Blazing Star Liatris beautifully complement Queen Anne’s Lace near the entrance of the Education and Visitor’s Center.  Queen Anne’s Lace is a distant relative of the garden carrot.  The first-year taproot can be cooked and eaten.

Prairie Plants at the Education and Visitors Center

Prairie Plants at the Education and Visitors Center

A sea of white, yellow, and purple wildflowers grows next to the Education and Visitors Center.  These prairie plants attract bees, butterflies, and birds.

Prairie Coneflower at the Horicon Marsh

Prairie Coneflower

Bright yellow Prairie Coneflowers  cheer the hearts of hikers along the Bachhuber Trail.  According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers, if the center of the coneflower is bruised, it smells like anise.

Eastern Kingbird at the Horicon Marsh

Eastern Kingbird

After a refreshing visit at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, I drove north to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Both areas form the Horicon Marsh. The Eastern Kingbird perched in a tree along Highway 49.

Eastern Kingbirds at the Horicon Marsh

Eastern Kingbirds

He had company.  Two more Kingbirds were assertively making sure they got his attention.

Eastern Kingbirds at the Horicon Marsh

I thought they were being aggressive and defending their territory, but they were begging for a tasty grasshopper treat.  Kingbirds feed their young for up to seven weeks.

Chipmunk at the Horicon Marsh


I entered the auto tour and a chipmunk scurried out of his grassy hole to investigate.

Chipmunk at the Horicon Marsh

He munched on a seed while watching the cars go by.  Check out those fingernails!

Eclipse Male Wood Duck

Eclipse Male Wood Duck

Eclipse Male Wood Ducks are seen in late summer after the breeding season.  They retain their bright red eye and red bill.

Female Wood Duck at the Horicon Marsh

Female Wood Duck

Female Wood Ducks have a large white eye patch and a gray bill.  There are a lot of Wood Ducks along the auto tour and Highway 49 lately.

Juvenile Gallinules at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Gallinules

Juvenile Gallinules find something interesting below the Duckweed on the water’s surface.

Mottled Ducks at the Horicon Marsh

Mottled Ducks

Do you find brown ducks hard to identify?  I find them difficult. I think this is a Mottled Duck.  A Black Duck has darker plumage that is not so well outlined as this pair.  A female Mallard has a dark area on the bill.  An eclipse Mallard has white on the tail.  A female Gadwall has a more slender bill.  What do you think?  Please join the discussion in the comment section.

Sunset at Palmatory Street

Sunset at Palmatory Street

I finished the evening at Palmatory Street watching the sunset until the mosquitos chased me away.  There are so many diverse things to see at the Horicon Marsh.

Pelicans and a Game of Chicken

American White Pelicans at the Horicon Marsh

American White Pelicans

A large flock of American White Pelicans swim and scoop up fish for breakfast at the Horicon Marsh on this warm Monday morning.  Grayish coloring on the head and neck is typical in the postbreeding adult.

Pelicans and Egrets at the Horicon Marsh

A Game of Chicken with Great Egrets

A nonverbal bird social dynamic was evident.  Two Great Egrets stood and watched as the flock of pelicans moved en masse toward them.  In the avian game of chicken, the egrets decided to take off.  When the game was played between the pelicans and a Great Blue Heron, the heron stood his ground.  The pelicans swam within several feet of him and the entire flock made a 180 degree turn.

American White Pelican at the Horicon Marsh

An American White Pelican Comes in for a Landing and Joins the Flock

Pelicans soared overhead in a coordinated aerial display.  Their wingspans can stretch over 9 and a half feet.

Female Hooded Merganser at the Horicon Marsh

Female Hooded Merganser

In contrast to the social pelicans, this petite female Hooded Merganser floated alone.  She only weighs about a pound.  Her nest would be in a tree cavity or nesting box.  Hooded Mergansers are usually done nesting in June.  The Hooded Merganser is the only Merganser restricted to North America.

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt

The Merganser didn’t have any little ones nearby, but the Black-necked Stilts are still raising their broods.  This juvenile had white-edged feathers in a scalloped pattern.  He enjoyed wading along the auto tour.

Black-necked Stilts at the Horicon Marsh

Black-necked Stilt Family

His parent kept a watchful eye while he enjoyed his outing with his sibling.

You never know what you will see on an outing at the Horicon Marsh.  If you have a Monday off, this is a relaxing place to spend it.

Barn Swallows and a Balancing Act

Barn Swallow at the Horicon Marsh

Barn Swallow

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.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

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.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

“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.

Barn Swallow at the Horicon Marsh

Barn Swallow and a Balancing Act

“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.

Boardwalk Opens


Floating Boardwalk at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

Floating Boardwalk at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

The floating boardwalk at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is now open!  The boardwalk has been rebuilt and is part of the Egret Trail.  Access to the trail and parking are available part way through the auto tour off of Highway 49.

Floating Boardwalk Zigzags Through the Horicon Marsh

Floating Boardwalk Zigzags Through the Horicon Marsh

The boardwalk zigzags through the northern portion of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  The Egret Trail is comfortable walking and four tenths of a mile long.  Birds are easily viewed from the boardwalk and in the woods at the end of the trail.

Floating Boardwalk at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

The auto tour is a paved road that is 3.2 miles long and is easy walking.  A wide variety of birds can be viewed from the road.  View abundant flora as you meander through prairie, wetland, and woodland.

Gazebo on the Egret Trail

Gazebo on the Egret Trail

A gazebo with benches and binoculars provides a place to rest and view the 22,000 acre federal portion of the Horicon Marsh.  A stroll on the boardwalk is a relaxing way to spend your day at the Marsh.