A flock of eight Tundra Swans relaxes Sunday afternoon at the Horicon Marsh. Their eye is distinct from their black bill and they have a yellow area on the lore (base of the bill). These features distinguish them from the Trumpeter Swan.
Ring-necked Ducks stop by for a swim during spring migration. “Ring-necked” seems like a misnomer, but up close, the male has a faint band of chestnut colored feathers around his neck. He reminds me of a groomsman at a wedding who is wearing a tie to match the bridesmaid’s dress. You can see the brown female Ring-necked Duck swimming further back. They dive for dinner that includes underwater plants and invertebrates (snails, worms, dragonfly nymphs). Unlike other diving ducks, they can take off without a running start.
Dike Road is still closed to travel by car. Instead of following the gravel road when it turns left, we hiked to the right on the grassy path. Both flocks were in this area. Spring is arriving at the Horicon Marsh!
This little cutie is actually a fierce predator. The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon. It is one of the most colorful of all raptors. This juvenile was perched along Highway TW near Dike Road.
Hundreds of Canada Geese spent a lazy Sunday afternoon in farmer’s fields surrounding the Horicon Marsh today. Red-winged Blackbirds perched in shrubs and Sandhill Cranes strolled alongside the geese. Signs of spring are slowly arriving at the Marsh.
Swaths of Red Twig Dogwood brighten an otherwise brown winter landscape along Dike Road. The gravel part of the road that crosses the Horicon Marsh is not yet open for us to drive through.
We can look forward to clusters of white flowers on the Dogwood in late spring.
Have you heard of the rule of f/11 when shooting the moon? I have heard that a good starting point is to use ISO 100, an f/11 aperture, and a shutter speed of 1/200 when taking pictures of the moon. Tweak from there. The above shot was taken at ISO 100, f/6.3, and a shutter speed of 1/1000. It was taken at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was happy with the detail in this photo, since most of my shots of the moon are featureless white blobs. If you have tips for shooting the moon, please let us know in the comments area.
This Red-tailed Hawk was keeping watch high in a tree along Highway Z. We had sunshine today at the Horicon Marsh after a number of gray days in a row. Whether sunny, gray, or we’re seeing red, it is always a great day to visit the Horicon Marsh.
Tree Swallows could make a happy home from mid-May to July in this type of nest box in the Horicon Marsh area. Nest boxes should not be opened, like this one, during nesting season. If you are interested in building your own nest box, nestwatch.org is a website that is a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and it is loaded with information. The interactive home page allowed me to type in my region (“Great Lakes”) and my habitat (“Marsh”) which took me to a page listing 10 bird species whose numbers are declining in this area. I can download construction plans for a nesting box to encourage these birds to nest here. The site tells me how high I should put the nesting box, what I should attach it to, and what direction it should face. I can decide whether it is a project I want to tackle, because it lets me know if it is a complex or an easy box to build. I can also find out when each species is expected to nest in my region. What a great way to encourage declining bird species to nest at the Horicon Marsh!
This pair of Rough-legged Hawks was perched high in a tree on Highway 49. This type of hawk spends its summer in the arctic tundra and it travels south to our area in the winter. The name “Rough-legged” refers to the feathered legs. There are only two other American raptors that have feathered legs to the toes. Do you know what they are? In my previous post, we discussed the legs of raptors and one reason that they can perch for so long. Another reason is the structure of their tendons. Raptor tendons have a covering surrounding them called a sheath. This is similar to an electrical wire with insulation around it. Picture the wire with little bumps all over it. The insulation has ridges on the inside of it next to the wire. Stretching the tendon causes increased tension that presses the tendon and sheath together. The bumps on the tendon catch in between the ridges of the sheath producing a ratchet effect and preventing the tendons from sliding. The weight of a hawk’s body increases this effect when it perches. This adds to the ability of the hawk to stay perched for long periods of time without expending energy.
The bold black wing patch is a distinctive feature of the Rough-legged Hawk. This hawk has a gorgeous feather coloration pattern that is visible as it takes flight.
This residual tree stump embedded in barbed wire caught my eye. This could be a good metaphor. If you come up with one, I would love to hear it in the comment section.
Two male Ring-necked Pheasants were strolling in the tall grass along Dike Road.
I got to make the rounds today from Palmatory Street in Horicon to Highway 49 to Dike Road. It is always a fun adventure of discovery at the Horicon Marsh.
The Killdeer has a companion with her today. They are both quietly standing near the nest. I’m surprised that they are not alarmed by my presence and trying to draw me away from the nest. I wonder if hatching is getting close, but I don’t see any cracks in the eggs.
I was trolling for pictures driving slowly along the shoulder of Highway 49 when I saw this spectacular Double-crested Cormorant sitting on a post on the south side of the road. Cormorants need to air dry their wings before they can fly after swimming. Water doesn’t run off of their backs and their plumage isn’t waterproof. I guess that’s why they use ducks, not cormorants, in the idiom “like water off a duck’s back.” Ducks have oily feathers. Plus, “like water off a cormorant’s back” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Hmmm…I’m not sure what this is all about.
I continued driving slowly when I spotted this colorful ball of feathers swimming in and out of the cattails close to the road.
In this case, maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words. Can you guess what it is?
Thankfully, he was swimming with mom so I was able to identify it as an American Coot.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 183.
When I wrote my post about Sandhill Cranes on June 5, 2016, I thought the content was fascinating but the delivery lacked pizzazz. So I asked my brother, who is in the military, if he had some suggestions for making my writing more engaging. This is his version below.
While on my regular reconnaissance of the Marsh, I was shocked to see a formation of Sandhill Cranes conducting maneuvers with their chick. This small squad was patrolling through low vegetation in a farmer’s field on Highway Z as I drove my vehicle from a trip to the Marsh. The adults were probing the soil with their beaks and sharing seeds and insects with their eager chick. The chick actually walked underneath its parent to be as close as possible for its dinner rations.
What is wrong with this picture? Adult Sandhill Cranes have gray feathers. In the area surrounding the Horicon Marsh there is a lot of iron in the soil. When a crane brings its beak out of iron-rich soil and preens its feathers, it leaves a rusty residue on its feathers making them appear brown, which creates first-class camouflage helping the cranes to blend into the terrain.
In addition, Sandhill Cranes have a unique rolling call that can travel for miles and allows them to communicate with other squads. Their trachea, or windpipe, is an amazing 27 inches long! It takes a convoluted journey through the front of the chest on its way to the lungs. Part of this area of the chest is not solid bone but 2 frail plates. Our trachea, on the other hand, is a short 4 inches long. It starts at the top of our neck (below the larynx or voice box) and makes a straight shot to our lungs (the bronchi). If you would like to read more about this fascinating subject, check out the article “The Convolution of the Trachea in the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes” by Thomas S. Roberts written in 1880!
I snapped a few pictures of the cranes and continued my reconnaissance on Dike Road. A Killdeer moved a few yards from where it had been resting when it heard the crunch of the gravel under my car tires. I suspect she was sitting on a nest. I will come back soon to continue my surveillance and get a closer look.
I got a closer look of the Killdeer today and she is faithfully tending her nest. If you would like to read more of my brother’s captivating prose, you can check out his website at traughberdesign.com.
I am back on Dike Road to check on the Killdeer. Driving slowly and swerving frequently to avoid the potholes, I see the Killdeer quietly standing beside the road. I usually see Killdeer running here and there, barely pausing to bob their heads up and down. They can actually run up to 5 mph, which is pretty fast for a little 10 inch long bird. She is in the same area, just past the big shrub near the second big weed after the first turnout. I stop the car far enough away so that she is not alarmed at my presence. She waits, looks around, then returns to her nest and sits down. There are clearly 4 eggs, which is typical for a Killdeer. Her nest is a little scrape in the rocks beside the road. It looks pretty uncomfortable to be sitting on eggs and rocks with nothing lining the nest. The eggs are camouflaged with mottled brown coloring, hidden in plain sight.
 John Eastman, Birds of Field and Shore: Grassland and Shoreline Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000), 70.
Male Wood Ducks look “as if constructed in an artist’s studio,” said James Granlund, teacher and ornithologist from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
It is one of the most colorful, intricately patterned ducks in the world.
Which of the following are true concerning Wood Ducks? Choose all that apply.
a) It has toenails.
b) It can run up to 7 miles per hour.
c) It has the largest eyes of any waterfowl.
d) They turn their heads while flying.
If you think “all of the above” is the answer, you are right. Who knew? Naturalist and wildlife biologist John Eastman did. He describes Wood Ducks in his book Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America. Wood Ducks have toenails that allow them to grip tree branches so they can perch in trees. They run faster than any other duck. Their large eyes help them to see better in low light. Not many birds turn their heads while flying, but Wood Ducks do turn their heads. Wood Ducks are not just a work of art on the outside. Their unique qualities reflect how they are amazingly crafted throughout.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 39.