Shorebirds probed for insects in muddy areas left by receding water at the Horicon Marsh. The Dunlin is easy to identify during breeding season by the large black patch on its belly. Flocks of Dunlins spread across the Marsh on the north side of Highway 49.
The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world. Small shorebirds are known as “peeps,” which gives new meaning to the sugary, marshmallow candy with the same name. The Least Sandpiper can be distinguished from the Semipalmated Sandpiper, which has dark legs, and the Pectoral Sandpiper, which has a heavily streaked breast and orange coloring at the base of the bill.
The Semipalmated Plover is the most common Plover seen during migration. This Plover looks similar to a Killdeer, but the Plover has a single black neck band. The Killdeer has two black neck bands. Semipalmated means the toes are webbed for only part of their length.
This Barn Swallow is masquerading as a shorebird by probing in the mud for food. Barn Swallows typically snatch insects from the air during flight. This Swallow was successful choosing an atypical menu.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Double-crested Cormorant swims with its body submerged and its bill in the air. It has beautiful blue eyes.
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.
This female Red-winged Blackbird looks nothing like its mate. They like to nest among the cattails from March to June.
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.
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.
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.
Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon. Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.
The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.
When they spotted a delicious morsel, they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.
This gull snaps up a frog from the water.
The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.
The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.
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.
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.
The patch of yellow at the base of the bill is a helpful field mark to identity the Tundra Swan. Tundra Swans nest in the arctic and stop at the Horicon Marsh during migration. They are North America’s most numerous swan species. Trumpeter Swans, on the other hand, nest at the Horicon Marsh during the summer. They lack the yellow patch at the base of the bill.
The slope of the head helps to distinguish the Canvasback from the commonly found Redhead. Male Canvasbacks have red eyes and black beaks. Male Redheads have a rounded head, yellow eyes, and a gray beak with a black tip. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The species name of the Canvasback, Aythya valisineria, comes from Vallisneria americana, or wild celery, whose winter buds and rhizomes are its preferred food during the nonbreeding period.”
The Green-winged Teal is not likely to be confused with another species of duck. They are one of the tiniest ducks. The striking green and chestnut color on the head and neck of the male sets it apart. They are typically found at the Horicon Marsh during the summer and during migration.
There were Hooded Mergansers, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, and a host of other waterfowl swimming in the water along Highway 49 today. It is a great time to visit the Horicon Marsh and see the variety of species migrating.
There were at least six Trumpeter Swan pairs preening, eating, and swimming in the water along Highway 49 this morning.
This family looks like an a cappella quartet singing a harmonious morning melody. The parents are actually warning another pair of swans nearby. They straighten their necks and give a short, honking call, making it clear the other pair is getting too close.
An American Coot is unimpressed by the majestic display of fluttering wings. A Trumpeter Swan’s wingspan can be over six feet.
Though they are North America’s heaviest flying bird, they have amazing agility in their necks and wings. We are fortunate to have a growing population of Trumpeter Swans at the Horicon Marsh
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.
I’m not sure what this bird posture means. He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.” He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”
He may just be stressed because he is molting. He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.
Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory. They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory. This may be the most abundant bird in North America.
The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. He has his nonbreeding plumage. He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.