The Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) is a unique and beautiful native plant that grows in moist meadows, prairies, and open woods. Native plants occur naturally in an area without human introduction. I purchased my plant at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Wildflowers for Wildlife event. Native plants are an excellent choice for gardens around the Horicon Marsh because they attract bees, birds, and wildlife. They require less maintenance. You can find native plants for your area using the handy native plant finder at the National Wildlife Federation website.
Bees extract the pollen from the narrow tube by shaking their bodies against the tube to shake the pollen out. Shooting stars are also called Roosterheads and Prairie Pointers. They thrive in part shade, grow up to 18 inches tall, and bloom from May to June. They are a member of the Primrose family and can also be found with white flowers.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has compiled a list of nurseries that carry native plants for Wisconsin and adjacent states.
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.
A sea of cheery yellow Wild Parsnip is a pretty backdrop to the purple and pink blooms of clover and milkweed. Don’t give in to the temptation to pick a bouquet! Oils from the leaves of Wild Parsnip that get on your skin, combined with sunlight, cause a painful rash and blisters. Stay on the trails when you are hiking to avoid contact with this plant. David J. Eagan highlights the chemicals involved in causing the skin burns and how to treat it in his article “Burned by Wild Parsnip.” The Wisconsin DNR has more pictures of Wild Parsnip in its invasive species photo gallery. An excellent article that outlines methods for controlling this pesky plant can be found on the Integrated Pest and Crop Management website.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The crocuses were up and ready to blossom when they were battered by freezing rain and snow twice this week. The storms showcased the flower’s resilience and their beauty is resplendent framed by ice. Crocuses are one of the first flowers of spring and a symbol of hope after a long, cold winter. Spring has finally arrived at the Horicon Marsh!
I couldn’t resist taking macro shots of a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers my best friend gave me to cheer me. The sunflowers were spectacular! I used a small aperture to increase depth of field. I turned off the lights around the flowers. When the overhead light was on, the petals were overexposed and there were shadows in the center of the flower. I used a small flashlight to light the flower for this image.
The camera was on a tripod and set on the self-timer mode. During the 13 second exposure, I waved the light from the flashlight all over the flower. The flower remained dark for the rest of the 13 seconds. I experimented with the amount of time the flashlight was lighting the flower until I got an image I was satisfied with. This resulted in more even lighting in the final image. It was so simple and fun! You might enjoy trying this on a rainy day.
My mood for macro continued and I discovered this lichen on a wood fence on Palmatory Street in Horicon. Lichen is fungus plus algae or cyanobacteria. Fungi cannot make their own food. They need one of the other two substances. Soil fertility is improved when fungus joins with cyanobacteria. Lichen can colonize on almost any undisturbed surface. I love the texture of the wood with the leafy lichen. It grows less than 1 millimeter per year. This lichen has been growing a very long time.
I think the gray green color would be an excellent interior paint color. I suppose “Lichen Gray” would probably not be a big seller.
The subtle bluish-purple petals of Chicory delight the eye. If you can identify the insect, please let us know in the comments section. I looked at hundreds of photos of bees and wasps and didn’t see an exact match. Chicory, intermingled with Queen Anne’s Lace, edging back roads is one of many reasons I am grateful to live in Wisconsin.
I was excited to see a Virginia Rail on the south side of Highway 49. I had never seen one before. Apparently, this is not unusual. Ornithologist S. Dillon Ripley, a rail expert, said, “They are perhaps the most elusive birds on the continent.” They are also difficult to photograph as they dart over and around marsh vegetation without stopping.
The chicks are even more evasive as they stay hidden in the cattails. Check out their long toes! Their toes help them to get over and around marsh vegetation. They can also swim under water using their wings to propel themselves.
The Monarch butterfly doesn’t need long toes, but he does need his proboscis. You can see it here bent at a 90 degree angle so he can sip nectar from Joe-Pye Weed. The proboscis starts out as two strands that fuse together. It also contains muscles and a nerve. It is an amazingly intricate structure in a fine strand. The Horicon Marsh has so many fascinating things to see!
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 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.
This group of caterpillars found the Milkweeds planted near the Education and Visitors Center on Highway 28 at the Horicon Marsh.
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.
A sea of white, yellow, and purple wildflowers grows next to the Education and Visitors Center. These prairie plants attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
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.
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.
He had company. Two more Kingbirds were assertively making sure they got his attention.
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.
I entered the auto tour and a chipmunk scurried out of his grassy hole to investigate.
He munched on a seed while watching the cars go by. Check out those fingernails!
Eclipse Male Wood Ducks are seen in late summer after the breeding season. They retain their bright red eye and red bill.
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 find something interesting below the Duckweed on the water’s surface.
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.
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.
A drift of orange caught my eye as I drove along Highway 49. Many of you may enjoy having Day Lilies in your garden. Wild Day Lilies are a hybrid that reproduce from the roots. The colorful blossom lasts only a day. If you are out hiking and need a snack, every part of this plant is edible. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region, the flower buds taste like green beans when cooked. Serve with butter. I will take their word for it.
This Monarch butterfly will pass on the green bean taste and go right for the nectar of the flower. The Monarch caterpillar eats only Milkweed. This butterfly is so popular it is the state butterfly of three states. Can you name them? The people of Kentucky chose the similarly colored Viceroy butterfly as their state butterfly. The Viceroy butterfly has a black line that crosses the veins on the hind wing. The Viceroy caterpillar feeds on trees in the willow family. Do you know Wisconsin’s state butterfly?
This Common Gallinule (formerly Common Moorhen) was resting in her nest and attentively watching her two growing chicks as they ate vegetation from the surface of the water. The chicks did not stray farther than ten feet. They were far enough to gain a bit of independence, but never out of her sight.
Mom Gallinule stepped out of the nest to take a stretch break.
Speaking of stretching, I’m not sure what this neck exercise does for birds, but it is a good one for humans. Neck retraction is an effective exercise for posture, neck pain, and disk related pain. Repeat five times every two hours. If it produces pain, then discontinue the exercise. Visit a physical therapist for further help.
Early blooming Crocuses signal the arrival of spring at the Horicon Marsh! The blossoms close at night or on cloudy days, like today.
Saffron, which is used to color and flavor food, is made from the dried stigmas of Crocus sativus. About 7,000 flowers are needed to produce 3 ounces of saffron, making it one of the most costly spices by weight.
The quintessential bird of spring is the American Robin. The male has a darker head than the female. He has a brick-red breast. American Robins can have three broods in one year. They typically eat earthworms early in the day and fruit later in the day. If they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they may become intoxicated. Thankfully, I can’t say I’ve seen that!
The head of the female American Robin blends in with the lighter gray back feathers. Her breast is orange with a bit of white. I talked to someone recently who lives in the city and he had no idea what a robin looks like. I was shocked. We are so blessed to have the Horicon Marsh with its plentiful birds and wildlife.
Ring-necked Ducks swim in the water near the auto tour. The auto tour, off of Highway 49, is still closed to vehicles. I passed another photographer as I was walking along the road. She said, “I love this place.” I do, too.
The photographer recognized the melodious whistle of the Meadowlark. He fans his tail as he sings. Eastern Meadowlarks can sing several variations of their song.
The Red-winged Blackbird fanned his wing showing his colors as he sang.
Pied-billed Grebes always look happy. They can trap water in their feathers, giving them great control over their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay just at or below the surface, exposing as much or as little of the body as they wish. They dive submerging their entire body to hide or to eat. He was spotted swimming alongside of Highway 49.
After checking out the auto tour, I headed to the Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28. This was a popular hang out for Killdeer today. This one found a bit of stick in the parking lot, which he ate. I’m guessing it didn’t digest too well.
Someone got their feathers ruffled.
Perhaps, it was because three can be a crowd.
This Milkweed was behind the building. I liked the texture.
I also liked the texture and color of the fence post the Song Sparrow used as his podium for singing. Often, Mondays are not our favorite day of the week. But if we get to spend it at the Horicon Marsh, it may be the best day of the week!
The texture and artistry in the leaves on the underside of this Sunflower intrigued me more than the blossom itself. A kind and thoughtful person gave me a bouquet of colorful blooms. Sunflowers will be blooming in late summer in the Horicon Marsh area. If you traveled here this week, you would have seen this,
I shot the Sunflower photo by a window for side lighting and used a floor lamp for overhead lighting. I wanted more light on the underside of the blossom. My “real” reflector was too large for my set up. Aluminum foil wrapped around a piece of cardboard and taped to the back bounced light from the floor lamp up underneath the Sunflower. The result was more even lighting. Little post processing was needed.
The handy Wimberley Plamp was used to demonstrate the set up. One end has a sturdy clamp that can be used on most tripods. You can also clamp it to other objects. The other end has a lighter clamp that can be used to hold plants still for macro photography. It spins 360 degrees and has a rubber cushion to protect the object it is holding. It only holds lighter items. Tension on the larger clamp can be adjusted by turning a screw. The arm can be moved in any direction. When you need three hands, the Wimberley Plamp may be just the help you are looking for.
I hope to be taking my Wimberley Plamp and reflector outside soon to photograph cheery spring blossoms at the Horicon Marsh.