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.
“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?”
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.
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.
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.
Cooler nights and morning dew showcase the intricate work of spiders. It is amazing to see hundreds of webs glistening across a meadow.
A Ring-billed Gull enjoys the calm, sunny morning near the auto tour off of Highway 49.
Gulls need to stretch in the morning, just like humans.
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.
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.
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.
“The return of the birds is a record of daily increasing pleasure, but it is only a quickening and a promise until the glad day in May when we go to the meadows and find that the Bobolinks have come. Then the cup of summer gladness seems full.” –Florence A. Merriam, American ornithologist and nature writer
“The meadow is all bespattered with melody. The Bobolink touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling strings.” –Henry David Thoreau
Merriam and Thoreau write poetic descriptions of the unique and complex Bobolink song. Personally, I think the Bobolink’s song is reminiscent of the voice of R2-D2 in the original Star Wars movie of 1977. You can listen to multiple recordings of this melodious bird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site and see if the songs bring out the poet in you.
Bobolinks are not only melodious, but they are also impressive migrants. They travel about 12,500 miles to and from Argentina every year. Throughout their lifetime, they may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth. Bobolinks are the only North American bird with a white back and black underparts.
The muskrat is not melodious and does not travel the distance that the Bobolink travels. However, muskrats are significant rodents inhabiting the Horicon Marsh. You may think “significant rodent” is an oxymoron, but muskrats keep areas of the marsh open for aquatic birds. They eat cattails and other aquatic vegetation. This one had created a small channel through the vegetation to a muddy bank where he dove underwater to enter his burrow.
The male Gadwall reveals handsome coloring as he preens, while his mate enjoys a bath.
She dries off by rapidly flapping her wings as she rises out of the water.
A melodious traveler, a significant rodent, and the flapping of wings made it another memorable day at the Horicon Marsh.
“Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug out in Muskrat Land”
Do you remember these lyrics to a popular song? Can you name the song, the artist(s) who made it famous, and the year it was popular? If so, let us know your answers in the comments section.
Muskrats Suzie and Sam don’t have time to do the jitterbug at the Horicon Marsh. They have been building their houses for the winter. How many do you see in the photo?
The song lyrics go on to say that muskrats nibble on bacon and chew on cheese. Actually, muskrats love to eat cattails. They use cattails, along with mud, to build their houses, called “push-ups.” They probably got this name because it takes so much exercise to build the dome. I’m just kidding. There is an underwater entrance and they keep dry in the chamber above the water. Canada Geese and Mallards may nest on top.
If the songwriter had visited the Horicon Marsh first, before writing the tune, we would be singing a totally different song.
The male Wood Duck is one of the easiest ducks to identify. His spectacular plumage gives his identity away. Thoreau saw one swimming in a river and said, “What an ornament to a river to see that glowing gem floating in contact with its waters! As if the hummingbird should recline its ruby throat and its breast upon the water. Like dipping a glowing coal in water! It so affected me. . . . That duck was all jewels combined, showing different lusters as it turned on the unrippled element in various lights, now brilliant glossy green, now dusky violet, now a rich bronze, now the reflections that sleep in the ruby’s grain.” (The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, Volume 8) What happened to this one?
This is an eclipse male. He has begun to molt since it is after the breeding season. He still has his bright red eye and bright bill with a dark tip. He is unable to fly until he molts again and has a return of his handsome breeding plumage.
This painted turtle is greeting our next bird.
Check out those claws!
This bird took me a while to identify. She has a long, slender bill that is dark above and yellow below. She has a black and white striped patch of feathers and a white belly. The part that threw me is that she has a chestnut brown head but not much of a crest.
This is a female Hooded Merganser. A fascinating fact is that “Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles.”
These gems were spotted along the auto tour off of Highway 49. Whether adorned with brilliant color, or having a more subtle beauty, the Horicon Marsh is filled with avian masterpieces.