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.
Sunny Yellow Warblers flitted among the willows along the auto tour on the Horicon Marsh today. The annual bird festival is in full swing and multitudes of birders have traveled to the Marsh to enjoy the abundant spring birds. The weather is gorgeous and the plentiful sounds of cheery songbirds fill the air.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron paused among the broken reeds along Highway 49. Unlike the perky sounding songbirds, he emits a raspy squawk.
Canada Geese typically extend their neck forward and put their head down when they are aggressively encountering an enemy. Perhaps, they are giving the kids a lesson in how to protect their children some day. The goslings are taking it in with rapt attention.
This nesting box caught my attention from the road as I drove by early in the day. I came back this evening to take a closer look.
What an exciting discovery! The nesting box was probably toasty and the Eastern Screech-Owl popped her head out and napped. I imagine sitting on eggs for 30 days is a bit tiring. The male was most likely hiding in a nearby tree. He would hunt for food at night and bring it to her while she is nesting. There are likely 2-6 eggs. There is also a gray morph of this species.
I met a couple who were also checking on the owl. They came out from Madison and joined the morning birding bus tour for the bird festival. One hundred and twenty-five birds were identified this morning!
Fifteen painted turtles came out to enjoy the sunny, warm day.
Purple Martins look rather crabby, don’t you think? This fellow was perched on the martin houses on the Palmatory Street overlook. Purple Martins are the largest North American Swallow. They get all their food while flying by dining on flying insects.
These Female Purple Martins are checking up on one another. Spend a few minutes watching the birds at these houses, and it is evident they are quite social.
What a treat to see such a variety of birds at the Horicon Marsh annual bird festival!
Abundant goslings are toddling along the shoulders of the road on the Auto Tour off of Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. There are 5-6 goslings in each family of Canada Geese. They swim, eat, and rest under the watchful eyes of their parents.
One parent must have detected something threatening under the water. Typically, Canada Geese dabble by tipping their head in the water to eat vegetation. But this parent suddenly, completely submerged herself creating quite a ruckus.
The goslings huddled around the other parent for protection from the danger.
The submerged parent emerged from the water and continued to aggressively splash to make it clear to the unknown predator no one was touching her babies.
During the debriefing, junior discusses his concerns with dad.
Thankfully, the traumatic swimming lesson was over. The goslings waddled ashore and hungrily ate shoots of grass.
“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, clearing the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”
Canada geese are returning to the Horicon Marsh in droves. They are one of the first species of birds to migrate here in the spring and start nesting. Hopefully, our unseasonably mild 50 degree temperatures and the arrival of the Canada geese is signaling an early spring.
Notice that the goose on the right has a band on its leg. It may have been in the southern United States or northern Mexico for the winter. Canada geese mate for life, but the one on the left may have other ideas.
Many people strolled the trails at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center this evening. We were treated to a stunning sunset and the welcome sound of honking from the Canada Geese.
Hanging 20-30 feet above the ground and suspended on a couple of twigs is an intricately woven home to a family of unknown birds. “Without support from below, both attachment and construction rely on elaborate binding, weaving, and knotting to create a secure nest. This produces some of the most extraordinary constructions in the natural world.” Intricate knots and stitches weave together grass material to form the nest. A typical nest might contain 10,000 stitches! Hanging at the edge of a branch protects the nest from predators.
Wild cucumber vines dotted the edges of the auto tour. Wild cucumber is a member of the gourd family.
The Northern Shoveler held its large beak at the surface of the water as it swam. Dabbling ducks have little comb-like projections inside their beak that filter out small food items in the water. These projections are the densest in the Northern Shoveler so it can strain out smaller invertebrates. Dabblers feed at the surface and may stick their head in the water. Divers go deeper with their whole body going under the water.
I sat in my car on the side of the road on the auto tour and the only sound was of the satisfied smacking of lips, or beaks, in this case.
What was the dark, unusual duck swimming with the rest of the Mallards? I pored over my field guides when I returned home. Is it a rare find that flew in from an exotic location? Finally, in The Sibley Guide to Birds, there is a reference to domestic Mallards. The drawing looks exactly like this one except for the beak color. Sibley says, “The common domestic forms [of Mallards] are found on farm ponds and in city parks. Interbreeding produces a bewildering variety of plumages and sizes; some bear little resemblance to the parent species.”
This Gadwall was swimming with a friend in the water along the auto tour.
This female American Wigeon was swimming nearby.
Once again I had to do some research to find out the identity of this beautiful bird. It wasn’t easy to find in my field guides.
This view from the back reveals the stunning markings.
This is a solid clue as to his identity. I think he wanted me to know he is an immature male Red-winged Blackbird.
A multitude of Sandhill Cranes come in for a landing in the water at the Horicon Marsh along Highway 49.
They join the other Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese that are already resting there. It was another fun day at the Horicon Marsh!
Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 94.
 Chris G. Earley, Waterfowl of Eastern North America (Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2005), 50.
 David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds (New York: Chanticleer Press, 2000), 89.
A cacophony of sound filled the air along Highway 49 with Canada Geese honking, ducks quacking, and Sandhill Cranes making their unique rolling call. Hundreds of each species spread throughout the water. Each species banded together in its own area and all the species were relatively congenial with one another.
A small flock of Snow Geese joined the symphony. Oh for a 1200 mm lens!
Snow Geese have two color forms. The white form is mostly white with a few black tail feathers. The blue form has a white head and a dark body. The Snow Goose is also called the Blue Goose because of the blue gray feathers on the dark body of the blue form.
A Tundra Swan stayed away from the crowd by swimming alone on the north side of the road. The eye of the Tundra Swan is more distinct from its beak than the Trumpeter Swan’s eye. The Tundra Swan also has a bit of yellow coloring in front of the eye.
The eye catching Northern Pintail was paddling along and dipping its head in the water beside the auto tour.
It was another great afternoon spent at the Horicon Marsh.
This was taken at the small wayside on the east end of Highway 49.
It is a calm, gray, fall day, perfect for a drive on the auto tour. Sumac is turning red, orange, and yellow.
The velvety, reddish brown fruit is rich in Vitamin A. Apparently, birds aren’t all that excited about eating it, but they will resort to it if other food is scarce.
Trumpeter Swans and their growing cygnets enjoy a leisurely swim.
A little boy was walking with his mother along the road as I was standing taking pictures. He exclaimed, “Mom, she is taking pictures of that white bird!” He was so excited and so was I.
The prolific cattails are going to seed. Cattails are actually an herb. Each spike can contain 220,000 seeds!
Milkweed is also an herb. The plant contains cardiac glycosides, similar to Foxglove, that are used to treat some heart diseases. These glycosides are absorbed by Monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweed is the only thing the larvae eat. The glycosides make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other predators.
Canada Geese take a break before migrating south.
This Great Blue Heron stands in the water near the road.
I love the coloring of the Red-tailed hawk. His eyes looks so dark and almost hollow. Red-tailed Hawks have keen vision. They can see their prey, like a mouse, a mile away.
Some of the information today was found in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region.
I am back at the same spot near the Egret Trail where the Black-necked Stilts were frolicking. I noticed then that there were families of geese in the background feeding on the shoots of grass and I wanted to come back to try and capture a pastoral landscape photo. It’s Memorial Day. I am here during a quiet morning. It is peaceful as the geese stroll and graze their way through the low vegetation. The goslings wander here and there but not too far from their parents. Occasionally, the adults raise their heads and keep watch to protect their brood.
In the introduction to Florence Merriam Bailey’s book Birds through an Opera Glass she says, “When going to watch birds, provided with opera-glass [binoculars] and note-book and dressed in inconspicuous colors, proceed to some good birdy place,–the bushy bank of a stream or an old juniper pasture,–and sit down in the undergrowth or against a concealing tree-trunk, with your back to the sun, to look and listen in silence…Photography is coming to hold an important place in nature work, as its notes cannot be questioned, and the student who goes afield armed with opera-glass and camera will not only add more to our knowledge than he who goes armed with a gun, but will gain for himself a fund of enthusiasm and a lasting store of pleasant memories. For more than all the statistics is the sanity and serenity of spirit that comes when we step aside from the turmoil of the world to hold quiet converse with Nature.” The book was published in 1889. Mrs. Bailey was an ornithologist and a founding member of the Audubon Society in the District of Columbia. She had cutting-edge insight into the budding field of nature photography.
She also offers sage advice about the benefits nature has to offer. It is good to step aside from the turmoil of the world and find a “birdy place.” The Horicon Marsh is the perfect birdy place to relax in nature.
 Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, Birds through an Opera Glass (Cleveland: The Chautauqua Press, 1889), iv-v.