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.
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.