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.
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.
The Spotted Touch-me-not, or Jewelweed, is blooming in scattered patches along the auto tour off of Highway 49. It develops fruit that is a swollen capsule. If you touch it when it is ripe, the capsule may explode, projecting its seeds. Thus, touch it not. The sap of the stem and leaves soothes itchy rashes like poison ivy. It also has fungicidal properties and has been used to treat athlete’s foot.
Woodland Sunflowers thrive in the dappled sunlight beneath the Birch trees on a corner of the auto tour.
This little Eastern Phoebe was perched at eye level at the edge of the main parking lot for the auto tour. In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silver thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years. The dark bill distinguishes the Eastern Phoebe from the Eastern Wood-pewee which has a lighter colored lower bill. The Wood-pewee also has distinct wing bars. A similar bird is the Willow Flycatcher which also has a pale lower beak, wing bars, and a narrow white eye ring.
The Trumpeter Swan is our largest native waterfowl. The males are North America’s heaviest flying bird. Their black bill has a red line on the lower bill. The eye is not distinct from the bill. Tundra Swans may have a yellow area in front of the eye (the lore) and the eye is distinct from the bill.
This bill may also be used to let you know you should move out of its way.
The large, heavy bill of the Northern Shoveler is a distinguishing feature of this bird. If you invert it, it could be used as a small spatula or shovel.
A bird’s bill is a helpful clue to its identity. Does its description in your field guide fit the bill?