Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon. Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.
The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.
When they spotted a delicious morsel, they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.
This gull snaps up a frog from the water.
The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.
The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.
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.
Bird identification can be a challenge and that is part of the fun of birding. It’s exciting to discover a species we haven’t seen before. Let’s take a bird ID quiz and start with the bird that was easiest for me to identify today. He was spotted along the south side of Highway 49. Do you know what it is? Your answer is worth 2 points.
It is a Ring-billed Gull. It is a bit hard to tell in this picture because the fish is partially impaled on the end of the beak, but there is a dark ring there. The Herring Gull has a red spot on the bottom part of the beak (mandible). The Ring-billed Gull has yellow legs. The Herring Gull has pink legs. Also notice that the Ring-billed Gull has a red eye ring around its yellow eye. You get extra points if you can identify the fish.
This is the next bird I saw. He was frolicking in the water, which is a bit unusual for this bird, in my limited experience. I have always seen it wading. Your correct answer is worth 3 points.
This photo gives us a solid clue as it reveals the bird’s yellow legs.
This is a Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is dark and slender. The Greater Yellowlegs has a bit thicker bill with a slight upturn at the end. The length of the bill is about equal to the length of the head in this Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is about 1.5 times the length of the head for the Greater Yellowlegs.
Now let’s look at the most difficult identification of the day. Is this the Short-billed Dowitcher or the Long-billed Dowitcher? Your correct answer is worth 5 points.
Here is another angle.
Apparently, the best way to distinguish the Short-billed from the Long-billed is by their call. You can listen to the Short-billed Dowithcher’s call here and the Long-billed Dowitcher’s call here. Today, there were several Dowitchers wading in the water and they weren’t talking. They were eating. They were probing their long beaks up and down in the water and mud like long sewing machine needles. I think this is the Short-billed Dowitcher. The Short-billed has an orange wash to the face, neck, breast, and underparts. It has variable spotting on the upper breast. The belly can include some white. The Long-billed is brick-red on the underparts and has dark upperparts with reddish markings. It has a barred breast with no white areas on the belly.
How did you do on the quiz? Did you get all 10 points plus the bonus points for the fish identification? I referred to Birds of North America: Eastern Region, Editor-in-Chief Francois Vuilleumier, Field Guide to Birds by Donald and Lillian Stokes, and The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley for my information today. Do you have a favorite bird ID book? Please share your favorites in the comments section.