This fluffy adult Killdeer keeps watch on the rocks along the edge of the Horicon Marsh. Two juvenile Killdeer are nearby. You can see one hiding in the rocks behind the adult.
This juvenile Killdeer has not developed the red eye ring yet. The double dark neck bands are becoming visible.
These little black fluff balls with red beaks and crowns are Common Moorhen Chicks. Their parent stays nearby and occasionally holds up a wad of marsh vegetation for the chicks to munch on.
It also uses marsh vegetation to build a platform for its nest.
Sandhill cranes tilt their heads back and call in between feeding. This was the only pair in the area.
The Great Egret prefers to quietly stroll in the shallow water.
This juvenile Tree Swallow prefers to perch higher. He hasn’t developed the bluish green upperparts and he has a partial breast band.
Perching even higher is this juvenile Peregrine Falcon. Peregrine Falcons may reach speeds of up to 200 mph when swooping or diving for prey according to Chris Earley in Hawks and Owls of Eastern North America.
Whether swimming, perching, or strolling, the diversity of birds at the Horicon Marsh is amazing!
Itchy birds are the norm this evening at the Horicon Marsh. The heron family entertained with its avian antics. Great Egrets are a part of the heron family. They itched, stretched, and ate fish as they waded in the water along Highway 49.
They have tremendous balance as they stand on a single skinny leg.
Egrets have elegance,
and comical agility,
which is also shared by another member of the family, the Great Blue Heron. These family members like to scratch because they have unique modified feathers on their chests that continually grow and fray. These feathers disintegrate into a fine, white powder. Herons comb this powder down with their middle toes. The powder helps to remove fish slime and other residue.
It helps keep their plumage looking fabulous.
I have never seen a Sandhill Crane sitting down. Usually, they like to stroll through the marsh or nearby fields. Perhaps, he just had to sit down and enjoy the entertainment.
Sandhill Cranes exemplify grace and beauty while preening beside the auto tour at the Horicon Marsh. Ornithologists predicted their extinction in the early 1900s due to wetland drainage and unlimited hunting, according to Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America by John Eastman. They were classified as threatened until 1973.
Thankfully, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibited hunting Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds which helped to save them from extinction. Currently, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan lists them as a Species of Low Concern.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain (for Canada), the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and Japan, and the U.S. and Russia. The Treaty gives the Secretary of the Interior and individual states the authority to protect migratory birds, including their nests and eggs. Violations result in misdemeanor charges and fines up to $15,000. Selling migratory birds, in violation of this law, constitutes a felony. A treaty with Russia protects ecosystems against pollution and other environmental degradations that affect migratory birds.
The Spotted Sandpiper is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. Its numbers have declined, but not to the extent of the Sandhill Crane. Loss of wetland habitat and the effects of herbicides and pesticides affect their ability to raise their young. The Horicon Marsh is a welcomed haven for them. The male takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the chicks.
This view reveals more of his spots.
Speaking of spots, can you spot the Black-crowned Night-Heron?
Tightly grasping a willow branch, he was tossed to and fro in the wind. I was surprised he held on for so long as he whipped forward and back.
Black-crowned Night-Herons must enjoy sultry evenings at the Horicon Marsh. I saw three in a row perched, strolling, or standing.
The Black Saddlebags Skimmer was drawn to this particular dead stalk. There were many to choose from, but this was his favorite, for some unknown reason. His name comes from the coloring of his wings that resembles saddlebags. His body is black. Even though dragonflies have six legs, like other insects, they cannot walk. They are predators of mosquitos. This is a species we definitely want to protect!
The Horicon Marsh has been aptly recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.
“Though the walk into the lake may be familiar,
It is never the same.”
Norbert Blei, a Door County author, penned this line in his book, Meditations on a Small Lake. He could have been writing about the Horicon Marsh. The clouds have changed from patterned puffs to watercolor wisps as autumn is fading into winter. The auto tour and other areas are closed unless we are wearing blaze orange due to deer hunting season.
Green-winged Teal rest before heading further south. Some will spend their winter in the Caribbean, which sounds like a great idea.
This female Ruddy Duck was either camera shy or very hungry. She frequently dove beneath the surface of the water. It was a challenge to find her when she resurfaced. Ruddy Ducks tend to migrate east or west to the coasts.
Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes found tasty treats in fields where farmers recently harvested their corn. Juvenile Sandhill Cranes lack the red patch on their head. They have small brown patches on their sides. Iron stained feathers are only present on the adults.
It was a peaceful evening and I would have stayed out longer but it was getting too dark to shoot (with my camera). There is comfort in the familiarity and excitement in seeing nature change.
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.
When I wrote my post about Sandhill Cranes on June 5, 2016, I thought the content was fascinating but the delivery lacked pizzazz. So I asked my brother, who is in the military, if he had some suggestions for making my writing more engaging. This is his version below.
While on my regular reconnaissance of the Marsh, I was shocked to see a formation of Sandhill Cranes conducting maneuvers with their chick. This small squad was patrolling through low vegetation in a farmer’s field on Highway Z as I drove my vehicle from a trip to the Marsh. The adults were probing the soil with their beaks and sharing seeds and insects with their eager chick. The chick actually walked underneath its parent to be as close as possible for its dinner rations.
What is wrong with this picture? Adult Sandhill Cranes have gray feathers. In the area surrounding the Horicon Marsh there is a lot of iron in the soil. When a crane brings its beak out of iron-rich soil and preens its feathers, it leaves a rusty residue on its feathers making them appear brown, which creates first-class camouflage helping the cranes to blend into the terrain.
In addition, Sandhill Cranes have a unique rolling call that can travel for miles and allows them to communicate with other squads. Their trachea, or windpipe, is an amazing 27 inches long! It takes a convoluted journey through the front of the chest on its way to the lungs. Part of this area of the chest is not solid bone but 2 frail plates. Our trachea, on the other hand, is a short 4 inches long. It starts at the top of our neck (below the larynx or voice box) and makes a straight shot to our lungs (the bronchi). If you would like to read more about this fascinating subject, check out the article “The Convolution of the Trachea in the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes” by Thomas S. Roberts written in 1880!
I snapped a few pictures of the cranes and continued my reconnaissance on Dike Road. A Killdeer moved a few yards from where it had been resting when it heard the crunch of the gravel under my car tires. I suspect she was sitting on a nest. I will come back soon to continue my surveillance and get a closer look.
I got a closer look of the Killdeer today and she is faithfully tending her nest. If you would like to read more of my brother’s captivating prose, you can check out his website at traughberdesign.com.
Sandhill Cranes with their chick were strolling through low vegetation in a farmer’s field on Highway Z as I drove home from a trip to the Marsh. The adults were probing the soil with their beaks and sharing seeds and insects with their eager chick. The chick actually walked underneath its parent to be as close as possible for dinner.
What is wrong with this picture? Adult Sandhill Cranes have gray feathers. In the area surrounding the Horicon Marsh there is a lot of iron in the soil. When a crane brings its beak out of iron-rich soil and preens its feathers, it leaves a rusty residue on its feathers making them appear brown.
Sandhill Cranes have a unique rolling call that can travel for miles. Their trachea, or windpipe, is an amazing 27 inches long! It takes a convoluted journey through the front of the chest on its way to the lungs. Part of this area of the chest is not solid bone but 2 frail plates. Our trachea, on the other hand, is a short 4 inches long. It starts at the top of our neck (below the larynx or voice box) and makes a straight shot to our lungs (the bronchi). If you would like to read more about this fascinating subject, check out the article “The Convolution of the Trachea in the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes” by Thomas S. Roberts written in 1880!
I snapped a few pictures of the cranes and continued on to Dike Road. A Killdeer moved a few yards from where it had been resting when it heard the crunch of the gravel under my car tires. I suspect she was sitting on a nest. I will come back soon to look closer.
 Thomas S. Roberts, “The Convolution of the Trachea in the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes,” The American Naturalist 14 (February 1880): 108-114, Published by The University of Chicago Press for the American Society of Naturalists, accessed September 2, 2016, www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2449174.pdf.