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.
Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes stand in the Horicon Marsh oblivious to the rain. The Trumpeter Swans enjoy the view to the west while the Sandhill Cranes enjoy the view to the east along Highway 49.
This Northern Pintail dabbles in the water for aquatic insects. Northern Pintail populations declined throughout most of their range at a rate of 2.6% per year between 1966 and 2012, resulting in a cumulative decline of 72%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline by the 2014 State of the Birds Report. Thirty-three birds common in the U.S. are listed. These birds have lost more than half of their global population over the last four decades. Many of the birds on the list nest at the Horicon Marsh. Thankfully, there is a Comprehensive Conservation Plan at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and wildlife and land management plans at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.
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.