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.
There were at least six Trumpeter Swan pairs preening, eating, and swimming in the water along Highway 49 this morning.
This family looks like an a cappella quartet singing a harmonious morning melody. The parents are actually warning another pair of swans nearby. They straighten their necks and give a short, honking call, making it clear the other pair is getting too close.
An American Coot is unimpressed by the majestic display of fluttering wings. A Trumpeter Swan’s wingspan can be over six feet.
Though they are North America’s heaviest flying bird, they have amazing agility in their necks and wings. We are fortunate to have a growing population of Trumpeter Swans at the Horicon Marsh
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” –John Muir, naturalist and author
Little white fluff balls of cuteness bring cheer to the soul. Trumpeter Swans lead their cygnets in a swim on a warm Sunday afternoon.
No one was concerned about the hovering Black Tern. Thankfully, cygnets are not a part of his diet.
A female Redhead and her chicks raced through the water in a close-knit pack. It is amazing how fast their tiny webbed feet can paddle. The mother’s gray bill with black tip helped to identify them.
Speaking of feet, notice how this Cormorant grips the post with his entire webbed feet. He also has brilliant blue eyes. If you are looking for the beauty of nature, you will find it at the Horicon Marsh.
“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.”
Henry David Thoreau
I suppose it seems odd to be thankful for a marsh. The birds of the Horicon Marsh have been a source of joy,
There are moments when I have said, “Awwwww,”
out loud to myself when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera and was treated to incredible facets of nature. The Marsh has been a refuge where I have relaxed, discovered, and explored.
I am thankful for you, my readers. You both know who you are. I appreciate your encouragement and support.
This blog is a fun, creative outlet where I have the opportunity to share the wonder of nature at the Horicon Marsh. I have much for which to be thankful.
Note: The date of the post is usually the date the photos were taken. I think it is important to know when you might see certain things at the Marsh. Today’s photos are some of my favorites taken over the past couple of years on excursions to the Marsh.
I have seen the Trumpeter Swans swimming, but I haven’t seen them on their nest. They have gotten so big not all of them fit in the nest at the same time even though their nest is quite impressive in size. How many do you see?
Now how many do you see? One of the parents headed out onto the water first.
The cygnets followed. Apparently, one of the cygnets wanted some alone time. He was taking a nap on the water near the nest.
There were quite a number of people who stopped on the north side of Highway 49 to watch the show with me. There truly were seven swans a-swimming. The songwriter for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” must have known that Trumpeter Swans typically have 4-6 cygnets. Here there are two adults and five cygnets.
The scientific name for the Trumpeter Swan is Cygnus buccinator. Cygnus is the Latin word for swan. A cygnet is a little swan. Buccinator is a muscle in our cheek. We use it to play the trumpet.
Even swan siblings like to play in the water.
The cygnet’s bills are gradually turning black and their feathers are turning white. I haven’t seen them fly yet. Trumpeter Swans are North America’s heaviest flying birds. Males can weigh over 30 pounds.
The lighting changed and a cloud drifted in front of the sun. The rippling water turned gray.
The light changed again as the sun dipped lower in the sky and cast a golden glow in the evening. Trumpeter Swans were once endangered with fewer than one hundred known to be living. Their numbers have rebounded and we are blessed to be able to see them at the Horicon Marsh.
I took this photo on Highway Z on my drive to the Horicon Marsh. Autumn is so beautiful in Wisconsin.
The Trumpeter Swans are growing and continuing to enjoy swimming in an area near the auto tour.
Some of the trees are at their peak and putting on a spectacular show.
This Green-winged Teal looks a bit rough due to molting. The Green-winged Teal is the smallest dabbling duck in North America.
They also enjoy Ballet.
This is the pretty female Green-winged Teal.
I love the interaction between the Green-winged Teal and the Canada Goose.
I believe these are Adult nonbreeding Dowitchers. The tiger striping on their tales is an identifying feature. It is amazing that standing on one foot is restful!
This female Northern Pintail enjoys chatting and swimming.
Swimming only briefly, the Lesser Yellowlegs took off shortly after I arrived.
Autumn is a great time to view birds that are migrating through the Horicon Marsh. What do you think this one is?
Here is another view. I would love to hear what you think in the comments section.
Comment: Jerry asked a great question in the comments area. What is a dabbling duck? Dabblers feed on the surface of the water by opening their beaks to filter out tiny organisms. They may also tip up, leaving their legs and tails in the air. They don’t like to submerge their whole body. These include Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans, and Wood Ducks. Divers, on the other hand, dive underwater to feed. These include Pied-billed Grebes and Ruddy Ducks.
It is a calm, gray, fall day, perfect for a drive on the auto tour. Sumac is turning red, orange, and yellow.
The velvety, reddish brown fruit is rich in Vitamin A. Apparently, birds aren’t all that excited about eating it, but they will resort to it if other food is scarce.
Trumpeter Swans and their growing cygnets enjoy a leisurely swim.
A little boy was walking with his mother along the road as I was standing taking pictures. He exclaimed, “Mom, she is taking pictures of that white bird!” He was so excited and so was I.
The prolific cattails are going to seed. Cattails are actually an herb. Each spike can contain 220,000 seeds!
Milkweed is also an herb. The plant contains cardiac glycosides, similar to Foxglove, that are used to treat some heart diseases. These glycosides are absorbed by Monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweed is the only thing the larvae eat. The glycosides make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other predators.
Canada Geese take a break before migrating south.
This Great Blue Heron stands in the water near the road.
I love the coloring of the Red-tailed hawk. His eyes looks so dark and almost hollow. Red-tailed Hawks have keen vision. They can see their prey, like a mouse, a mile away.
Some of the information today was found in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region.
It is amazing to me that this papery swirl of a home is made from wood pulp and hornet spit. How do hornets incorporate the leaves into it? How many trips does it take to go from a tree to get a bit of wood, chew it while mixing it with saliva, and fly back to transform it into a nest? I don’t know the answers to these questions but it is a work of art to be admired from afar.
I worked entirely in manual mode with my camera today. I purposely sought out white birds in the sun in hopes of conquering the overexposure problem. I set the ISO at 200. All of the shots I am sharing today are taken at 600 mm. I set the aperture at various openings. Shutter speed was adjusted until the arrow on the exposure level scale in the viewfinder was at zero. After taking a shot, I pressed the “info” button on the back of the camera and looked at the histogram. I tried to keep the color that was farthest to the right on the graph just to the left of the right margin of the histogram. I adjusted the shutter speed as needed to achieve this. I was much happier with the results of the shots of white birds that I took today compared to shots taken previously. There is more light and shadow and more detail is preserved in the feathers.
Tweaking needed to be done depending on how much of the white bird filled the frame and whether there were dark birds nearby. As long as the photo data stayed just to the left of the right margin (for JPEG), detail was preserved and I could adjust shadows in Photoshop Elements during post processing. If data climbed up the right margin of the histogram, detail was lost. It could not be recovered in post processing. I’m guessing the swans were loosening aquatic plants and the ducks were benefiting from the swan’s efforts.
Manual mode isn’t quite so intimidating now. I’m excited to continue to play with and to learn how to improve my exposures even more.
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?
I was treated to a variety of artistic treasures at the Horicon Marsh today. This Common Gallinule looks like his beak has been carved from exotic wood and a Master Painter added white brush strokes of paint as a final touch to this masterpiece.
Feathers of the Tree Swallow look metallic in the sunlight. His black eye patch adds a touch of mystery.
The American Coot chicks are growing up! I think they look most beautiful at this stage in their development.
When this Trumpeter Swan walked through the water, the ducks scooted off, reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea.
I wonder if swans get sore necks?
Jewel toned feathers add to this female Wood Duck’s beauty.