A trio of nonbreeding male Wood Ducks floats in the Horicon Marsh on a 70 degree calm Friday evening. Wood Ducks nest from April to August. Drakes begin molting their colorful breeding plumage in July, but retain their white throat, colorful bill, and distinctive red eye.
Molting birds are flightless for 3-4 weeks. Handsome new breeding plumage will develop later this summer.
The striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebe practices diving amid short marsh reeds. Pied-billed Grebes nest from April until October and may have two broods.
The adult Pied-billed Grebe stays within a few yards of its young and still has its breeding plumage. The male and female look alike. They can dive up to 20 feet and stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.
Mallards have a long nesting season from February to September. They typically have one brood. The ducklings are following their mother’s example, skimming the surface of the water for insects and vegetation.
A muskrat has been busy walking through the mud that is present along Highway 49 since the water level has been lowered. Dragging his tail creates the line between the tracks.
You would think this colorful, tiger-striped caterpillar would turn into a beautiful Monarch butterfly, since it is eating Milkweed leaves, wouldn’t you? This is a Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar or Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar. He eats Milkweed just like a Monarch caterpillar eats. This eye catching caterpillar turns into a drab beige Tiger Moth or Tussock Moth.
Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillars hang out in groups of up to 50 caterpillars. They have quite an appetite and can decimate a Milkweed plant leaving only bare stems.
This group of caterpillars found the Milkweeds planted near the Education and Visitors Center on Highway 28 at the Horicon Marsh.
Drifts of Dense Blazing Star Liatris beautifully complement Queen Anne’s Lace near the entrance of the Education and Visitor’s Center. Queen Anne’s Lace is a distant relative of the garden carrot. The first-year taproot can be cooked and eaten.
A sea of white, yellow, and purple wildflowers grows next to the Education and Visitors Center. These prairie plants attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
Bright yellow Prairie Coneflowers cheer the hearts of hikers along the Bachhuber Trail. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers, if the center of the coneflower is bruised, it smells like anise.
After a refreshing visit at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, I drove north to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Both areas form the Horicon Marsh. The Eastern Kingbird perched in a tree along Highway 49.
He had company. Two more Kingbirds were assertively making sure they got his attention.
I thought they were being aggressive and defending their territory, but they were begging for a tasty grasshopper treat. Kingbirds feed their young for up to seven weeks.
I entered the auto tour and a chipmunk scurried out of his grassy hole to investigate.
He munched on a seed while watching the cars go by. Check out those fingernails!
Eclipse Male Wood Ducks are seen in late summer after the breeding season. They retain their bright red eye and red bill.
Female Wood Ducks have a large white eye patch and a gray bill. There are a lot of Wood Ducks along the auto tour and Highway 49 lately.
Juvenile Gallinules find something interesting below the Duckweed on the water’s surface.
Do you find brown ducks hard to identify? I find them difficult. I think this is a Mottled Duck. A Black Duck has darker plumage that is not so well outlined as this pair. A female Mallard has a dark area on the bill. An eclipse Mallard has white on the tail. A female Gadwall has a more slender bill. What do you think? Please join the discussion in the comment section.
I finished the evening at Palmatory Street watching the sunset until the mosquitos chased me away. There are so many diverse things to see at the Horicon Marsh.
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.
The male Wood Duck is one of the easiest ducks to identify. His spectacular plumage gives his identity away. Thoreau saw one swimming in a river and said, “What an ornament to a river to see that glowing gem floating in contact with its waters! As if the hummingbird should recline its ruby throat and its breast upon the water. Like dipping a glowing coal in water! It so affected me. . . . That duck was all jewels combined, showing different lusters as it turned on the unrippled element in various lights, now brilliant glossy green, now dusky violet, now a rich bronze, now the reflections that sleep in the ruby’s grain.” (The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, Volume 8) What happened to this one?
This is an eclipse male. He has begun to molt since it is after the breeding season. He still has his bright red eye and bright bill with a dark tip. He is unable to fly until he molts again and has a return of his handsome breeding plumage.
This painted turtle is greeting our next bird.
Check out those claws!
This bird took me a while to identify. She has a long, slender bill that is dark above and yellow below. She has a black and white striped patch of feathers and a white belly. The part that threw me is that she has a chestnut brown head but not much of a crest.
This is a female Hooded Merganser. A fascinating fact is that “Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles.”
These gems were spotted along the auto tour off of Highway 49. Whether adorned with brilliant color, or having a more subtle beauty, the Horicon Marsh is filled with avian masterpieces.
Male Wood Ducks look “as if constructed in an artist’s studio,” said James Granlund, teacher and ornithologist from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
It is one of the most colorful, intricately patterned ducks in the world.
Which of the following are true concerning Wood Ducks? Choose all that apply.
a) It has toenails.
b) It can run up to 7 miles per hour.
c) It has the largest eyes of any waterfowl.
d) They turn their heads while flying.
If you think “all of the above” is the answer, you are right. Who knew? Naturalist and wildlife biologist John Eastman did. He describes Wood Ducks in his book Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America. Wood Ducks have toenails that allow them to grip tree branches so they can perch in trees. They run faster than any other duck. Their large eyes help them to see better in low light. Not many birds turn their heads while flying, but Wood Ducks do turn their heads. Wood Ducks are not just a work of art on the outside. Their unique qualities reflect how they are amazingly crafted throughout.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 39.