Horicon Marsh Bird Festival
The 25th annual Horicon Marsh Bird Festival is happening now! The Horicon Marsh Bird Club has a schedule of the events, which include hiking, biking, and paddling on the Marsh. The Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center, Marsh Haven Nature Center, and The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters all have great viewing areas for birding. Don’t miss out on this year’s festival which runs through May 8.
Native Plants at the Horicon Marsh
The Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) is a unique and beautiful native plant that grows in moist meadows, prairies, and open woods. Native plants occur naturally in an area without human introduction. I purchased my plant at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Wildflowers for Wildlife event. Native plants are an excellent choice for gardens around the Horicon Marsh because they attract bees, birds, and wildlife. They require less maintenance. You can find native plants for your area using the handy native plant finder at the National Wildlife Federation website.
Bees extract the pollen from the narrow tube by shaking their bodies against the tube to shake the pollen out. Shooting stars are also called Roosterheads and Prairie Pointers. They thrive in part shade, grow up to 18 inches tall, and bloom from May to June. They are a member of the Primrose family and can also be found with white flowers.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has compiled a list of nurseries that carry native plants for Wisconsin and adjacent states.
A Morning for Shorebirds
Shorebirds probed for insects in muddy areas left by receding water at the Horicon Marsh. The Dunlin is easy to identify during breeding season by the large black patch on its belly. Flocks of Dunlins spread across the Marsh on the north side of Highway 49.
The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world. Small shorebirds are known as “peeps,” which gives new meaning to the sugary, marshmallow candy with the same name. The Least Sandpiper can be distinguished from the Semipalmated Sandpiper, which has dark legs, and the Pectoral Sandpiper, which has a heavily streaked breast and orange coloring at the base of the bill.
The Semipalmated Plover is the most common Plover seen during migration. This Plover looks similar to a Killdeer, but the Plover has a single black neck band. The Killdeer has two black neck bands. Semipalmated means the toes are webbed for only part of their length.
This Barn Swallow is masquerading as a shorebird by probing in the mud for food. Barn Swallows typically snatch insects from the air during flight. This Swallow was successful choosing an atypical menu.
Whooping Crane at the Horicon Marsh
It is exciting to see a Whooping Crane at the Horicon Marsh. There are only 101 Whooping Cranes that follow the Eastern Migratory Route through Wisconsin and only 849 Whooping Cranes in the world, according to the International Crane Foundation. In the 1940s there were only 21 birds. Unique reintroduction methods have built up the crane population to its current number. Ultralight aircraft with crane-costumed pilots fly along the migration route to teach cranes bred in captivity their migration path. Currently, captive bred crane chicks are introduced to Whooping Cranes in the wild in the hopes that the adults will adopt the chick and teach it the migration route.
Whooping Cranes are the tallest bird in North America. It is one of only two cranes found in North America. Sandhill Cranes occasionally travel with Whooping Cranes. Notice the band on the leg of the bird shown above. Careful monitoring has helped to save this federally endangered bird from extinction.
A Horicon Marsh Haiku
Frosty door and brow
Fifty-five below wind chill
Still I love the Marsh
A foot of blowing and drifting snow enveloped the Horicon Marsh yesterday. Temperatures are dropping to historic lows. The expected wind chill tomorrow is fifty-five degrees below zero. Wildlife is hibernating at the Horicon Marsh. It is a good opportunity for us to hibernate, too. Heat up your favorite hot winter beverage, wrap up with a blanket, and take the opportunity to check out a field guide. Spring will be even sweeter after enduring the bitter cold.
Swimming, Perching, or Strolling at the Horicon Marsh
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!
Nesting Season at the Horicon Marsh
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.
The Barn Swallow chicks have grown a lot in just one week. Last week, they were lying on the edge of the nest and only perked up when a parent brought dinner. This week, they are alert and perching on the edge of the nest. They are starting to get their chestnut neck bands. Shortly, they will fledge. It’s a delight to watch their progress. The parents are becoming more aggressive in their flybys, keeping predators from their nest.
Barn Swallow Chicks
These hungry Barn Swallow chicks are protected from wind and rain nestled in an awning above a door. The chicks lie in a pile with their beaks open. When an adult flies in with a juicy insect, the chicks perk up and start cheeping, as if to say, “Pick me!” Barn Swallows nest between May and September and have 4-6 chicks in their brood. A deep chestnut color on the throat, a reddish orange belly, and a forked tail set this swallow apart from others.
This photo was taken through a glass door to keep from disturbing the nest. When shooting through glass, use a shallow depth of field. Your subject will be clear and the glass will not be as evident. It works best if the subject is not too close to the glass. This was shot at f4, 1/200 sec, 400 ISO with a 135 mm lens.
The chicks are growing quickly. They are expected to be in the nest for only 15-27 days!
Breakfast with the Birds at the Horicon Marsh
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.