“The return of the birds is a record of daily increasing pleasure, but it is only a quickening and a promise until the glad day in May when we go to the meadows and find that the Bobolinks have come. Then the cup of summer gladness seems full.” –Florence A. Merriam, American ornithologist and nature writer
“The meadow is all bespattered with melody. The Bobolink touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling strings.” –Henry David Thoreau
Merriam and Thoreau write poetic descriptions of the unique and complex Bobolink song. Personally, I think the Bobolink’s song is reminiscent of the voice of R2-D2 in the original Star Wars movie of 1977. You can listen to multiple recordings of this melodious bird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site and see if the songs bring out the poet in you.
Bobolinks are not only melodious, but they are also impressive migrants. They travel about 12,500 miles to and from Argentina every year. Throughout their lifetime, they may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth. Bobolinks are the only North American bird with a white back and black underparts.
The muskrat is not melodious and does not travel the distance that the Bobolink travels. However, muskrats are significant rodents inhabiting the Horicon Marsh. You may think “significant rodent” is an oxymoron, but muskrats keep areas of the marsh open for aquatic birds. They eat cattails and other aquatic vegetation. This one had created a small channel through the vegetation to a muddy bank where he dove underwater to enter his burrow.
The male Gadwall reveals handsome coloring as he preens, while his mate enjoys a bath.
She dries off by rapidly flapping her wings as she rises out of the water.
A melodious traveler, a significant rodent, and the flapping of wings made it another memorable day at the Horicon Marsh.
I haven’t seen a lot of Gadwalls at the Horicon Marsh but “Gadwall have increased in numbers since the 1980s, partly because of conservation of wetlands and adjacent uplands in their breeding habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Their habit of nesting on islands within marshes gives them some protection from predators,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. It is the largest conservation program in the United States affecting private lands. Farmers volunteer to remove land from agricultural production and plant species that improve the environment. They receive a rental payment in exchange for taking the land out of farm use. Contracts last 10-15 years. The program has improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species. Wisconsin has five State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) projects.
Waterfowl populations were at historic lows in the 1980s. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed in 1986 by the United States and Canada. It was signed in 1994 by Mexico. The scope of the plan is international and it is implemented at the regional level. It is designed to restore and develop waterfowl habitat.
Gadwalls are one example of the success of these programs.
Common Yellowthroats are more numerous that Gadwalls, but they may be harder to spot as they flit in and out of thick shrubs. They have one of the largest breeding ranges of any North American warbler, spanning from southern Canada to Mexico. Yellowthroats thrive near freshwater marshes, like the Horicon Marsh, salt marshes, and drier upland areas. This adaptability allows them to have such a wide breeding range.
Here he is from the front.
Redheads are native only to North America. The largest nesting population east of the Mississippi River lives at the Horicon Marsh.
The goslings are growing and can be seen at multiple locations around the Marsh.
A flock of Common Grackles forages in a marshy area along the auto tour. Grackles are the number one threat to the corn crop, but today they are satisfied with insects.
This falcon was perched high in a dead tree along Highway 49. Do you think he is a juvenile Peregrine Falcon or a juvenile Prairie Falcon? Tell us what you think in the comments area.
Prairie Falcons and Peregrine Falcons are about the same size. Prairie Falcons have dark axillary feathers which can be seen in flight. When this falcon took off from his perch, he did not have dark axillary feathers. The underside of his wing had a uniform spotted and barred pattern. Both juvenile Peregrine Falcons and juvenile Prairie Falcons have vertical stripes on the front. A distinctive feature of the Peregrine Falcon is its white throat that extends to the sides of the neck. The white area is divided by a vertical black band that descends below the yellow-rimmed eye. It is more likely to see a Peregrine Falcon at the Horicon Marsh than it is to see a Prairie Falcon, according to several field guides. If you answered “juvenile Peregrine Falcon,” the evidence is in your favor.
The role of conservation, the thrill of seeing a particular species of bird, and the challenge of identifying birds, are some of the reasons we enjoy the Horicon Marsh.
Sunny Yellow Warblers flitted among the willows along the auto tour on the Horicon Marsh today. The annual bird festival is in full swing and multitudes of birders have traveled to the Marsh to enjoy the abundant spring birds. The weather is gorgeous and the plentiful sounds of cheery songbirds fill the air.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron paused among the broken reeds along Highway 49. Unlike the perky sounding songbirds, he emits a raspy squawk.
Canada Geese typically extend their neck forward and put their head down when they are aggressively encountering an enemy. Perhaps, they are giving the kids a lesson in how to protect their children some day. The goslings are taking it in with rapt attention.
This nesting box caught my attention from the road as I drove by early in the day. I came back this evening to take a closer look.
What an exciting discovery! The nesting box was probably toasty and the Eastern Screech-Owl popped her head out and napped. I imagine sitting on eggs for 30 days is a bit tiring. The male was most likely hiding in a nearby tree. He would hunt for food at night and bring it to her while she is nesting. There are likely 2-6 eggs. There is also a gray morph of this species.
I met a couple who were also checking on the owl. They came out from Madison and joined the morning birding bus tour for the bird festival. One hundred and twenty-five birds were identified this morning!
Fifteen painted turtles came out to enjoy the sunny, warm day.
Purple Martins look rather crabby, don’t you think? This fellow was perched on the martin houses on the Palmatory Street overlook. Purple Martins are the largest North American Swallow. They get all their food while flying by dining on flying insects.
These Female Purple Martins are checking up on one another. Spend a few minutes watching the birds at these houses, and it is evident they are quite social.
What a treat to see such a variety of birds at the Horicon Marsh annual bird festival!
Abundant goslings are toddling along the shoulders of the road on the Auto Tour off of Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. There are 5-6 goslings in each family of Canada Geese. They swim, eat, and rest under the watchful eyes of their parents.
One parent must have detected something threatening under the water. Typically, Canada Geese dabble by tipping their head in the water to eat vegetation. But this parent suddenly, completely submerged herself creating quite a ruckus.
The goslings huddled around the other parent for protection from the danger.
The submerged parent emerged from the water and continued to aggressively splash to make it clear to the unknown predator no one was touching her babies.
During the debriefing, junior discusses his concerns with dad.
Thankfully, the traumatic swimming lesson was over. The goslings waddled ashore and hungrily ate shoots of grass.