Monthly Archives: August 2017

Field Guides to Birds

Several trips through the Horicon Marsh in the past week revealed the Trumpeter Swan cygnets are growing in elegance with gray feathers accented with pink bills.  Petite Pied-billed Grebe chicks lazily float in the water along the auto tour. A Ring-billed Gull plays with a fish before downing it in one gulp.  All the photos turned out meh. So, I thought we would chat about field guides to birds.

Field Guides for Birds

Field Guides for Bird Identification

Let’s take an inside look at seven commonly used guides.  Over 200,000 Canada Geese migrate through the Horicon Marsh each year.  What information does each guide provide about this ubiquitous marsh bird?

American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America: Eastern Region

American Museum of Natural History
Birds of North America: Eastern Region

The American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America:  Eastern Region includes over 450 photos of birds perched, standing, or swimming.  Photos of variations between juveniles and adults and between male and female adults, are included where differences occur.  A seasonal map clues us in on whether we can expect to see this bird at the Marsh.  The bottom of the page has space to write in the date and place of sightings.  A feature I especially like about this guide is the similar species section.  Photos of other birds that may be easily confused with a Canada Goose, like the Greater White-Fronted Goose or the Cackling Goose are shown with differences in field marks highlighted.  Nesting, feeding, bird length, and weight contribute to the usefulness of this guide.  I use this guide often.

Sibley Birds East

Sibley Birds East

Sibley Birds East is David Allen Sibley’s field guide to birds. This guide includes drawings and brief notations about field marks.  Drawings of variants and a map are included.  Written information is brief.

Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Donald and Lillian Stokes include a number of photos for each species with variations noted.  The text is primarily information on field marks and includes subspecies and hybrids.  They also include a map.

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America

Peterson Field Guide to Birds
of Eastern and Central North America

Roger Tory Peterson includes a few basic paintings of each bird.  Several species are on each page.  The text includes information about similar species and habitat.  A map of occurrence is included.  Larger maps and a life list checklist are provided in the back of the book.

Waterfowl of Eastern North America

Waterfowl of Eastern North America

In Chris G. Earley’s Waterfowl of Eastern North America, each bird gets a generous two page spread.  There are several photos of each bird in its natural environment with information about adults, eclipse males, and juveniles.  A pithy quote adds to the enjoyment in reading this guide.  “‘What man so busy that he will not pause and look upward at the serried ranks of our grandest wildfowl…a harbinger of spring or a foreboding of winter.  Certainly the Canada goose commands respect.’ This was written by Arthur Cleveland Bend in 1925.”  Similar species are listed. Nature notes from Earley provide interesting facts you won’t find in other guides.  For instance, “Canada Geese once showed the widest range of size and shape differences of any bird species in the world.”  The back of the book has comparison pages grouping similar birds on a single page for quick reference. Earley has other guides including Sparrows and Finches, Warblers, and Hawks and Owls available at Firefly Books.

Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide

Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide

Stan Tekiela’s handy little field guide is packed with information in a small volume.  There are several photos of each of the 111 common Wisconsin species in the book.  Species are grouped according to their most prominent color.  He lists information about nesting, eggs, incubation time, fledging, migration, and food.  In a “Stan’s Notes” section we learn about the bird’s behavior and conservation.  “Eliminated from the state in the 1900s.  Reintroduced in federal refuges in the 1930s and to local and state lands in the 1960-70s.” An essential fact is, “will hiss as if to display displeasure.”  If you have moved too close to a Canada goose when its goslings are nearby, you will have experienced its “displeasure.”  The compact size of this guide makes it easy to carry with you.  Other guides by Stan Tekiela include Trees of Wisconsin and Wildflowers of Wisconsin.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The National Audubon Society guide has one photo of each bird and includes 508 species.  An icon along the side of the page displays bird shapes and colors to aid in identification.  Written information is separate from the photos which makes it more cumbersome to use.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Text includes descriptions of the bird, its voice, habitat, nesting, and range.  Helpful notes at the end elaborate on bird behavior.  “When people speak of ‘wild geese,’ it is generally this familiar species they have in mind.  Their V-shaped migrating flocks are a common sight in spring and fall.”

The Sibley Guide to Birds and Sibley Birds East

The Sibley Guide to Birds
and Sibley Birds East

You might be wondering what is the difference between the Sibley field guide and the larger Sibley Guide to Birds?

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, contains some of the same drawings as Sibley Birds East.  There are additional drawings of subspecies with brief notes on field marks.  Maps for the subspecies are included.  I use The Sibley Guide to Birds when I am having difficulty identifying a bird and I want to compare a photo I’ve taken with illustrations in this guide.

You will find some of these guides in the gift shops at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center located on Highway Z or the Education and Visitors Center for the State Wildlife Area located on Highway 28.  Do you have a favorite field guide to birds?  Share your insights in the comments section.



Macro Photography and Playing with Light


35 mm macro lens, ISO 200, 13 seconds at f18

I couldn’t resist taking macro shots of a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers my best friend gave me to cheer me. The sunflowers were spectacular!  I used a small aperture to increase depth of field.  I turned off the lights around the flowers. When the overhead light was on, the petals were overexposed and there were shadows in the center of the flower. I used a small flashlight to light the flower for this image.

Mini Maglite

Mini Maglite

The camera was on a tripod and set on the self-timer mode. During the 13 second exposure, I waved the light from the flashlight all over the flower.  The flower remained dark for the rest of the 13 seconds. I experimented with the amount of time the flashlight was lighting the flower until I got an image I was satisfied with.  This resulted in more even lighting in the final image.  It was so simple and fun!  You might enjoy trying this on a rainy day.

Lichen at the Horicon Marsh


My mood for macro continued and I discovered this lichen on a wood fence on Palmatory Street in Horicon.  Lichen is fungus plus algae or cyanobacteria.  Fungi cannot make their own food.  They need one of the other two substances.  Soil fertility is improved when fungus joins with cyanobacteria.  Lichen can colonize on almost any undisturbed surface.  I love the texture of the wood with the leafy lichen.  It grows less than 1 millimeter per year.  This lichen has been growing a very long time.

Lichen at the Horicon Marsh

I think the gray green color would be an excellent interior paint color.  I suppose “Lichen Gray” would probably not be a big seller.

Chicory at the Horicon Marsh


The subtle bluish-purple petals of Chicory delight the eye. If you can identify the insect, please let us know in the comments section.  I looked at hundreds of photos of bees and wasps and didn’t see an exact match. Chicory, intermingled with Queen Anne’s Lace, edging back roads is one of many reasons I am grateful to live in Wisconsin.

Bird Body Language

Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret

I’m not sure what this bird posture means.  He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.”  He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”

Great Egret Preening at the Horicon Marsh

Great Egret Preening

He may just be stressed because he is molting.  He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.

Red-winged Blackbird at the Horcion Marsh

Red-winged Blackbird on Common Mullein

Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory.  They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory.  This may be the most abundant bird in North America.

Mallard at the Horicon Marsh

Male Mallard with Summer Plumage

The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.  He has his nonbreeding plumage.  He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.

The Elusive Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail at the Horicon Marsh

Virginia Rail

I was excited to see a Virginia Rail on the south side of Highway 49.  I had never seen one before.  Apparently, this is not unusual.  Ornithologist S. Dillon Ripley, a rail expert, said, “They are perhaps the most elusive birds on the continent.”  They are also difficult to photograph as they dart over and around marsh vegetation without stopping.

Virginia Rail Chick at the Horicon Marsh

Virginia Rail Chick

The chicks are even more evasive as they stay hidden in the cattails.  Check out their long toes!  Their toes help them to get over and around marsh vegetation.  They can also swim under water using their wings to propel themselves.

Monarch Butterfly on Joe-Pye Weed at the Horicon Marsh

Monarch Butterfly on Joe-Pye Weed

The Monarch butterfly doesn’t need long toes, but he does need his proboscis.  You can see it here bent at a 90 degree angle so he can sip nectar from Joe-Pye Weed.  The proboscis starts out as two strands that fuse together.  It also contains muscles and a nerve.  It is an amazingly intricate structure in a fine strand.  The Horicon Marsh has so many fascinating things to see!

Diverse Beauty at the Horicon Marsh

Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillar

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 Caterpillar at the Horicon Marsh

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.

Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar at the Horicon Marsh

This group of caterpillars found the Milkweeds planted near the Education and Visitors Center on Highway 28 at the Horicon Marsh.

Dense Blazing Star Liatris with Queen Anne's Lace at the Horicon Marsh

Dense Blazing Star Liatris with Queen Anne’s Lace

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.

Prairie Plants at the Education and Visitors Center

Prairie Plants at the Education and Visitors Center

A sea of white, yellow, and purple wildflowers grows next to the Education and Visitors Center.  These prairie plants attract bees, butterflies, and birds.

Prairie Coneflower at the Horicon Marsh

Prairie Coneflower

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.

Eastern Kingbird at the Horicon Marsh

Eastern Kingbird

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.

Eastern Kingbirds at the Horicon Marsh

Eastern Kingbirds

He had company.  Two more Kingbirds were assertively making sure they got his attention.

Eastern Kingbirds at the Horicon Marsh

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.

Chipmunk at the Horicon Marsh


I entered the auto tour and a chipmunk scurried out of his grassy hole to investigate.

Chipmunk at the Horicon Marsh

He munched on a seed while watching the cars go by.  Check out those fingernails!

Eclipse Male Wood Duck

Eclipse Male Wood Duck

Eclipse Male Wood Ducks are seen in late summer after the breeding season.  They retain their bright red eye and red bill.

Female Wood Duck at the Horicon Marsh

Female Wood Duck

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 at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Gallinules

Juvenile Gallinules find something interesting below the Duckweed on the water’s surface.

Mottled Ducks at the Horicon Marsh

Mottled Ducks

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.

Sunset at Palmatory Street

Sunset at Palmatory Street

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.