Forster’s Terns perch on last year’s cattails along Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. English botanist Thomas Nuttall named this tern after Johann Reinhold Forster, a naturalist who accompanied the English explorer Captain Cook on his epic second voyage (1772-75), according to Birds of North America: Eastern Region. If you could have a bird named after you, what species would you choose? Share your choice in the comments section.
A pair of Blue-winged Teal swim in the water along the auto tour. They are usually skittish and fly away quickly when approached, but this pair was content to swim and eat while being photographed.
The female Blue-winged Teal looks similar to most other female dabbling ducks, but she is distinguished by a patch of blue on the upper wing coverts.
Schools of fish swim with their backs out of the water and their dorsal fins exposed. It may be related to shallow water in that area or it may be related to water temperature. Fish may swim near the surface in spring due to cooler temperatures. In summer, they may swim deeper where it’s cooler.
The Double-crested Cormorant swims with its body submerged and its bill in the air. It has beautiful blue eyes.
The yellow eye of the Northern Shoveler contrasts with its metallic greenish to purplish head feathers. Flocks of Shovelers continue to swim along Highway 49.
This female Red-winged Blackbird looks nothing like its mate. They like to nest among the cattails from March to June.
What type of gull do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments area.
Bird activity is picking up at the Horicon Marsh and many species are nesting. Be careful driving on Highway 49. You may need to wait for goslings crossing the road.
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.
Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon. Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.
The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.
When they spotted a delicious morsel, they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.
This gull snaps up a frog from the water.
The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.
The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.
Herring Gulls chip away at the icy surface of the Horicon Marsh to find frozen fish underneath. It is not a good idea to flaunt your fish filet.
This juvenile Herring Gull aggressively responds to a gull that got too close to its fishing hole.
The birds battle for open fishing holes. If a gull gets a large piece of fish, the rest of the flock gather around to try and steal some for themselves.
After chaotic flapping of wings and loud squawking, a victor eats the spoil.
Meanwhile, the Canada Geese were honking, hissing, and sticking out their tongues in their own displays of aggression.
They flare their wings and run offenders off of their turf, a muskrat house, in this case.
In contrast to the aggressive displays of the gulls and geese, the pretty House Sparrow is content to flit and perch in shrubs along the Marsh.
According to the American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America: Eastern Region, House Sparrows are a member of the Eurasian family called weaver-finches. The House Sparrow was first introduced in Brooklyn, New York in 1850 and is now one of North American’s most common birds.
The American Goldfinch perches peacefully with the House Sparrows.
Bird activity is increasing at the Horicon Marsh as we head into spring!
A small flock of American Goldfinches flitted among the shrubs this morning at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center. The nonbreeding plumage of the male is striking and a glimpse of its showy plumage to come this spring. American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait until June when they can pluck the fluffy seeds of wild thistles to line their nests.
Canada Geese were flying and honking overhead. The Marsh is still covered in ice, but these are signs that spring is just around the corner.
This Rough-legged Hawk perches high in a dead tree along Highway 49 to survey the Horicon Marsh. Dark patches on the undersides of the wings were noticeable in flight. The tail feathers are white at the base and dark at the ends. These field marks, along with legs feathered to the toes, help to identify this hawk. Rough-legged Hawks nest in the arctic and visit the Marsh during the winter. Another sign of impending winter is the layer of ice on the Marsh. Three days ago, I drove on Highway 49 as I headed to Tom Dooley Orchards to buy some delicious apple squares from their bakery. There were hundreds of geese, swans, and ducks swimming in the water along Highway 49. Today, the geese are walking on the ice.
The auto tour off of Highway 49 will be closed to vehicles November 18-26 for gun deer season. Wear blaze orange if you plan to hike. Tom Dooley Orchards will be closed for the season on November 24th. You may want to stock your freezer with apple squares to tide yourself over until next season.
The patch of yellow at the base of the bill is a helpful field mark to identity the Tundra Swan. Tundra Swans nest in the arctic and stop at the Horicon Marsh during migration. They are North America’s most numerous swan species. Trumpeter Swans, on the other hand, nest at the Horicon Marsh during the summer. They lack the yellow patch at the base of the bill.
The slope of the head helps to distinguish the Canvasback from the commonly found Redhead. Male Canvasbacks have red eyes and black beaks. Male Redheads have a rounded head, yellow eyes, and a gray beak with a black tip. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The species name of the Canvasback, Aythya valisineria, comes from Vallisneria americana, or wild celery, whose winter buds and rhizomes are its preferred food during the nonbreeding period.”
The Green-winged Teal is not likely to be confused with another species of duck. They are one of the tiniest ducks. The striking green and chestnut color on the head and neck of the male sets it apart. They are typically found at the Horicon Marsh during the summer and during migration.
There were Hooded Mergansers, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, and a host of other waterfowl swimming in the water along Highway 49 today. It is a great time to visit the Horicon Marsh and see the variety of species migrating.
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
Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes stand in the Horicon Marsh oblivious to the rain. The Trumpeter Swans enjoy the view to the west while the Sandhill Cranes enjoy the view to the east along Highway 49.
This Northern Pintail dabbles in the water for aquatic insects. Northern Pintail populations declined throughout most of their range at a rate of 2.6% per year between 1966 and 2012, resulting in a cumulative decline of 72%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline by the 2014 State of the Birds Report. Thirty-three birds common in the U.S. are listed. These birds have lost more than half of their global population over the last four decades. Many of the birds on the list nest at the Horicon Marsh. Thankfully, there is a Comprehensive Conservation Plan at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and wildlife and land management plans at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.
The Great Egret slowly swayed his neck back and forth as if remembering a song and having to move to the rhythm. He was surveying the wildflower area for prey. He needs to work on his moves since he was unsuccessful in retrieving a tasty morsel for dinner.
He soon moved on. He had plenty of room to roam since it was a quiet evening for birds at the Horicon Marsh.