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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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, 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.
This Forster’s Tern expected to be waited on for dinner. She stayed perched on the post and made no attempt to dive for fish. Forster’s Terns look similar to Common Terns. Forster’s Terns have longer tail feathers than wing feathers. They have a large orange bill with a black tip, light gray feathers on their back, and white underparts. Common terns have shorter tail feathers than wing feathers, gray bodies that blend in with their gray backs, and reddish orange bills with black tips.
Instead of working for her dinner, she started calling. She quickly became more insistent, much like chicks do when they are begging for food.
Her valiant knight in shining feathers flew in with the gift of a fish.
This courtship feeding often occurs after the pair bond has formed. In terns, either sex may feed the other, but it is usually triggered by the female, according to the book Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide by Audubon.
She gratefully accepts the fish and swallows it whole. The ritual was repeated until her appetite was satisfied. It was a successful dinner date that strengthened their bond.
Another bird having dinner on the south side of Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh was the American Bittern. His color pattern, especially the streaks on his neck, are effective camouflage. He stood very still, stretched his neck upward, and looked up to blend in with the vertical reeds.
He stretched his neck horizontally when he was getting ready to eat.
It only took a split second to pluck an unsuspecting fish from the water. He tossed it with his bill a couple of times before swallowing it whole.
The Double-crested Cormorant dives underwater until he is totally submerged. He also likes to eat fish. He can hold his breath for more than a minute. His blue eyes are stunning and unexpected.
This muddy duck is also a diver, which is no surprise by looking at him.
Here he is all cleaned up. His real name is Ruddy Duck. He dives for aquatic plants, insects, and crustaceans. It was a treat to watch the birds eating at the Horicon Marsh buffet.
It’s nesting season at the Horicon Marsh! This American Robin wants to make as few trips as possible to build her nest. She will make an average of 180 trips per day for 2-6 days. Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build by Peter Goodfellow is a helpful reference book about different types of bird nests, if you would like to learn more about the fascinating art and science of nest building.
The reconstructed boardwalk on the Egret Trail, on the auto tour off of Highway 49, is showing signs of progress. It is scheduled to open on July 1, 2017. The auto tour is now open to vehicles. There was a parade of us driving through and enjoying the warm weather today. A fellow birding enthusiast said there were several types of warblers in the woods near the parking area by the Egret Trail.
A painted turtle enjoys the sunshine. I like the symmetry of the branch and its reflection.
Numerous pairs of Black-necked Stilts waded in the water along the auto tour and in the water along Highway 49. They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird. Do you know what bird leads the list? Tell us what you think in the comments area.
This Black-necked Stilt was as excited as I was to be out on the auto tour again.
Rain and freezing rain are pummeling the Horicon Marsh. My driveway needs a zamboni. Since I can’t get outside, I’m working on my New Year’s goal to watch the “Fundamentals of Photography” DVD series from The Great Courses. Joel Sartore, a National Geographic Fellow, teaches the course. In his lecture on shutter speeds he says, “The faster your subject is moving and the closer it is to your camera, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze the action.” A good rule of thumb is to “match shutter speed to lens length.” For instance, if I am using a 50 mm lens, I should use a 1/50 second shutter speed. If I am using a 300 mm lens, I should use a 1/300 second shutter speed. Some photographers suggest doubling that. John and Barbara Gerlach, in their book Digital Wildlife Photography, say that if I want to stop the action of a bird in flight, I should use at least 1/1000 second. If I am using a tripod or I purposely want to blur motion for an artistic effect, then I can go with lower shutter speeds.
I routinely used my 300 mm lens for photography on the Marsh and it takes excellent pictures. I had the exciting opportunity, along with several other photographers, to witness the hatching of 4 Black-necked Stilt chicks. When I got home and looked at the photos, the chicks were grainy fluff balls lacking detail. One of the photographers alerted me to a sale on the Sigma 150 mm – 600 mm contemporary lens at www.bhphotovideo.com. It was a deal I couldn’t pass up. It is wonderful to photograph wildlife and birds that are farther out on the marsh, but I am still frustrated with a lack of sharpness in the images. Now I know a possible reason. I need to make sure my shutter speed is 1/1000 or 1/1200 to stop the action of a bird when using this longer lens.
Another strategy for increasing sharpness in my photos, is to change the sharpness setting in the menu of the camera. Yes, I actually read my camera manual (well, some of it) and found this helpful nugget of information. In the Canon menu, choose Picture Style. There are 6 styles to choose from, depending on whether you are doing portraits, landscapes, or you like to do more post processing on your computer. I chose Standard which results in vivid, sharp images. Within the Standard picture style, there is a submenu that allows me to choose the level of sharpness, among other things. Here is the interesting thing: The default setting was 3 out of 7, with 7 being the sharpest. Why? I don’t know. But I increased the sharpness level to 7. I guess it pays to actually read the camera manual now and then. Nikon users may have different menu options. Pentax did not have this option in the menu.
I’m excited to get back out on the Marsh and try these 2 strategies to improve the sharpness of my images. Next time I want to capture an amazing photo of those cute little Stilt chicks.
By the way, those of you who live in warmer climates and don’t watch ice hockey, may not know that a zamboni is a machine that cleans and makes the surface of an ice rink smoother.
 John and Barbara Gerlach, Digital Nature Photography (Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2013), 51.
“One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.” –Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read my blog and for your support this past year.
The quote above has proven true for me. I have had a passion for photography and nature since I was a little girl. The interest has continued throughout my life in greater and lesser degrees. In 2016 I took the plunge and started this blog which has given me a wonderful outlet to pursue my passion. It has been a fun thing to do with my brother who started his blog at the same time.
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” –Colin Powell
Pursuing my passion of nature photography has been fun work. New Year’s Day is a good time to think about specific goals, the “hard work,” I want to accomplish in the coming year. There are three things that have helped me to consider how to pursue my passion.
Professional photographer Troy Freund critiqued the above photo a few years ago after the Edgar G. Mueller Photography Contest. He said, “You were intentional.” That comment has stayed with me. I want to pursue photography with intention. Everything in my photos should be there for a reason. Every element in the photo should contribute to its overall success. I can use negative space to communicate as effectively as a photo filled with things in nature. I plan to improve my photography and writing skills by taking a class or two. These intentional goals will hopefully improve the quality of the blog.
“In previous ages the word ‘art’ was used to cover all forms of human skill. The Greeks believed that these skills were given by the gods to man for the purpose of improving the condition of life. In a real sense, photography has fulfilled the Greek ideal of art; it should not only improve the photographer, but also improve the world.” –David Hurn, photographer
Troy recommended the book On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay. Jay interviews photographer David Hurn who made the above statement. I started this blog to improve my writing and photography skills and to have a place to share those things with others. I also wanted to add value to others by promoting the Horicon Marsh and sharing my experience of nature with those who may not be able to visit in person. The blog is a place to educate people who are interested in learning along with me about photography and nature. Readers can learn from my successes and mistakes.
Art should also improve the photographer. A person’s passion, whether it’s photography, wood working, painting, or something else, should also improve the person doing it. Photography has helped me to be a more observant person. Photographing nature has given me a deeper appreciation for the variety and beauty of nature and the Artist who created it. God reveals He has a sense of humor when I see birds with unusual color patterns and observe their sometimes comical behavior.
Mulling over how to be intentional in the practice of our passion, considering how our passion can add value to other’s lives, and realizing our passion also improves ourselves in the process, can result in exceptional and fulfilling art.
“Though the walk into the lake may be familiar,
It is never the same.”
Norbert Blei, a Door County author, penned this line in his book, Meditations on a Small Lake. He could have been writing about the Horicon Marsh. The clouds have changed from patterned puffs to watercolor wisps as autumn is fading into winter. The auto tour and other areas are closed unless we are wearing blaze orange due to deer hunting season.
Green-winged Teal rest before heading further south. Some will spend their winter in the Caribbean, which sounds like a great idea.
This female Ruddy Duck was either camera shy or very hungry. She frequently dove beneath the surface of the water. It was a challenge to find her when she resurfaced. Ruddy Ducks tend to migrate east or west to the coasts.
Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes found tasty treats in fields where farmers recently harvested their corn. Juvenile Sandhill Cranes lack the red patch on their head. They have small brown patches on their sides. Iron stained feathers are only present on the adults.
It was a peaceful evening and I would have stayed out longer but it was getting too dark to shoot (with my camera). There is comfort in the familiarity and excitement in seeing nature change.
Mallards are one of the most common and familiar ducks on the Horicon Marsh. It is so ordinary to see them that it is easy not to give them a passing glance. This wasn’t always the case. Between 1914 and 1930 the Marsh was drained and used for agriculture. Ducks were rare and so were Canada Geese. Legend has it that a “Duck Liberation Day” was held in 1935 after a dam was built in Horicon and the Marsh was flooded again. Help was sought to release as many domestic ducks as possible at the Horicon Marsh, in the hope that their release would encourage wild ducks to migrate here. There were 1,180 ducks banded on Duck Day. The ducks were released as the high school band played and school children cheered. Duck Liberation Day was a success. Almost all domestic ducks come from the Mallard species. We now have at least 25 species of ducks on the Marsh. The next time you see an ordinary Mallard, let it remind you that it is part of the history of an extraordinary place, the Horicon Marsh.
If you would like to read more about this fascinating history, information from today’s post was taken from Wild Goose Marsh: Horicon Stopover by Robert E. Gard with photography by Edgar G. Mueller.
Thanks to Lawrence Colby for featuring the above photo of the Horicon Marsh on his website colbyaviationthrillers.com. You will find the photo in his blog post today titled “World, Meet Captain Ford Stevens.” Colby’s exciting first book The DevilDragon Pilot will be released at amazon.com on December 10. If you are looking for a page turner, this is the book for you. The photo was taken on Palmatory Street in Horicon.
Today is also the birthday of the Best Brother in the Whole World. We took the class Creating WordPress Websites together. You can read about woodworking projects you can do yourself and inspirational thoughts about entrepreneurship on his blog at traughberdesign.com.
It is a calm, gray, fall day, perfect for a drive on the auto tour. Sumac is turning red, orange, and yellow.
The velvety, reddish brown fruit is rich in Vitamin A. Apparently, birds aren’t all that excited about eating it, but they will resort to it if other food is scarce.
Trumpeter Swans and their growing cygnets enjoy a leisurely swim.
A little boy was walking with his mother along the road as I was standing taking pictures. He exclaimed, “Mom, she is taking pictures of that white bird!” He was so excited and so was I.
The prolific cattails are going to seed. Cattails are actually an herb. Each spike can contain 220,000 seeds!
Milkweed is also an herb. The plant contains cardiac glycosides, similar to Foxglove, that are used to treat some heart diseases. These glycosides are absorbed by Monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweed is the only thing the larvae eat. The glycosides make the larvae and adult butterflies toxic to birds and other predators.
Canada Geese take a break before migrating south.
This Great Blue Heron stands in the water near the road.
I love the coloring of the Red-tailed hawk. His eyes looks so dark and almost hollow. Red-tailed Hawks have keen vision. They can see their prey, like a mouse, a mile away.
Some of the information today was found in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region.