I might have missed this Snowy Owl if it wasn’t for the two cars parked on the shoulder of Highway 49 directly across from it. Snowy Owls like to perch low to the ground and this one looked like he was posing for a picture in a brochure touting the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.
Snowy Owls weigh 4-5 pounds, which makes them the largest owl, by weight, in North America. They spend their summers north of the Arctic Circle. The extensive barring on this one is typical of an immature female.
Unfortunately, I only had my 17-70 mm lens with me. It was only 12 degrees outside so I brought limited equipment with me today. I didn’t want more equipment than necessary to be subject to condensation when I brought it back inside. Note to self: A good photographer is always prepared for a photo shoot. If I had my telephoto lens with me, I could have gotten an amazing shot. I wonder how many times photographers say, “If only…”
The Horicon Marsh has an interesting history. The text on the Historical Marker says, “Horicon Marsh, an area of 31,653 acres, was scoured out by the Wisconsin glacier at least 10,000 years ago. Gradually the upper Rock River made deposits which slowed its current and spread its waters over the marshland. The Marsh became a haunt of the earliest Indians whose mounds remain. To promote lumbering, transportation, and agriculture white pioneers built a dam in 1846. Horicon Lake, covering 51 square miles, became famous for hunting and fishing. The dam was removed in 1869, restoring the Marsh, which was subjected to various development schemes that changed its character. Climaxing a twenty year struggle by conservationists, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge was established July 16, 1941. The State controls the south 10,857 acres; the Federal government, the north 20,796. A wide range of wild fowl, many varieties of small birds, and numerous fur-bearing animals constitute the population of Horicon Marsh.”
I look forward to going out again to look for the Snowy Owl. This time I will be sure to bring my telephoto lens.
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.