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.
“I hide myself in the quiet white of winter and
nestle in her comforting folds of cold oblivion.”
Red twig dogwood branches contrast with shades of tan, walnut, and gray in the winter wetland vegetation. The absolute silence is welcoming and comforting. Winter hiking has its own unique pleasure.
Wildlife leave evidence of their activity in the slushy snow. It was quiet on the trail, except for a few birds flitting away, as I walked by a feeder near the building. The absence of snakes makes winter hiking especially appealing.
The Horicon Marsh has alluring beauty in every season. Solitude and stillness captivate in winter.
A cedar little library has been installed near the entrance of the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center off of Highway 28.
It is stocked with a variety of field guides to birds, mammals, wildflowers, trees, and insects so you can identify the wonders of nature that you find on your visit to the Horicon Marsh. Books are available to be used while you visit the Center and area trails. Return them to the library before leaving for the next visitor to use. The staff at the Center plan to add more children’s books from their Story at the Marsh series.
The library was crafted by Jerome T. Traughber, in memory of his father, Jerome R. Traughber. Jerry T. upgraded the original plans and added mortise and tenon joints. He also added rustic hardware to complete the custom design.
You can read more about his design process at traughberdesign.com.
Two benches were also added at the Education and Visitor Center in memory of Jerome R. through the generosity of many family members and friends. Their kindness and thoughtfulness in attending the funeral and visitation and through sending cards was greatly appreciated by the family of Jerome R.
Jerome R. taught science classes at Van Brunt Elementary School for 34 years. He developed the conservation site near Horicon High School. The site included trails through woodland and wetland areas for students to study nature and the environment. He was a Friend of the Horicon Marsh for a number of years. He loved teaching science and he loved being in nature.
The family thanks the staff at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center for installing the library and benches. Thank you to Liz Herzmann, Wildlife Conservation Educator – Wildlife Management, for her help and suggestions in coordinating the memorial. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the memorial for Jerry R. He would be pleased that visitors to the Marsh can enjoy educational books during their stay and rest a while on a bench overlooking an area he loved.
This female Belted Kingfisher was loudly and incessantly chattering behind the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitors Center. She has an extra chestnut band that the male Belted Kingfisher does not have. It is one of the few bird species in North America in which the female is more colorful than the male. She is a beautiful blend of slate gray, copper, and chestnut brown. Belted Kingfishers nest by burrowing three to six feet into a bank and making a dome shaped chamber at the end.
This colorful Dickcissel was flitting among the shrubs by the Education and Visitors Center. This grassland finch will likely soon migrate to Venezuela, the most common spot you might find them in the winter.
Cooler nights and morning dew showcase the intricate work of spiders. It is amazing to see hundreds of webs glistening across a meadow.
A Ring-billed Gull enjoys the calm, sunny morning near the auto tour off of Highway 49.
Gulls need to stretch in the morning, just like humans.
The exquisite coloring on the Cedar Waxwing is striking with red tipped wings and yellow tipped tail feathers. Waxy red secretions highlight the wing tips.
This little frog was content to sit under the boardwalk at the Education and Visitors Center. The boardwalk provides easy hiking into the marsh with several benches to sit and enjoy the wildlife.
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 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.
This group of caterpillars found the Milkweeds planted near the Education and Visitors Center on Highway 28 at the Horicon Marsh.
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.
A sea of white, yellow, and purple wildflowers grows next to the Education and Visitors Center. These prairie plants attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
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.
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.
He had company. Two more Kingbirds were assertively making sure they got his attention.
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.
I entered the auto tour and a chipmunk scurried out of his grassy hole to investigate.
He munched on a seed while watching the cars go by. Check out those fingernails!
Eclipse Male Wood Ducks are seen in late summer after the breeding season. They retain their bright red eye and red bill.
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 find something interesting below the Duckweed on the water’s surface.
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.
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.
Thanks to the avid birder who pointed out this nesting pair of Great Horned Owls in a woods along the Bachhuber Loop at the Education and Visitor Center at the Horicon Marsh. The female is resting in the nest while the male is out getting food. She blends in beautifully with the pile of leaves that makes up her nest. From a distance, I didn’t see her.
The distinctive tufts or “horns” are not used for hearing. Their sensitive hearing is, in part, due to facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to their ears. It is possible that the tufts help to camouflage the owl by breaking up its shape and helping it to blend in with its perch. Others believe the tufts help with behavior signaling and species recognition. Owls also have interesting eyes that do not move in their sockets. They can turn their heads 180 degrees to see in all directions. Today, they just looked straight at me. We can look forward to seeing one to four fluffy owlets peeking their heads over the side of the nest soon.
Early blooming Crocuses signal the arrival of spring at the Horicon Marsh! The blossoms close at night or on cloudy days, like today.
Saffron, which is used to color and flavor food, is made from the dried stigmas of Crocus sativus. About 7,000 flowers are needed to produce 3 ounces of saffron, making it one of the most costly spices by weight.
The quintessential bird of spring is the American Robin. The male has a darker head than the female. He has a brick-red breast. American Robins can have three broods in one year. They typically eat earthworms early in the day and fruit later in the day. If they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they may become intoxicated. Thankfully, I can’t say I’ve seen that!
The head of the female American Robin blends in with the lighter gray back feathers. Her breast is orange with a bit of white. I talked to someone recently who lives in the city and he had no idea what a robin looks like. I was shocked. We are so blessed to have the Horicon Marsh with its plentiful birds and wildlife.
Ring-necked Ducks swim in the water near the auto tour. The auto tour, off of Highway 49, is still closed to vehicles. I passed another photographer as I was walking along the road. She said, “I love this place.” I do, too.
The photographer recognized the melodious whistle of the Meadowlark. He fans his tail as he sings. Eastern Meadowlarks can sing several variations of their song.
The Red-winged Blackbird fanned his wing showing his colors as he sang.
Pied-billed Grebes always look happy. They can trap water in their feathers, giving them great control over their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay just at or below the surface, exposing as much or as little of the body as they wish. They dive submerging their entire body to hide or to eat. He was spotted swimming alongside of Highway 49.
After checking out the auto tour, I headed to the Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28. This was a popular hang out for Killdeer today. This one found a bit of stick in the parking lot, which he ate. I’m guessing it didn’t digest too well.
Someone got their feathers ruffled.
Perhaps, it was because three can be a crowd.
This Milkweed was behind the building. I liked the texture.
I also liked the texture and color of the fence post the Song Sparrow used as his podium for singing. Often, Mondays are not our favorite day of the week. But if we get to spend it at the Horicon Marsh, it may be the best day of the week!
“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, clearing the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”
Canada geese are returning to the Horicon Marsh in droves. They are one of the first species of birds to migrate here in the spring and start nesting. Hopefully, our unseasonably mild 50 degree temperatures and the arrival of the Canada geese is signaling an early spring.
Notice that the goose on the right has a band on its leg. It may have been in the southern United States or northern Mexico for the winter. Canada geese mate for life, but the one on the left may have other ideas.
Many people strolled the trails at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center this evening. We were treated to a stunning sunset and the welcome sound of honking from the Canada Geese.
“Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug out in Muskrat Land”
Do you remember these lyrics to a popular song? Can you name the song, the artist(s) who made it famous, and the year it was popular? If so, let us know your answers in the comments section.
Muskrats Suzie and Sam don’t have time to do the jitterbug at the Horicon Marsh. They have been building their houses for the winter. How many do you see in the photo?
The song lyrics go on to say that muskrats nibble on bacon and chew on cheese. Actually, muskrats love to eat cattails. They use cattails, along with mud, to build their houses, called “push-ups.” They probably got this name because it takes so much exercise to build the dome. I’m just kidding. There is an underwater entrance and they keep dry in the chamber above the water. Canada Geese and Mallards may nest on top.
If the songwriter had visited the Horicon Marsh first, before writing the tune, we would be singing a totally different song.
The American Goldfinch is a beautiful finch with a pretty song. It is so well liked that it is the state bird in three states. Can you name them?
It is a gorgeous evening at the Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28. A cheery field of yellow coneflowers is in full bloom next to the parking area. Goldfinches are flitting about. They are more interested in the Bull Thistles along the edge of the field than they are in the coneflowers. The thistle’s bright pink flowers are a wonderful contrast to the sunny yellow field behind them. American Goldfinches are vegetarians. They love the seeds of the Bull Thistle. Downy white fibers are being flung everywhere as they hungrily eat the seeds while perched on the flower heads.
I heard one singing outside my bedroom window recently. I wondered what bird had such a lovely song. A Goldfinch was perched on a tree branch several feet from my window. I could not resist taking a photo but I had to shoot through the window screen. I stood several feet away from the screen and the bird was several feet behind the screen. I chose the widest aperture I could with the lens I was using. (f 6.3 at 600 mm) By choosing a wide aperture with a shallow depth of field, I was able to get the bird in focus and the screen went out of focus, essentially disappearing. This technique would not have worked if the bird was right next to the screen.
Whether they are out in the wild, or out in the yard, American Goldfinches are a delight. Are you still wondering about the three states? They are Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.