Posts in Category: Plants

Snow or Slush

Cattails at the Horicon Marsh

“Winter is the king of showmen

Turning tree stumps into snow men

And houses into birthday cakes

And spreading sugar over lakes

Smooth and clean and frosty white

The world looks good enough to bite

That’s the season to be young

Catching snowflakes on your tongue

Snow is snowy when it’s snowing

I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going”

–from Winter Morning Poem

By Ogden Nash

The Horicon Marsh should be entering into the slushy stage in the coming week as temperatures head toward 50 degrees.  Today, the marsh remains frozen and quiet.  It is a peaceful place to come for a drive or a hike.  The solitude of winter contrasts with the abundant and busy wildlife in the spring.  The Horicon Marsh is a pleasant and satisfying place to visit in any season.

Seeing Red

Red Twig Dogwood at the Horicon Marsh

Red Twig Dogwood

Swaths of Red Twig Dogwood brighten an otherwise brown winter landscape along Dike Road.  The gravel part of the road that crosses the Horicon Marsh is not yet open for us to drive through.

Red Twig Dogwood

We can look forward to clusters of white flowers on the Dogwood in late spring.

The Moon at the Horicon Marsh

Have you heard of the rule of f/11 when shooting the moon?  I have heard that a good starting point is to use ISO 100, an f/11 aperture, and a shutter speed of 1/200 when taking pictures of the moon. Tweak from there.  The above shot was taken at ISO 100, f/6.3, and a shutter speed of 1/1000.  It was taken at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I was happy with the detail in this photo, since most of my shots of the moon are featureless white blobs.  If you have tips for shooting the moon, please let us know in the comments area.

Red-tailed Hawk at the Horicon Marsh

Red-tailed Hawk

This Red-tailed Hawk was keeping watch high in a tree along Highway Z.  We had sunshine today at the Horicon Marsh after a number of gray days in a row.  Whether sunny, gray, or we’re seeing red, it is always a great day to visit the Horicon Marsh.

A Variety of Finds

Hanging Woven Nest at the Horicon Marsh

Hanging 20-30 feet above the ground and suspended on a couple of twigs is an intricately woven home to a family of unknown birds.  “Without support from below, both attachment and construction rely on elaborate binding, weaving, and knotting to create a secure nest.  This produces some of the most extraordinary constructions in the natural world.”  Intricate knots and stitches weave together grass material to form the nest.  A typical nest might contain 10,000 stitches!  Hanging at the edge of a branch protects the nest from predators.[1]

Wild Cucumber at the Horicon Marsh

Wild cucumber vines dotted the edges of the auto tour.  Wild cucumber is a member of the gourd family.

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

The Northern Shoveler held its large beak at the surface of the water as it swam.  Dabbling ducks have little comb-like projections inside their beak that filter out small food items in the water.  These projections are the densest in the Northern Shoveler so it can strain out smaller invertebrates.[2]  Dabblers feed at the surface and may stick their head in the water.  Divers go deeper with their whole body going under the water.

Dabblers at the Horicon Marsh

I sat in my car on the side of the road on the auto tour and the only sound was of the satisfied smacking of lips, or beaks, in this case.

Domestic Mallard at the Horicon Marsh

What was the dark, unusual duck swimming with the rest of the Mallards?  I pored over my field guides when I returned home.  Is it a rare find that flew in from an exotic location?  Finally, in The Sibley Guide to Birds, there is a reference to domestic Mallards.  The drawing looks exactly like this one except for the beak color.  Sibley says, “The common domestic forms [of Mallards] are found on farm ponds and in city parks.  Interbreeding produces a bewildering variety of plumages and sizes; some bear little resemblance to the parent species.”[3]

Gadwall at the Horicon Marsh

This Gadwall was swimming with a friend in the water along the auto tour.

Female American Wigeon

This female American Wigeon was swimming nearby.

Immature Male Red-winged Blackbird at the Horicon Marsh

Once again I had to do some research to find out the identity of this beautiful bird.  It wasn’t easy to find in my field guides.

Immature Male Red-winged Blackbird at the Horicon Marsh

This view from the back reveals the stunning markings.

Immature Male Red-winged Blackbird

This is a solid clue as to his identity.  I think he wanted me to know he is an immature male Red-winged Blackbird.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

A multitude of Sandhill Cranes come in for a landing in the water at the Horicon Marsh along Highway 49.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

They join the other Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese that are already resting there.  It was another fun day at the Horicon Marsh!


[1]Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture:  How Birds Design, Engineer and Build (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2011), 94.

[2] Chris G. Earley, Waterfowl of Eastern North America (Buffalo:  Firefly Books, 2005), 50.

[3] David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds (New York:  Chanticleer Press, 2000), 89.

Shades of Autumn

Sumac at the Horicon Marsh

It is a calm, gray, fall day, perfect for a drive on the auto tour.  Sumac is turning red, orange, and yellow.

Sumac at the Horicon Marsh

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 with Cygnets at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans and their growing cygnets enjoy a leisurely swim.

Trumpeter Swans at the Horicon Marsh

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.

Cattails at the Horicon Marsh

The prolific cattails are going to seed.  Cattails are actually an herb.  Each spike can contain 220,000 seeds!

Milkweed at the Horicon Marsh

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 at the Horicon Marsh

Canada Geese take a break before migrating south.

Great Blue Heron at the Horicon Marsh

This Great Blue Heron stands in the water near the road.

Red-tailed Hawk at the Horicon Marsh

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.

Does it Fit the Bill?

Spotted Touch-me-not at the Horicon Marsh

Spotted Touch-me-not

The Spotted Touch-me-not, or Jewelweed, is blooming in scattered patches along the auto tour off of Highway 49.  It develops fruit that is a swollen capsule.  If you touch it when it is ripe, the capsule may explode, projecting its seeds.  Thus, touch it not.  The sap of the stem and leaves soothes itchy rashes like poison ivy.  It also has fungicidal properties and has been used to treat athlete’s foot.

Woodland Sunflowers at the Horicon Marsh

Woodland Sunflowers

Woodland Sunflowers thrive in the dappled sunlight beneath the Birch trees on a corner of the auto tour.

Eastern Phoebe at the Horicon Marsh

Eastern Phoebe

This little Eastern Phoebe was perched at eye level at the edge of the main parking lot for the auto tour.  In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silver thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.[1]  The dark bill distinguishes the Eastern Phoebe from the Eastern Wood-pewee which has a lighter colored lower bill.  The Wood-pewee also has distinct wing bars.  A similar bird is the Willow Flycatcher which also has a pale lower beak, wing bars, and a narrow white eye ring.

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swan

The Trumpeter Swan is our largest native waterfowl.  The males are North America’s heaviest flying bird.  Their black bill has a red line on the lower bill.  The eye is not distinct from the bill.  Tundra Swans may have a yellow area in front of the eye (the lore) and the eye is distinct from the bill.

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Mad Trumpeter Swan

This bill may also be used to let you know you should move out of its way.

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

Female Northern Shoveler

The large, heavy bill of the Northern Shoveler is a distinguishing feature of this bird.  If you invert it, it could be used as a small spatula or shovel.

A bird’s bill is a helpful clue to its identity.  Does its description in your field guide fit the bill?



Beauty and Depth

American Goldfinch at the Horicon Marsh

American Goldfinch

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.

American Goldfinch at the Horicon Marsh

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.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch
1/50, f6.3, ISO 400, 600 mm

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.