This fluffy adult Killdeer keeps watch on the rocks along the edge of the Horicon Marsh. Two juvenile Killdeer are nearby. You can see one hiding in the rocks behind the adult.
This juvenile Killdeer has not developed the red eye ring yet. The double dark neck bands are becoming visible.
These little black fluff balls with red beaks and crowns are Common Moorhen Chicks. Their parent stays nearby and occasionally holds up a wad of marsh vegetation for the chicks to munch on.
It also uses marsh vegetation to build a platform for its nest.
Sandhill cranes tilt their heads back and call in between feeding. This was the only pair in the area.
The Great Egret prefers to quietly stroll in the shallow water.
This juvenile Tree Swallow prefers to perch higher. He hasn’t developed the bluish green upperparts and he has a partial breast band.
Perching even higher is this juvenile Peregrine Falcon. Peregrine Falcons may reach speeds of up to 200 mph when swooping or diving for prey according to Chris Earley in Hawks and Owls of Eastern North America.
Whether swimming, perching, or strolling, the diversity of birds at the Horicon Marsh is amazing!
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.
I’m not sure what this bird posture means. He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.” He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”
He may just be stressed because he is molting. He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.
Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory. They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory. This may be the most abundant bird in North America.
The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. He has his nonbreeding plumage. He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.
Itchy birds are the norm this evening at the Horicon Marsh. The heron family entertained with its avian antics. Great Egrets are a part of the heron family. They itched, stretched, and ate fish as they waded in the water along Highway 49.
They have tremendous balance as they stand on a single skinny leg.
Egrets have elegance,
and comical agility,
which is also shared by another member of the family, the Great Blue Heron. These family members like to scratch because they have unique modified feathers on their chests that continually grow and fray. These feathers disintegrate into a fine, white powder. Herons comb this powder down with their middle toes. The powder helps to remove fish slime and other residue.
It helps keep their plumage looking fabulous.
I have never seen a Sandhill Crane sitting down. Usually, they like to stroll through the marsh or nearby fields. Perhaps, he just had to sit down and enjoy the entertainment.
A large flock of American White Pelicans swim and scoop up fish for breakfast at the Horicon Marsh on this warm Monday morning. Grayish coloring on the head and neck is typical in the postbreeding adult.
A nonverbal bird social dynamic was evident. Two Great Egrets stood and watched as the flock of pelicans moved en masse toward them. In the avian game of chicken, the egrets decided to take off. When the game was played between the pelicans and a Great Blue Heron, the heron stood his ground. The pelicans swam within several feet of him and the entire flock made a 180 degree turn.
Pelicans soared overhead in a coordinated aerial display. Their wingspans can stretch over 9 and a half feet.
In contrast to the social pelicans, this petite female Hooded Merganser floated alone. She only weighs about a pound. Her nest would be in a tree cavity or nesting box. Hooded Mergansers are usually done nesting in June. The Hooded Merganser is the only Merganser restricted to North America.
The Merganser didn’t have any little ones nearby, but the Black-necked Stilts are still raising their broods. This juvenile had white-edged feathers in a scalloped pattern. He enjoyed wading along the auto tour.
His parent kept a watchful eye while he enjoyed his outing with his sibling.
You never know what you will see on an outing at the Horicon Marsh. If you have a Monday off, this is a relaxing place to spend it.
It is amazing to me that this papery swirl of a home is made from wood pulp and hornet spit. How do hornets incorporate the leaves into it? How many trips does it take to go from a tree to get a bit of wood, chew it while mixing it with saliva, and fly back to transform it into a nest? I don’t know the answers to these questions but it is a work of art to be admired from afar.
I worked entirely in manual mode with my camera today. I purposely sought out white birds in the sun in hopes of conquering the overexposure problem. I set the ISO at 200. All of the shots I am sharing today are taken at 600 mm. I set the aperture at various openings. Shutter speed was adjusted until the arrow on the exposure level scale in the viewfinder was at zero. After taking a shot, I pressed the “info” button on the back of the camera and looked at the histogram. I tried to keep the color that was farthest to the right on the graph just to the left of the right margin of the histogram. I adjusted the shutter speed as needed to achieve this. I was much happier with the results of the shots of white birds that I took today compared to shots taken previously. There is more light and shadow and more detail is preserved in the feathers.
Tweaking needed to be done depending on how much of the white bird filled the frame and whether there were dark birds nearby. As long as the photo data stayed just to the left of the right margin (for JPEG), detail was preserved and I could adjust shadows in Photoshop Elements during post processing. If data climbed up the right margin of the histogram, detail was lost. It could not be recovered in post processing. I’m guessing the swans were loosening aquatic plants and the ducks were benefiting from the swan’s efforts.
Manual mode isn’t quite so intimidating now. I’m excited to continue to play with and to learn how to improve my exposures even more.
This ruggedly handsome Great Egret is adorned with his white breeding plumes cascading over his tail. The plumes are present only in spring and early summer. Both male and female egrets have them. Once valued for use on hats, egrets were almost hunted to extinction. Great Egrets are aptly named since they are the largest egret.
It was a highlight to see this beautiful bird roosting in a tree today, but, as you can see, I blew the highlights. Some of the white feathers are overexposed. Once that happens, there is no getting the detail back in post processing. What can I do to improve this photo? Here are 6 strategies to deal with overexposure on white birds.
I am excited to try these strategies and stop overexposing the abundant white feathered birds at the Horicon Marsh. I will let you know how the strategies work in a future post.
If you would like to read an excellent article about the manual exposure mode written by John and Barbara Gerlach you can find it here. You might also like their book Digital Wildlife Photography. Their chapter on exposure strategies will give you more details and examples.
What strategies do you use to keep from overexposing your shots? Join the discussion in the comments section.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 200.
The constant peeping drew my attention. These Pied-billed Grebe chicks seemed always hungry and never satisfied. They never left Mom Grebe’s side. Where she swam, they swam.
She looks like she’s smiling, but after a while, their incessant cheeps drove her to the breaking point. She dove underwater and resurfaced in an undisclosed location. I couldn’t find her and neither could her chicks. The dazed chicks became silent and drifted in bewilderment.
I moved on and drove further down Highway 49.
How fortuitous that these two egrets crossed paths! The larger one is a Great Egret. His legs are black. His bill is yellow. The Snowy Egret is, obviously, smaller. He has black legs with yellow feet and a dark bill. There is a reddish orange area in front of the eye which is typical during breeding. There are a number of egrets on the south side of Highway 49 today. I might not have noticed the Snowy Egret in the mix if he hadn’t posed next to a Great Egret.
 Donald and Lillian Stokes, Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1996), 35.