A trio of nonbreeding male Wood Ducks floats in the Horicon Marsh on a 70 degree calm Friday evening. Wood Ducks nest from April to August. Drakes begin molting their colorful breeding plumage in July, but retain their white throat, colorful bill, and distinctive red eye.
Molting birds are flightless for 3-4 weeks. Handsome new breeding plumage will develop later this summer.
The striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebe practices diving amid short marsh reeds. Pied-billed Grebes nest from April until October and may have two broods.
The adult Pied-billed Grebe stays within a few yards of its young and still has its breeding plumage. The male and female look alike. They can dive up to 20 feet and stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.
Mallards have a long nesting season from February to September. They typically have one brood. The ducklings are following their mother’s example, skimming the surface of the water for insects and vegetation.
A muskrat has been busy walking through the mud that is present along Highway 49 since the water level has been lowered. Dragging his tail creates the line between the tracks.
“The return of the birds is a record of daily increasing pleasure, but it is only a quickening and a promise until the glad day in May when we go to the meadows and find that the Bobolinks have come. Then the cup of summer gladness seems full.” –Florence A. Merriam, American ornithologist and nature writer
“The meadow is all bespattered with melody. The Bobolink touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling strings.” –Henry David Thoreau
Merriam and Thoreau write poetic descriptions of the unique and complex Bobolink song. Personally, I think the Bobolink’s song is reminiscent of the voice of R2-D2 in the original Star Wars movie of 1977. You can listen to multiple recordings of this melodious bird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site and see if the songs bring out the poet in you.
Bobolinks are not only melodious, but they are also impressive migrants. They travel about 12,500 miles to and from Argentina every year. Throughout their lifetime, they may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth. Bobolinks are the only North American bird with a white back and black underparts.
The muskrat is not melodious and does not travel the distance that the Bobolink travels. However, muskrats are significant rodents inhabiting the Horicon Marsh. You may think “significant rodent” is an oxymoron, but muskrats keep areas of the marsh open for aquatic birds. They eat cattails and other aquatic vegetation. This one had created a small channel through the vegetation to a muddy bank where he dove underwater to enter his burrow.
The male Gadwall reveals handsome coloring as he preens, while his mate enjoys a bath.
She dries off by rapidly flapping her wings as she rises out of the water.
A melodious traveler, a significant rodent, and the flapping of wings made it another memorable day at the Horicon Marsh.
“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.