You can’t beat an early Saturday morning at the Horicon Marsh watching a pair of Sandhill Cranes feed their chick. The parent probes deep in the mud submerging its entire beak searching for insects. It clamps the tasty morsel in its bill, lifts it from the soil, and turns toward its chick.
The chick intently watches and when he sees the insect in his parent’s bill, he eagerly runs to his parent to be fed. The adult drops the bug into the chick’s open beak. The adult waits to be sure the hand off was successful and the chick downs his breakfast. The chick walks back and forth between his parents who readily share their prey.
The family continues meandering together along the edge of a drift of cattails. They quickly walk into the cattails to hide when they sense danger.
A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds were also feasting this morning and found their breakfast among the feathers of the Sandhill Crane. The crane allowed them to pick insects from its back. The crane didn’t let the blackbirds get near its chick.
If you are like me, and you have difficulty identifying female dabbling ducks, there is a handy comparison chart in Waterfowl of Eastern North America by Chris Earley. The female Blue-winged Teal has a gray bill, white around the eye with a dark eye line, and white at the base of the bill.
Shorebirds can also be a challenge to identify. The Spotted Sandpiper makes it easier with its distinctive spots on the breast and flanks during spring and summer breeding season.
This little sandpiper took some digging into the field guides to identify. The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world at 5-6 inches long. It has short yellow legs, an all black, slightly downturned bill, and warm chestnut shading on its back and crown. He was feeding along the shoreline of the marsh.
The striking yellow and black Goldfinch is easy to identify. Be sure to use a telephoto lens, if you are taking pictures of it on this plant. The deceivingly pretty, lacy yellow flowers of Wild Parsnip, adorn a plant that will burn a human’s skin. Brushing against the leaves, in combination with sunlight, causes redness and blisters.
Do you have a favorite field guide to birds? Let us know in the comments section. The little library located at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center is stocked with a variety of field guides available to be used while you visit the marsh.
Sandhill Cranes exemplify grace and beauty while preening beside the auto tour at the Horicon Marsh. Ornithologists predicted their extinction in the early 1900s due to wetland drainage and unlimited hunting, according to Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America by John Eastman. They were classified as threatened until 1973.
Thankfully, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibited hunting Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds which helped to save them from extinction. Currently, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan lists them as a Species of Low Concern.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain (for Canada), the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and Japan, and the U.S. and Russia. The Treaty gives the Secretary of the Interior and individual states the authority to protect migratory birds, including their nests and eggs. Violations result in misdemeanor charges and fines up to $15,000. Selling migratory birds, in violation of this law, constitutes a felony. A treaty with Russia protects ecosystems against pollution and other environmental degradations that affect migratory birds.
The Spotted Sandpiper is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. Its numbers have declined, but not to the extent of the Sandhill Crane. Loss of wetland habitat and the effects of herbicides and pesticides affect their ability to raise their young. The Horicon Marsh is a welcomed haven for them. The male takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the chicks.
This view reveals more of his spots.
Speaking of spots, can you spot the Black-crowned Night-Heron?
Tightly grasping a willow branch, he was tossed to and fro in the wind. I was surprised he held on for so long as he whipped forward and back.
Black-crowned Night-Herons must enjoy sultry evenings at the Horicon Marsh. I saw three in a row perched, strolling, or standing.
The Black Saddlebags Skimmer was drawn to this particular dead stalk. There were many to choose from, but this was his favorite, for some unknown reason. His name comes from the coloring of his wings that resembles saddlebags. His body is black. Even though dragonflies have six legs, like other insects, they cannot walk. They are predators of mosquitos. This is a species we definitely want to protect!
The Horicon Marsh has been aptly recognized as a Wetland of International Importance.