On Saturday, I met Derek up at Horicon Marsh. Lately, the best shorebird habitat has been at Horicon and some rare species have been located. One of the rarest has been the a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that has been seen off and on for the past week. While the sandpiper didn’t make an appearance there was still plenty to see.
When I arrived on highway 49 I saw an incredibly large number of birds on the mudflats to the south. Many were too far out to identify, but some of the closer birds turned out to be decent finds. Some notables were Wilson’s Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, and Short-billed Dowitchers.
On the north side of highway 49 were many Great Egrets and Great-blue Herons feeding on fish left behind by the drying water. Among the Egrets and Herons was a single Snowy Egret (a rare bird for the state with only a few reports each year). A few Least Sandpipers and Killdeer were also present.
After another quick scan of the south side oh 49 yielded no new birds, Derek headed out while I continued to the Auto Tour. I parked in the Auto Tour lot and walked down Old Marsh Road. Within 50 feet of walking I noticed a Least Bittern perched up on the reeds. This was the closest I had ever been to a Least Bittern so even though they aren’t rare it was a nice surprise. Farther down the road I added Sora, Virginia Rail, and Black Tern to my day list. On the way out of the auto tour I located a juvenile Common Gallinule.
Overall, I found several year birds with the Snowy Egret being the rarest. While the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper couldn’t be found, it was still a great day to be out.
Today, Ryan and I got a late start to birding. We decided to star locally and we headed to one of our favorite spots: Retzer Nature Center. Our goal was to check if the Dickcissel had returned to the prairie. We arrived around 1 o’clock and started on our usual loop. At the pond was a single Green Heron perched on a log along with a couple of kids catching frogs. They didn’t seem to notice the Heron and the Heron did not seem disturbed by them. Further along the path were numerous Song Sparrows and American Goldfinches. We continued through the forest and found several black-capped Chickadees and American Robins. As we exited the forest and started on the edge habitat, several Indigo Buntings were calling and Tree Swallows flew overhead. The grass on the Oak was fairly tall but we did not hear any Henslow’s Sparrows or Dickcissel. After listening for about 10 minutes we continued up the hill and were amazed at the number of Bobolinks on the prairie making their metallic buzzing call. After stopping to appreciate them we continued our loop and ended up back at our car. It was fairly windy and there were gray clouds overhead most of the time, and we decided to head back home and check the birding reports.
When we got back home Ryan saw that Black-bellied Plovers, a Hudsonian Godwit, and Wilson’s Phalaropes were seen at Horicon Marsh. After some debate, we decided to take the hour and ten-minute drive up to the marsh in an attempt to see the birds. On the way, there was debate on which CDs to listen to and one missed exit but we eventually arrive around 4 o’clock. few stopped on Highway 49 and noticed there was a lot of shorebird activity. We pulled over and picked out Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper and Black-necked Stilt. We pulled up a little further and still didn’t see any sign of the Godwit but did pick out several Black-bellied Plovers. We pulled up even further (the good area was large) and eventually picked out the single Hudsonian Godwit searching for food! A new year bird for Ryan and I. There were many black terns flying around, and we were also able to find one White-rumped Sandpiper in the mix. Also present were Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, and calling Sandhill Cranes.
We moved on to the other side of Highway 49 and noticed many Great Egrets. There were several photographers pulled over but it seemed like they weren’t looking at the Egrets. To our surprise there were 2 Ibis out in the field! We checked the faces to see what kind they were (Glossy or White-faced) and both seemed to be White-faced, one adult and one immature.
After observing the Ibis for a long time we headed to the auto tour and decided to walk Old Marsh Road to look for Least Bittern. With dark clouds looming overhead we cautiously walked out and noticed that there seemed to be many dried-up turtle eggs next to open holes in the ground. We weren’t sure if these were nests that had been predated or eggs that had simply hatched. Down the road, there were several flocks of White Pelicans, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Headed and Red-winged Blackbirds, and Marsh Wrens. We traveled further than we originally planned, hoping to find some decent shorebird habitat but the water was too high. The only shorebird-like find was one Killdeer. On the way back we stopped to admire the call of a lunking American Bittern and one fly by Black-crowned Night Heron. We finished our loop on the auto tour noticing several American Coots, but not finding too much else. We made one more stop on Highway 49 and noticed one more Ibis and thought it must be a Glossy. Upon further observation it proved to be another White-faced, but we couldn’t be disappointed about seeing 3 Ibis on a trip where we didn’t expect to see any. We stopped one more time to admire the Hudsonian Godwit, Plovers, and Stilts before heading home, pleased with out day.
Derek and I woke up at five in the morning to meet Bill at a park and ride in Richfield. The reason for rising so early on a Sunday was simple: birds.
Four Ibises were reported at Horicon Marsh the day prior. To make things even better, two different Ibis species were present: the White-Faced Ibis and the Glossy Ibis. Out of the two species, the Glossy is more rare in Wisconsin. Obviously, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
After about an hour drive we arrived at Horicon Marsh on highway 49 where the birds were reported. Although it was still before 7 am, over ten cars were lined up along the road with their drivers out and looking south with high powered scopes and cameras.
We assumed that with all the fanfare around the area that the other birders would have had a lock on the Ibises but it turned out that nobody had seen them yet. We waited for about half an hour and then decided to walk up the road to the east and see what other birds we could find.
We immediately spotted several classic marsh species such as Marsh Wrens, Great Egrets, Blue-Winged Teals, Coots, American White Pelicans, Greater Yellowlegs, and Dunlin. Black-Crowned Night Herons occasionally rose up from the tall marsh grasses and became view able only to descend back down and out of sight. The whinny call of the Sora and the “cow-cow-cow” call of the Pied-Billed Grebe could be heard from the reeds as well.
One of the coolest bird species we saw on this stretch was the Black-Necked Stilt. Rare in the rest of the state, these stilts flourish at Horicon and even early in the year, we counted over ten.
After enjoying some of the more common marsh species, we headed back to the car near where the Ibises were seen the day before. Just before reaching the car we encountered Tom Wood who was scoping out in the marsh. He said he could see Ibises but they weren’t close enough to tell what species they were.
Feeling excited that the Ibises were present, we attempted to position ourselves to get a look at any ID points we could find. The birds were indeed too far away to tell. However, after just a few minutes they took flight and landed closer to the road. Unfortunately, they vanished in the tall plants to the point where they were barely visible.
News quickly spread that the Ibises had been seen again, and numerous cars quickly showed up. For the next 45 minutes a group of twenty birders watched as the Ibises would fly up, and then go down behind the reeds. Through these quick looks, it became clear that three of the Ibises were White-Faced and one of them was Glossy. We were extremely excited to be able to view both of these rare species even if it was for only seconds at a time. Eventually, the birds walked to a clearing and gave us distant, but clear views.
After watching the Ibises for a while, we moved on to the auto tour loop. Most of the ponds on the auto tour were too high to contain any shorebird habitat, but the edge habitat where forest met water. In this area we found a Nashville Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Also present was a particularly cooperative Rusty Blackbird that gave us great looks as it called from a tree and then moved on to foraging in the shallow water. Farther down, there were two Black-Necked Stilts close to the road at the red rock pond. These birds gave amazing views as they used their long legs to wade through the water and pick out food.
After we went through the auto tour, we arrived at the Marsh Haven center. There we found a single Yellow-Headed Blackbird at the bird feeder and numerous swallows flying overhead. I even got dive bombed by a Tree Swallow when i accidentally got too close to a nestThe distinctive almost robotic chattering calls of the Purple Martin could clearly be heard. These birds in the swallow family are dimorphic with males being a deep purple color and females being mostly gray-ish with some patches of darker color. These birds aren’t rare in Wisconsin, but they are still incredibly cool, so we stayed and photographed them for a while.
After Marsh Haven, our last stop was at the visitor center on the east side of the marsh. Here we found a White-Crowned Sparrow, Field Sparrows, and Song Sparrows. The most striking part of this location was the sheer number and variety of swallows flying about. Tree, Barn, and Cliff Swallows were all chattering and acrobatically soaring through the sky. We had a good time observing the Cliff Swallows building nests on the side of the building out of mud.
We headed home cold and tired but having been very successful in seeing our target birds as well as some other unique marsh species.