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.