One warm June afternoon, my friend and I were birding at Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area. Horicon is an extremely large marsh, and rare birds often show up there. I had come well-prepared, and I expected to see a few new species.
We were walking along a perfectly straight gravel path, binoculars in hand, waiting to see our first bird. The marsh seemed never-ending, and the gravel trail looked as if it went on forever. Cattails, mud flats, and water surrounded us.
Soon we spotted a Pied-billed Grebe with her two tiny babies. A very large Trumpeter Swan appeared in the distance, chasing a group of Canada Geese. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were abundant, and we saw both males and females. In flight, males show a conspicuous white wing patch and, of course, a stunning golden head. Females are brown with some yellow on the head and chest. Black-crowned Night Herons were also a common sight.
We came to a patch of open water. A family of snow-white Trumpeter Swans was peacefully floating on the surface. The tiny cygnets were a dull gray, while the two adults were pure white. Nearby, a beautiful adult Canvasback sat on the water. A small heron-like bird, about the size of a kingfisher, flew over the trail and into the marsh. It had very distinct yellow-brown wing patches. This was a species I had never seen before, but one I was readily able to identify. This tiny, yet secretive, member of the heron family was a Least Bittern.
Suddenly a loud yelping call rang out from the marsh to our left. The water was shallow there, with large patches of mud and dead, stubby cattails sticking up. I scanned the marsh, heart pounding, hoping to see the bird that had made that unusual sound.
Soon I spotted it. Standing along the edge of the marsh was a rare bird! In fact, though this species is common in parts of southern and western North America, field guides say it is only a casual or occasional visitor in Wisconsin.* The bird was the Black-necked Stilt. Another stilt was standing hidden among the cattails. It was an adult, just as the first one had been. Looking closer, I saw a fluffy tan-and-white baby stilt! The two adults were obviously its parents. We watched them for a long time.
We decided to finish our hike and turn around at a clump of rocks a way off. Along the way, we spotted many more stilts, all of which were adults, and a beautiful adult Common Gallinule. What a wonderful day we had observing God’s beautiful creation!
* Editor’s note: eBird shows this species to be in Horicon throughout the nesting season.