Yesterday the heat and humidity broke and Mr. Bike Man and I decided to travel north and take in a boat tour of the Horicon Marsh. I had taken a similar trip with my dad when I was in college, but Dick and I had only driven around the edges of the huge cattail marsh. A few weeks back we saw an item about Horicon Marsh Boat Tours at Blue Heron Landing on the local television news, and decided to go see for ourselves. This photo is of Marc Zuelsdorf, son of the man who founded the operation. Marc has been giving tours since he was eleven, and knows the marsh and its birds backward and forward. We were impressed not only by his knowledge of the history of the marsh, but his ability to spot birds from very far away, and identify them by their calls. There were a couple hard-core birders with the group, and none of their detailed questions threw the man in any way.
I always think of the marsh in terms of it being the source of the Rock River, a river that begins here, runs south west through towns like Watertown, Fort Atkinson, and Janesville, then eventually empties into the Mississippi at Rock Island. But the marsh is the largest fresh water cattail marsh in the United states, and an internationally important wildlife refuge. The city of Horicon, which has a population just under 4,000 people, is home to a John Deere manufacturing plant, seen here from our vantage point on the Rock River.
These boat houses are for for hunters and fishermen to store their boats. Some are new, some a hundred years old.
The marsh is huge, and shallow in most parts. Fishing isn't very good, unless you're out for bullheads or carp.
Out in the marsh what you see in the middle of a summer day is a whole lotta water. Off in the distance our guide spotted some white pelicans, and we saw other birds like great blue and green herons, kingfishers, cedar waxwings, red-wing blackbirds, several varieties of swallows and swifts. We also saw quite a few painted turtles sunning their little cold-blooded selves on logs in the shallow water. What we didn't see much of, although there were hundreds of thousands of them nesting in the cattails, was ducks. The marsh is divided into a portion controlled by the Wisconsin DNR and part run by the federal government. The Wisconsin controlled part has a hunting season, but hunting is never allowed, and access is strictly controlled in the federal wildlife reserve. Guess where there are more ducks and geese.
Over three hundred varieties of birds have been documented in the marsh, but the great blue heron is one of the most common ones to see outside of spring and fall when the land and sky are black with ducks and geese. It's hard to resist trying to get a knockout photo of these large birds, but this was the best I could manage.
Maybe I can talk Mr. Bike Man into a spring or fall trip, and see what sort of bird pictures I can snap then. He certainly seems to enjoy a summer day out on the marsh.