I recently (end of September, 2015) spent most of a day at the Horicon marsh. That’s a wetland in central Wisconsin (near the town of Horicon, image that.) I’ve lived near it for years, and driven by it countless times, but had never stopped. So, off I went in my little car, just like Mr. Bean.
You can learn more about it at http://www.horiconmarsh.org/.
If you click on an image you’ll see a larger version.
At the top of the hill, just after I turned into the drive for the Horicon Marsh Visitor’s Center, I suddenly had this breathtaking view from above the marsh. First thing after I parked the car, I had to walk back up the hill and try to capture it. I felt a little like I’d gotten my desert first, but that was before I’d really noticed the birds.
This is what you see from the Horicon Marsh Visitor’s center. What an amazing view! It’s really worth the trip, even if you don’t feel like tramping through the marsh on one of the many hiking trails.
There are several areas in the marsh that seem to be preferred by the larger birds. These are the areas with the most open water. It’s sort of the flyway version of a McDonald’s fast food stop.
According to the Wisconsin state department of natural resources, “Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. Located in southeast Wisconsin, Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.” ref: dnr.wi.gov
(The marsh) “was born as a by product of the great glaciers of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. The marsh is renowned for its Canada geese and other wildlife, but is equally recognized as a place where visitors can clearly see an extinct glacial lake so valued that the state portion of the marsh’s 32,000 wetland acres, waterways, islands, wooded and prairie shorelines forms a unit of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.” ref: enjoyhoriconmarsh.com
In 1846, the marsh outlet was dammed to provide power for a sawmill, a grist mill and the area’s first iron works. This 150-foot-wide dam impounded a huge area that hadn’t been under water since the Ice Age. The dam held back enough water to flood Horicon Marsh nine feet above the level we see today. The resulting 50 square mile Lake Horicon was proclaimed the largest man-made lake in the world. ref: enjoyhoriconmarsh.com
“After attempts to drain and farm Horicon Marsh proved unsuccessful, a group of local residents led by Louis “Curly” Radke pushed stakeholders to restore the wetland area to a more natural state. Following years of unregulated hunting and unrealistic attempts at farming that left the wetland and its wildlife populations devastated, residents stood ready for a change.” ref: dnr.wi.gov
“The marsh provides critical habitat for over 300 species of birds as well as muskrats, red foxes, turtles, frogs, bats, dragonflies, fish and much more. Fall migration on the refuge offers impressive numbers of Canada geese, ducks and sandhill cranes.” ref: fws.gov
“Horicon Marsh was created by the Green Bay lobe of the Wisconsin glaciation during the Pleistocene era. The glacier, during its advance created many drumlins (a type of knoll) in the region, many of which have become the islands of Horicon Marsh. The marsh and surrounding Dodge County have the highest concentration of drumlins in the world.
During the glacier’s retreat, a moraine was created, forming a natural dam holding back the waters from the melting glacier and forming Glacial Lake Horicon. The Rock River slowly eroded the moraine, and the lake drained. As the levels of silt, clay and peat accumulated in the former lake’s basin, the Horicon Marsh was formed.” ref: wikipedia.org
“The Horicon Marsh area has been inhabited by humans, including the Paleo-Indians, the Hopewellian people and the Mound Builders, since the ending of the last Ice Age. Dozens of 1200 year old effigy mounds were built by the Mound Builders in the surrounding low ridges. Arrowheads have been found dating to 12,000 years ago. Later the region was inhabited by the Potawotomi, primarily to the east of the marsh, and the Ho-Chunk to the west. Seven well-traveled Native American foot trails met at the southern end of the marsh at the present location of Horicon.” ref: wikipedia.org
Geese migrate from Canada to wintering habitats through out the continental United States, and even into the northern part of Mexico. Although many birds have adopted a home range and remain there all year, hundreds of thousands perform the annual migration, flying in the classic V formation. They have been known to fly as high as 9 KM (29,000 ft).
“Presently, the marsh is 32,000 acres (130 km2) in area, most of it open water and cattail marsh. The southern third, approximately 11,000 acres (45 km2), is owned by the state of Wisconsin and forms the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, which was established as a nesting area for waterfowl and resting area for migratory birds. It is managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Millions of waterfowl, including over 200,000 Canada geese, migrate through the marsh.” ref: wikipedia.org
The small birds (I observed that many little ducks, not much larger than pigeons) seem to prefer small, secluded areas of open water. They dive for food, rather than swimming on the surface while they feed, as the geese do.
I’m not sure what these are, but I found them growing between the hiking path and the cattail reeds in Horicon Marsh. I think they might be Heath Aster (Aster pilosus).
“Drumlins and drumlin clusters are glacial landforms, composed primarily of glacial till” Ref: wikipedia.org
This is the view from a large drumlin in the middle of the Horicon Marsh, looking eastward, toward Wisconsin Highway 28.
This is the view to the west, from the top of the Drumlin, looking over the largest expanse of the marsh.
This little road runs partway along the drumlin, It’s an extension of Palmatory Street in the city of Horicon. This view is looking south, toward the Palmatory Street Overlook, which is just up at the top of that hill. I turned around here, because I planned to visit the Overlook later.
This view faces north along the service road at the top of the drumlin.
Looking east, through the little forest at the top of the drumlin, you can see a some yellow and red appearing as the leaves start to take on their fall colors.
Here’s another view to the east from the top of the drumlin.
Here’s a little hiking path that leads down to the marsh from the drumlin service road.
This view is looking north from the little hiking path.
I liked the rich color of this seed head.
A skein of geese prepares to land in the marsh.
This view is from the hiking path, looking east toward the edge of the marsh.
I’ve no idea what this flower cluster is, but it’s very brightly colored. There aren’t many flowers in the marsh, so when this one popped out at me, I just had to take its picture. It looks a little like milkweed, but those flower clusters are more spherical, and they’re not blooming anymore this year.
These are the Wooly Mammoth and Pleistocene hunter sculptures by artist Curt Walker. They are outside of the Horicon Marsh visitor’s center. They are constructed almost entirely out of rebar (the rods that are used to reinforce concrete). They are surprisingly realistic.
I had some time to kill before sunset, so I drove out to the Palamatory Street Overlook. This is the same service road that I walked on earlier when I hiked across the eastern part of the marsh. The bright yellow flowers caught my eye. I think they’re asters.
This view is looking northeast across the marsh from the Palmatory Street Overlook.
There’s a nice wooden observation platform at the Palmatory Street Overlook. It faces west, and gives some idea of the size of the marsh. Honestly though, I thought the view in the other direction was better.
I still had about an hour to kill, so I went into town and had a chewy steak at a local restaurant for dinner. I thought I’d head back to the Palmatory Street Overlook in order to shoot some pictures of the sunset. I couldn’t get there. The local high school (go Marshmen!) was having their homecoming parade with floats and everything, so I headed back out to the visitor’s center. It was still pretty light, but the sky was starting to get a little color. It looked promising.
The golden light brought out some amazing colors as the sun set in the west.
Now it was really getting dark.
As the sun reached the horizon, the light intensity dropped of, and I was able to pick up a little foliage again.
As the fading light became more red, I was able to pick up some pretty nice looking greens and purples, as well as some more of those little asters or daisies.
Then the clouds reflected the bright orange of the now departed sun, putting on a really nice show. I was feeling pretty happy that I had come back out to the visitor’s center.
Then, as the light started to fade entirely, the sky took on a bright red color that reflected nicely in the open water. It would have been perfect, had I not suddenly been assaulted by hoards of mosquitoes (which had been surprisingly absent during the day.) With that, I unceremoniously sprinted back to the car, and made my escape. It was a great day!