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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I’m a frequent visitor at Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area. This spring has been different from previous years.

Muskrat

Muskrat

The biggest difference has been the abundance of animals in the area. Typically I see a Muskrat every now and then but this year there have been two pairs of muskrats in the wetland ponds. They have been very active and I’ve been able to watch them feeding and bringing material to their lodge. They have been so active that they have undermined the dykes around the ponds. In one case I almost stepped in a hole where the dyke collapsed. In another case I was photographing the muskrats and when I stepped back the ground gave way. I ended up calling the DNR to report the problem and they filled the holes.

American Beaver

In addition to the muskrats there have been a pair of beaver in the area. As I reported in an earlier blog they had been cutting down small trees in the wetland areas. At one point I had thought they left the area because I hadn’t seen any fresh sighs but my wife and I happened to be in the area on an overcast day and saw both the pair of beavers. A couple of days later we went back at sunset and watched them as the sun went down.

Tree Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird female

There are a variety of birds in the area. At one point I saw Yellow, Common Yellowthroats and Palm warblers as they migrated through. It was difficult to photograph them because the trees leafed out so early this year.  The Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds have hatched there first brood but are still in the area. This year for the first time I did get some photographs of Red-winged Blackbirds. For some reason they seem to want to avoid the camera but this year they have been more cooperative.

Canada Goose

The Canada Geese did nest this spring but the young hatched and they left the area after a couple of days. For the first year in a number of years I did not get any photographs of them. There were also couple of pairs of non nesting Canada Geese that frequented the ponds for a few weeks. They provided some great entertainment as they flew back and forth between the ponds and then chased one another.

 

Blue Flag Iris

Dew Covered Prairie Smoke

The early spring wildflowers are just about gone. It has been so windy that I wasn’t able to take many photos of the Prairie Smoke and it is just about done for this year. The Wild Lupine is almost gone as well. I’m just starting to see the Orange Hawkweed, Spiderwort, and Blue Flag Iris.

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As I mentioned in an earlier blog I have a pair of Eastern Phoebes nesting under my back deck. A couple of weeks ago I noticed one of them land on a grape vine. It had something large in its beak. It turned out to be a large worm. I watched it as it banged the worm against the grape vine and thrashed it around. I started taking some photos but didn’t take them out of the camera until a couple of days ago. The last photo I took captured the worm going down the hatch.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

In my photographic wanderings I frequently find myself photographing in marshy areas. I’m attracted to reeds long the shoreline. At sunrise/sunset and late in the day the reeds make outstanding subjects to photograph.

Phantom Lake Sunrise

Sunrise Crex Meadows

Sunrise Crex Meadows

Reed Patterns

Reeds

Old and New Reeds

 

My wife and I were on a business trip that took us north of Bloomer, Wisconsin. We realized that we were not far from the Island Lake Rookery so we drove over to check things out. We were looking for all of the usual suspects and found them all.

Blue Heron Nest

The main attraction is the large number of Blue Herons that are nesting in the area. We counted about twenty nesting herons. This seems to be a bit less than in past years. It also appears that some of the dead trees have fallen down. The young herons are getting big. I think they are about a month old now and growing fast. We happened to arrive in early afternoon so there wasn’t a lot of activity. A few herons were flying in and out of the nest. It looked like the adults were dumping food on the nest rather than regurgitating it into the moths of the young.

Green Heron

The second reason to visit the rookery is to see the Green Herons. We usually see a couple of them but this trip we saw six of them flying around. Most of them were too far away to get a shot but one spent quite a bit of time hunting for food within camera range. This is one of the better locations for photographing Green Herons because you can get fairly close to them.

Osprey Nest

The third bird we were looking for was the Osprey. There is a large Osprey nest in one of the trees in the pond. Both adults were at the nest but we couldn’t see any young. I think that Osprey nest a little later than Eagles so their young might not be as far along.

More photos from Island Lake Rookery can be found on my website.

I love taking photos of backlit leaves in the spring while the leaves are still translucent. This was a great spring for photographing leaves because the leaves emerged so early there wasn’t a lot of other subjects available. My most popular leaves to photograph are Aspen leaves although any leaf will do. Here is a sample from this year’s efforts. Almost all of my leaf photos were taken with a 500mm lens. I use this lens because most of the leafs are photographed at a distance.

I had hoped to get up to Crex during spring ice out but with 80 degree temperatures in March the ice went fast and I didn’t make it. This week I finally was able to make the trip. As I normally do I arrive in the late afternoon and tour the Meadows to see what is going on. After dinner I drive around again for some evening shots and hopefully some sunset shots. The next morning I go back out for some sunrise shots and spend the morning driving round.

American Coots

Ring-necked Duck

There wasn’t a lot to see in the afternoon. I managed to capture some shots of various ducks mainly in Phantom Lake. There were quite a few Ring-necked Ducks along with some American Coots, Blue-winged Teal, Mallards and a nesting pair of Red-necked Grebes.

Canada Geese

There were also lots of Canada Geese with their little ones all along the dike roads. As I approached they would run in every direction. They were growing fast and were starting to lose their yellow down. For some reason when I approached they always wanted to go to the other side of the road. I really had to be careful because the parents would walk across the road with most of the little ones but stragglers would keep popping out of the weeds and dash across the road.

American Beaver

As a drove south along Phantom Lake I noticed a beaver house and what looked like a beaver sitting along the water’s edge. There was enough vegetation so I couldn’t get a good look. After dinner I drove back to where I thought I had seen the beaver. Sure enough there was one swimming in the flowage alongside the dike road. I’m not sure what he was up to since he kept swimming back and forth but didn’t seemed to be engaged in any meaningful activity. After shooting for about ten minutes went to pick up my tripod and managed drag one leg in the road. This apparently startled the beaver and there was a loud sound as the beaver slapped its tail and went under.

American Beaver

As I walked back to the car I noticed a second beaver across the road. He seemed to be trying to figure out why the alarm was sounded by the first Beaver. Soon he went back to eating on a branch he had in the water. I watched him for another ten minutes before leaving. That evening I probably saw six or seven beaver.

In addition to the beaver there quite a few muskrats active in the flowages.

Sunset

Sunset was a little disappointing. I thought it might be spectacular because there quite a few clouds but clear sky on the western horizon. I spent my time photographing the sunset along Dike 1 flowage. in this shot a group of Sandhill Cranes were captured with the sunset in the background.

Sunrise

In the morning my alarm didn’t go off but I manage to wake up only about 15 minutes later than I wanted to. As I drove out to the Meadows I could see it wasn’t going to be a spectacular sunrise so I picked a spot along Phantom Lake to photograph what there was to it.

Pickerelweed

I like to photograph reeds and flowers in the water on my visits to Crex. It was a little early for water flowers. The Pickerelweed and Lilly Pads were just emerging and there were only a few reeds up yet. A variety of flowers are also out now including Lupine, Hoary Puccoon, and Birds-foot Violets

Black Bear

As I was driving along one of the back roads I noticed something large and black along the road. It turned out to be a large black bear. This is the second year in a row that I’ve seen a black bear at Crex. Last year one ran out in front of the car and ran in front of the car for about 70 yards. He was going about 20 miles an hour. I had three cameras on the front seat and still managed not to get a photo. This year I had the presence of mind to get a quick shot through the windshield.

Sandhill Crane

I also was lucky enough to see two pair of Sandhill Cranes with their chicks. In both cases they were walking along the dike roads. In the first instance I didn’t notice the chicks until both parents had crossed the road. The chicks then dashed out into the road following their parents. I watched them in the grass for a while but could only see brief glimpses of the chicks in the tall grass. All the time the parents were making a sound something like a cooing Morning Dove. I assume this was so the chicks could find them in the long grass.

Sandhill Cranes

The second pair were near the entrance to the dike road at Phantom Lake. I saw the parents trying to get across the road but another car was coming so one made it and the other did not. One of the parents walked along the road doing a killdeer routine pretending to be an injured bird. The other parented walked along the lake. When the second car left I could hear the one parent making the cooing sound so I waited and sure enough a couple of chicks came out of the grass along the road.

It was a good trip with my first shot of a Black Bear, Sandhill Crane Chicks and a Gopher.

More photos of Crex Meadows in the spring can be found on my website.

In the spring it can be a bit dreary out and photographic opportunities limited. One of the subjects that I love to photograph are the budding trees. Energy has been stored all winter long just waiting for warm weather. This year it came in March so the trees started budding early. I really like photographing this renewal of life each spring. Here is a sampling from this spring. Most of these were taken with my 500 mm lens.

Pussy Willows

Maple Buds

Apples

Pine Buds

It’s been a wonderful spring at Hoffman Hills Wetlands. Hofmann Hills consists of three distinct areas, woodlands, prairie and wetlands. Most visitors spend their time hiking to the tower located on a hill in the woodlands. I spend most of my time walking in the wetlands. That’s really where the action is in the spring. This has been an unusual spring. It has been very warm and when the Weeping Willows bloomed in March they were spectacular.

One of the reasons my wife and I visit Hoffman Hills in the spring to watch the Canada Geese. We’ve been doing this for almost ten years now. For the first five years there was only a single pair of geese that nested on an island in a small pond. They normally arrive around the first of April and the goslings hatch around the first of May.

Best Friends

This year we saw them off of the nest on the third of April. While the female was on the nest we frequently saw a pair of male Mallards with the female. This is something we have never seen before.

Goslings

We were really surprised when we went out to Hoffman Hills on the twenty fourth of April and found the female was no longer on the nest and the male was not to be found. After searching for them we finally found them on another pond with their eight gosling. There was also a second pair of non breading Canada Geese with them. When we approached several of the goslings went off with the non breeding pair. I didn’t have my camera with me and were out of town for several days. When we returned we stopped to check on the gosling and they were no longer around. We haven’t seen them since the first sighting. This is the first time I’ve not been able to photograph them before they left the ponds. This is a shot of last years hatch.

Canada Geese

For the past three years there has been a second Pair of Canada Geese that have raised their young at Hoffman Hills. We have never been able to find where they nested but they would usually show up with their goslings at about the same time as the pair on the island hatched theirs. This year they did not return. About the middle of April a pair of Geese appeared but they were apparently a non breading pair. As noted above they were with the breeding pair when we saw the goslings.

Mad Goose

A couple of weeks ago a second non breading pair of Canada Geese turned up at the ponds. Sometimes both pair are on the same pond other times they are on different ponds. If one pair is on a pond and the second pair flies into the same pond there is usually a fight that takes place with the pair the just landed taking off after the pair that was on the pond.

Wood Ducks

There have also been several pair of Wood Ducks that have been hanging out in the ponds. It’s been hard to get a shot of them because they are usually a little skittish. Generally we see them early in the spring but even though there are some nesting boxes out they don’t seem to use them.

Muskrat

Muskrat

In the past several years we’ve seen Muskrats in the ponds. They seem to be a bit shy and I haven’t gotten many photos of them. This year we’ve seen them on both ponds. When we were out looking for the gosling this weekend we were able to observe a pair of Muskrats feeding on reeds along the edge of one of the ponds. This year we’ve had more Muskrat observations than any time in the past. They have been so active that they have undermined the dikes around the pond. Earlier in the week I was busy looking for birds and almost stepped in a hole that had opened up in the dike. A couple of days later I was standing in another spot and the ground gave way to reveal about a two foot deep hole where the Muskrats had dug into the dike.

Beaver Sign

In the last couple of weeks we have been seeing trees that have been cut down along the edges of both ponds. We assumed it was Beavers but have never seen a Beaver at Hoffman Hills. That all changed this past weekend. As we were walking along the second pond we heard a large splash as something entered the water at the edge of the pond. We immediately thought it was a Beaver but didn’t see it. About five minutes later we saw it out in the pond swimming around. It was huge. I would estimate it was three feet long. A little while later we saw a second beaver in some reeds along the pond. I have been out looking for the Beaver several times since and have not seen them or have I seen any fresh signs that they have cut down any more trees or eaten the ones that were already cut. It appears that they may have moved on.

As is typically the case I have the best opportunity to observe wildlife when I leave my camera at home. This past weekend was one of those days. My goal for the next couple of weeks is to get some photographs of the Muskrats and Beavers if the Beavers are still in the area.

 

A couple of weeks ago we spent the day in Eau Claire to visit with friends. They were in town to get their computer fix and it would take all day. With time on our hands we decided to drive out to Big Falls County Park. It’s located just outside Fall Creek, Wisconsin on the Eau Claire River. Water levels were fairly good but it was difficult to photograph because of the bright sun. I ended up using a neutral density filter along with a polarizing filter to allow me to capture the dynamic range of the landscape and still slow the water down a bit.

This photo puts the size of the falls in perspective. It is not all that a dramatic of a waterfall but it is a very popular location for graduation and wedding photos. In fact, there were some wedding photos being taken on the far side of the river while we were there.

I prefer to capture small portions of the waterfall. This is a small rock formation with the water rushing around the rock.

This is an even more intimate photo of a small selection of water rushing over the falls.

More photos of Big Falls County Park can be found on my website.


About a month ago I started hearing noises in the basement. It was a constant banging but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally, I noticed that a female Northern Cardinal was banging against the basement window. We keep our cat, Scooter, in the basement when it is really cold out. He had to be going crazy with this bird constantly banging against the widow right above where he sleeps.

About a week later I noticed that it started banging against a window in the front entry way. I thought the cat would be happy with this turn of events. Unfortunately, the cardinal continued to bang against the basement window as well. The poor male cardinal just sits back and watches with a puzzled look.

Another week another window. I was awoken at sunrise with a banging. I thought someone was knocking at the bedroom door but no it was the female cardinal banging against the bedroom window. Now she is banging against three different windows. After a few days of being awoken at sunrise I put the blinds down on the bedroom window. This seems to have put a stop to her banging on one of the windows.

What a mess. I’ve tried to clean the windows but my normal cleaning methods don’t seem to work. If anyone has a good way to clean the mess off of the windows let me know.