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Category Archives: Beaver

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.

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.

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.

 

On May 16th and 17th I made my spring trip to Crex Meadows. I usually vary the trip time each year. This year I wanted to see the newly hatched goslings. Highlights of the trip were the goslings, watching a controlled burn in the meadows, Sighting a family of beavers and an encounter with a black bear.

Canada Geese

Although I didn’t get any great shots of the goslings they were sure fun to watch. For some reason they like to congregate on the dike roads that run throughout Crex Meadows. When a car comes down the road they wait until the last minute and then run in every direction. It reminded me of an old time silent movie skit. They would usually end up in the water only to return to the road shortly after the car drove by. In one case the parents flew into the flowage leaving the goslings to scramble over the grass and brush to get into the water. This is a shot through my windshield as I approached some geese.

Goose Swan Encounter

I noticed some Trumpeter Swans in one of the flowages and stopped to take some photos. Just as I drove up a pair of Canada Geese and their goslings entered the water near the swans. One of the swans was upset and went after one of the geese. Unfortunately I was only able to capture the end of the encounter.

Controlled Burn

I noticed that a controlled burn was taking place because I could see the smoke for miles. As I drove on the various dyke roads I managed to drive through the area they were burning. Lots of equipment and people conducting the burn. I had hoped that it would continue through sunset so it would create a nice glow but it didn’t.

Moonrise over Crex Meadows

Normally I like to plan my trip to Crex Meadows to coincide with the full moon. In this case I noticed that the full moon was a couple of days away and more importantly the moonrise and sunset were within a few minutes of each other. It makes it handy to capture both if the weather cooperates. Unfortunately it didn’t on this trip. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Even worse I was looking for a new area to photograph the sunset and it didn’t work out and so I was out of place to photograph the moonrise. I did manage a few shots but nothing spectacular.

Lilly Pads

I normally say in Grantsburg overnight so I can photograph the sunrise. Again it was a disappointment because there were no clouds to be seen and there were no birds on Phantom lake. However, I did manage to get some nice backlit photos of lily pads and reeds.

BeaversDriving past one of the canals in the wildlife area I noticed several beavers swimming down the canal. I drove along a parallel road and was able to get ahead of them. I setup the camera and waited for them. Unfortunately they were backlit but when they reached me they went up on land. Turns out it looked like a family. The adult was on shore and the two smaller ones swam up to it. Watching them swim I didn’t realize how large they are.

Ring-Necked Ducks

I then headed drove through the burn area on my way to the sand blow. There were still logs and stumps smoldering. Just as I started my drive through the burn area I found a pair of Ring-necked Ducks in a small pond. As I watched them a Mallard Duck came out of the reeds and started after them.

Shortly thereafter I had a surprise encounter with a large black bear. I was driving along the road at about twenty five miles an hour in a place I didn’t expect to see any wildlife when all of a sudden a large black bear charged out of the swam right in front of the car. He hit the road running full speed headed down the road in front of me. I was so surprised I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes. I followed him for about seventy five yards before he veered off the road into the swamp. You might think I got a great picture having three cameras sitting on the passenger seat. But I was so startled that I forgot to grab a camera as I followed the bear down the road at twenty five miles an hour.

Wolf Tracks

At the sand blow I managed to photography what appears to be some wolf tracks. I never know what I’m going to find at the sand blow. Last year I found some fresh bear track.

Trumpeter Swan

Driving out of the meadows I found a pair of Trumpeter Swans along the road. I typically don’t find them in the road and even when they are close to shore they usually move out into the water. This pair wasn’t about to move. They held their ground.

Canada GooseOn my way back home. I stopped at the Fish Lake Wildlife Area to watch some birds. As I watched several Canada Geese in the water another goose flew down and landed on top of one of the geese I was watching. It  pushed it entirely underwater. I had never seen anything like this. The goose popped back up and they swam off together.

All in all it was a successful trip with the fire burn and bear encounter. Crex Meadows is a great place to photograph wildlife because of the extensive dyke road system that allows you to photograph from the car without disturbing the wildlife.

More photos from Crex Meadows can be found on my website.

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