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Category Archives: Coots

In addition to the Sandhill Cranes there was plenty of other wildlife to photograph as we drove around Crex Meadows. More photos from Crex Meadows can be found on my website.

We saw the occasional White-tailed Deer. This one sopped along the road to pose.

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Red-tailed Hawks were flying over the Meadows.red-tailed-hawk-crex-meadows-16-10-4591

There were a lot of Hooded Mergansers around. I photographed this bunch just before they took off into the sunrise.hooded-mergansers-crex-meadows-16-10-5325

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With the low water levels in some of the ponds it was easy to find Great Blue Herons around. great-blue-heron-crex-meadows-16-10-5022

There were also quite a few American Coots around although no where near the hundreds I saw on an earlier visit.american-coots-crex-meadows-16-10-4756

After hiking at Banning State Park we headed for Grantsburg, Wisconsin. We were debating whether to stop at Crex Meadows. When we reached Grantsburg it was high noon and we figured we wouldn’t see any wildlife at that time of day. We finally decided to drive around the dikes and look around. Turned out to be one of the best wildlife days we have had at Crex.

We hadn’t gone far when we encountered several Sandhill Cranes in the grass.

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A little further along my wife notice a Bull Snake crossing the road. I had trouble getting a photo of it because I was using my birding lens and the snake kept getting too close to me.

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We had stopped along the road to look for birds and noticed this friendly Snow Bunting right by the car. Normally they are skittish but this one just hung around the car and let me take photos of it. When we returned later in the afternoon it was still in the same place.

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It was a beautiful warm day and the Painted Turtles were out sunning themselves.

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There were a pair of Blue-winged Teal in the water near the road. They seemed oblivious to the fact that we were right next to them.

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We noticed American Coots at various small ponds around the Meadows.

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As we were driving along I noticed a Muskrat swimming next to the car. As I watched it seemed to be frantically swimming around. Soon we noticed a second one. We then realized that they were mating.

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We saw a number of Canada Geese nesting in the Meadows.

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There were a number of Pied-billed Grebes to be found throughout the Meadows.

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The most common bird in the Meadows on this day were the Trumpeter Swans.

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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.

Every year in the fall I try to visit Crex Meadows. The main attraction, for me, is the opportunity to view and photograph Sandhill Cranes. Crex Meadows is one of the best locations in the Midwest to view and photograph Sandhill Cranes. Last Friday I made my second trip. I wasn’t sure how many cranes would still be around the first week on November but gambled that there would be enough to photograph. In talking with the staff at the visitors center they indicated there are still over 9,000 cranes at crex. I typically stay overnight at the Wood River Motel so I have a chance to photograph the incoming flights at sunset and the outgoing flights at sunrise the next morning.

Crex is a couple of hours northwest of my home so I give myself time to view the cranes in the fields south of Grantsburg before I drive on to Crex Meadows. About five miles south of Grantsburg at the junction of highway 48 and 87 is where I normally start looking for cranes in the fields. Normally they can be found along highway 87 but this year there was a lot of standing corn so I took some of the side roads intersecting highway 87. It wasn’t long before I started seeing large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the corn and bean fields. The first shot is of two adults and a juvenile. The second shows the large numbers of cranes in the field.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

After driving around looking for birds feeding in the fields I continued on to Crex Meadows. My first stop is always at the visitors center to check on current conditions. I like to drive around the entire area to check things out before I return to photograph the sunset crane flight. I saw a few beaver and a couple of Trumpeter Swans and a few Coots but things were fairly quiet during the afternoon. I managed this shot of a lily pad before heading for my evening shooting location.

Lily Pad

Typically the best location to view the evening flight is along Main Dyke Road between East and West Refuge Roads. The flight in to the evening roosting grounds is directly over Main Dyke Road. No matter where you stop it appears that more birds are flying over another section of the road but if you wait you will be rewarded with plenty of birds. On Thursday evening there were not a lot of cars on the road, probably less than a half dozen. Most likely most of the photographers made the trip in October. Some of the folks view the evening flight brought their lawn chairs. The following photos show the incoming flights as the evening progressed as well as a nice moon shot.

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

The next morning I had planned to head out to roosting locations and have some coffee and donuts while I watched the sun rise on the cranes. However, as I was driving out to Phantom Lake I noticed that the sunrise was going to be outstanding. When I arrived at Phantom Lake there was no wind and the lake was like glass. I changed my plans and spent some time photographing the sunrise. As the sun peaked over the horizon the clouds lost their color so I move on to the roosting grounds.

Sunrise Phantom Lake

Sunrise Phantom Lake

Driving along Main Dyke Road I noticed several large groups of cranes close to the road but I thought things would be better along Upper Phantom Lake where I photographed the evening flight. As it turned out, for the most part, the cranes were roosting back from the road and were too far away so I drove back to the area near Dyke 4 and setup waited for the sun to reach the cranes. The clouds that were so beautiful just before sunrise were now obscuring the sun so the light on the cranes was not the best. Shortly after sunrise the cranes started lifting off and heading for their feeding grounds.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

Sandhill Cranes

After the morning flight I drove over to North Fork Flowage. I skipped it the previous evening because I haven’t seen much in the flowage the last couple of trips. The DNR lowered the water in the flowage this summer as part of their plan to keep the flowage in prime condition for waterfowl. They typically lower the flowages on a rotating basis every six years. This kills off the vegetation along the shore and allows better vegetation to replace it. These stumps were revealed in the lowered flowage.

Stumps

This time I lucked out. There were 15 Trumpeter Swans in the flowage including one family. I couldn’t see the bands so I couldn’t tell if this was the same family I had photographed in my last trip.

Trumpeter Swans

I also saw a boat loaded with hunters returning from the morning hunt. When I first started visiting Crex Meadows I would see as many Canada Geese as I did Sandhill Cranes in the morning and evening flights. Several years ago they opened most of crex to goose hunting. As a result the opportunity to photograph geese had dried up. I didn’t see a single goose in the morning or evening flight on this trip. I shudder to think what will happen when they start a Sandhill Crane hunting season. Seems the photographers and birdwatchers take a back seat to the hunters.

Hunters

As I was leaving I noticed frost along the shore so I stopped to take a closer look. There were some great frost shots the first of the year.

Frost

No trip through Crex Meadows is complete without a stop at the Sand Blow. I never know what I’m going to find. On one trip there were fresh bear tracks in the sand on another wolf tracks. There wasn’t all that much this trip.

Sand Blow

I drove back to Phantom Lake. Most of the cranes were gone for the day to feed in the fields by the time I drove through. I did find a large number of Coots along the shore of Phantom Lake. I watched them feed for quite a while. They didn’t seemed to be bothered that I was watching them.

Coots

More photos from Crex Meadows on my website.