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Category Archives: Crex Meadows

We recently spent a morning driving around Crex Meadows. During a stop at the visitors center we found that several eagles had been spotted earlier in the morning. We were lucky to find they were still hanging around. This one was sitting by the nest. A little later in the morning we noticed it was hunting on Phantom Lake. When it caught a fish it went back to the nest were we were able to watch it feeding its young.

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We did not spot many Sandhill Cranes. This one was near the road. I suspect most of the others were nesting deeper in the marshes.

We could see Trumpeter Swans nesting but they were all quite some distance from the road. We did encounter three non nesting swans in a small pool.

We found this pair of Ring-necked Ducks in a small pond.

Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds around the area.

The muskrats were very active throughout the flowages.

We noticed this Killdeer ahead of us so we stopped. It was very accommodating and walked right up to us and posed for photos.

The marsh grass provided some interesting patterns. In the second photo the area had recently been burned providing for a variety of colors as it started to grow again.

The Lily Pads were starting to grow now that the ice is off of the flowages.

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Last week my wife and I had a meeting in Duluth and on the way up we decided to drive through Crex Meadows. I wasn’t sure what we would find because the Crex Meadows Website hadn’t been updated since January. We were very pleasantly surprised at the number of birds we saw. Large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the flowages.

We were watching these two Cranes when we notice a Bald Eagle flying toward us. He was busy hunting and wasn’t paying much attention so I managed to get a few shots of hunting. He managed to catch what appeared to be a small fish. Shortly after catching it another Bald Eagle flew into the area and he quickly joined it. This one appeared to be not a fully mature eagle the second on was a mature eagle.

There were also large numbers of Trumpeter Swans already staking out their nesting territory. These two were right next to the road. The water was still frozen and one of them was having trouble paddling through the ice.

There were also a large number of Canada Geese in the flowages. There were far more geese that I’ve seen for quite some time. It many be that they are just passing through. These two looked like they were staking out a nesting site.

There were also a variety of ducks in the flowages. They seemed to be the most timid waterfowl and generally fly before I can get a photo. I was happy to capture a female Mallard and a female Hooded Merganser before they took off.

 

On any fall visit to Crex Meadows the main attraction is the migration of the Sandhill Cranes. About an hour before sunset they return from the fields surrounding Grantsburg, Wisconsin where they have been feeding. Wave after wave of them fly into the meadows providing some great opportunities for photography. In the morning the process is reversed. At sunrise you can see thousands of Sandhill Cranes at their roosting sites. From Sunrise to mid morning the cranes gradually fly out of the Meadows to feed in the fields. Crex Meadows offers an outstanding opportunity to view the Sandhill Crane migration up close.

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

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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

On most morning visits to Crex Meadows we normally stop at Phantom Lake to photograph the Sunrise. I didn’t think it would be all that great because there were clouds in the east but at it turned out it was a great sunrise. As the sun came up we could see the Sandhill Cranes starting their journey to the fields south of Grantsburg where they would feed for the day.

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As a rule the reason to traveling north to Grantsburg, Wisconsin to to view the wildlife in Crex Meadows. This fall the conditions were right to spend some time photographing the fall colors. They were mainly earth tones this year but with the dark storm clouds and great evening light it made for some great photography. More photos from Crex Meadows can be found on my website.

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The following photo was taken off of Main Dyke Road. Normally this area is a large pond and a prime area for Sandhill Cranes to roost. This year they had an issue with the dam gates and most of the water had drained out of the pond.

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On a recent visit to Crex Meadows we enjoyed watching a pair of Muskrats feeding on a mud flat. This was the same area that we had seen a pair mating last spring.

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At one point one of them started swimming right at me. He was so close I had difficulty photographing him with by big lens on.

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On our way up to Duluth we stopped at Crex Meadows. We heard there were some American White Pelicans on Phantom Lake but when we arrive we could only find one. It looked like it might have an injured wing.

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There were plenty of ducks around including quite a few Ring-necked ducks on the various flowages.

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We saw quite a few Canada Geese around some of them had Goslings with them others were still on the nest.

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We also saw some Pied-billed Grebes on some of the flowages.

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There were lots of Trumpeter Swans although we were sad to see that a pair that had been nesting right next to the road was no longer around. The Muskrat house they had been nesting on was gone. No idea what happened. There were some Sandhill Cranes in the same area.

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We were off to Duluth for a few days and decided to drive though Grantsburg an visit Crex Meadows. As we neared Grantsburg we  saw over a dozen Trumpeter swans in the fields feeding. We turned around and drove back along a sided road and watched them for a while. It was still early and the fields had not been prepared for spring planting.

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As we drove out along Phantom Lake we noticed some Sandhill Cranes walking along the road. In all we probably saw over 40 Sandhill Cranes on the day.Sandhill-Cranes-Crex-Meadows-16-4-_2733

There were many Trumpeter Swans in the Meadows. This one was nesting right along the road. If it stays on the nest we will have a good view of the young when they hatch. In all we saw over 40 Trumpeter Swans.Trumpeter-Swan-Crex-Meadows-16-4-_2245

As we wove through the Meadows we noticed some dark shapes along the road. It was difficult to see what they were. At first we though maybe bears. As we inched closed they appeared to be Turkeys or Turkey Vultures. When we approached them they took off. It turns out they were Bald Eagles. There were about a half dozen of them in all. We watched them flying around and then noticed the trees were also filled with them. We saw 15 Bald Eagles without moving. Most of them were immature. The one in the middle has quite a bit of red around the head. It appears it man have been feeding on a carcass.Bald-Eagles-Crex-Meadows-16-4-_2310

There were also quite a variety of duck in the water throughout the Meadows.Mallard-Duck-Crex-Meadows-16-4-_2351

One of the items on our bucket list was a visit to the Platte River in Nebraska to view the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Every spring we watch a presentation of the “Crane Song” on PBS. It depicts the migration the Sandhill Cranes through the Platte River Valley. Every year we talk about making the trip but never have. Typically about the time we are thinking of going, the Platte River Valley gets a blizzard or we would get a blizzard.

This year we had some very warm weather early in March so we decided there would be no better time to go. We drove down the Grand Island following back roads most of the way. It seemed that every back road we took added another half hour onto the trip. By the time we neared Grand Island it was dark out. There were violent thunderstorms in the northwest. The clouds in the west were hanging down just above the horizon. As the sun set it looked like the entire western part of Nebraska was on fire. It was a spectacular drive into Grand Island.-Nebraska-Sandhill-Crane-Migration-16-3-_5142The next morning we headed out to visit the Platte River and Rowe Sanctuary. Before we started the trip we read that in a typical year about 30 thousand cranes arrive in February. This year about 230 thousand cranes arrived in February. By the time we drove through the area an additional 170 thousand had arrived. Sanctuary staff indicated there were over 400 thousand cranes in the area.

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There were birds in just about every field as we drove along and the sky was filled with them. We noticed that the birds were very skittish. Most of them were a fair distance from the road and as soon as we drove up they headed away from the car. The other thing we noticed is the roads are narrow and on each side they have deep ditches so it is difficult to pull over and take photos. There is enough traffic on most of the roads that we didn’t feel comfortable stopping in the road.

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We almost felt like we were at a Wisconsin Badger football game because of all of the cranes jumping around.

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We made our way to Rowe Sanctuary. We were curious to see what the blinds look like. From the web cam it appeared they were getting a lot of birds at the blinds. A discussion with a volunteer confirmed that for the last several weeks the birds had been roosting near the blinds. We didn’t make a blind reservations because there were just too many people in the groups and we have already seen thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting. If you haven’t had a chance to see crane rousting I would strongly suggest you make reservations for a blind.

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We returned to Rowe later in the day to watch the cranes arrive from the fields. It was a little dark for photos but their arrival was quite spectacular. Strong winds made landing a little tricky. It was fun watching the cranes as they circled around so they were headed directly into the wind. It was like watching planes at an airport.

The following morning we drove back to Rowe Sanctuary to watch the birds fly out to the feeding grounds. The Sanctuary grounds were closed because folks were in the blinds but we found a nearby parking spot to watch them leave the rousts.

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This is a shot of the folks leaving the blinds after sunrise and most of the birds left the immediate area.

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While we were watching the cranes a herd of cattle was grazing just behind us. I took a few photos. It was cold out and I could see their breath as they walked along. Unfortunately it doesn’t show up on the photo.

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I can’t help but comment on how fortunate we are in Wisconsin to have Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Crex Meadows provides a great opportunity to interact with Greater Sandhill Cranes during the fall crane migration.

While there are 10 times as many cranes in the Nebraska migration they are spread over a vast area along the Platte River from Grand Island to Kearney. In Crex meadows they are concentrated in a small area and all of them fly over a mile stretch of main dike road in the evening and again in the morning.

 Viewing cranes at Crex Meadows is a much more informal event. All you have to do is drive along the dike road and stop on the road, get the lawn chair out, and watch them fly overhead. It is a much more intimate opportunity to view cranes than it is in Nebraska. The cranes at Crex can also be found much closer to the road than in Nebraska.

Driving through Crex is a fairly relaxing trip with the ability to stop any time you see something to photograph without worrying about pulling off the road or heavy traffic.

Anyone interested in the fall Sandhill Crane Migration can read a description of what to expect on my blog and see photographs on my website.