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Category Archives: Dawn

Sometimes the best time to photograph the sunrise is the hour before sunrise. This is referred to as the blue hour by photographers. It can provide an opportunity for some spectacular photographs. These photos were taken on dawn walk along the Duluth, Minnesota waterfront.

More photographs from the Duluth Waterfront can be found on my website.

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Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum

Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum

Duluth Breakwater Lights

Duluth Breakwater Lights

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Several shots of Duluth, Minnesota taken during the early morning hours from the North Breakwater. More photographs from the Duluth Waterfront can be found on my website.

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More early morning shots from my walk around Canal Park.

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

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I managed to get down to the Duluth Lakewalk in Canal Park at dawn for a few photos. Fortunately this time of year dawn is not 3am.

Lakewalk and Aerial Lift Bridge

Lakewalk and Aerial Lift Bridge

Duluth Harbor Lights

Duluth Harbor Lights

North Breakwater Light

North Breakwater Light

On our first fall trip to Crex Meadows to view the fall Sandhill Crane migration we stopped in the morning for some dawn photos at Phantom Lake. It sure is nice not to have to get up at three in the morning to get some dawn photos. We weren’t sure there was going to be anything to photograph but it was a beautiful dawn. The sunrise that followed was disappointing.

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Crex Meadows is located just outside Grantsburg, Wisconsin. It is one of the premiere locations to watch the fall migration of Greater Sandhill Cranes. In early October the Cranes start arriving in Crex to rest and feed before resuming their journey to the golf coast where they spend the winter. During peak migration there are approximately 30,000 Sandhill Cranes in the Grantsburg area. The migration continues until the marshes ice over in mid to late November.

Before making our trip to Crex Meadows we check out their great website for the latest information regarding the migration.

Sunset-Crex-Meadows
My wife and I usually spend the greater part of two days watching and photographing the Migration. Crex is a couple of hours northwest of our home so we usually plan to arrive in the Grantsburg area early in the afternoon of the first day.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-12-10-_0754
During the day the cranes are out in the farm fields south of Grantsburg. We drive north on highway 87 toward Grantsburg. Once we reach the junction of highway 48 and 87 we start looking for cranes. We can usually find where the cranes are feeding by watching the sky. In the afternoon they seem to start to gather into larger groups for the flight back to the Crex marshes.  Sometimes there are large numbers of birds right along highway 87. At other times it is necessary to drive the back roads east of highway 87 and north of highway 48. If we spot a flight of cranes we watch were it is heading and follow it. There are large bean and corn fields in the area and they can provide a great place to view the cranes during the day. We usually drive around looking birds in the fields in the early afternoon.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Before heading out to Crex Meadows our first stop is always at the visitors center to check on current conditions. They will have up-to-date information on where the cranes are going to be roosting. You will also be able to pick up some good maps of the area. On your first trip you might find the many roads around Crex a little confusing.Sandhill-Cranes-13-10-_2674

After checking in with the visitors center we like to drive around the entire area to check things out and see what else in happening in the meadows. We have seen American Beaver, Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans and a variety of ducks and geese as we drive around. Typically during the afternoon things are fairly quiet in the meadows with most of the cranes out feeding.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

We always stay overnight at the Grantsburg Inn in Grantsburg. This allows us to photograph the incoming flights at sunset and the outgoing flights at sunrise the next morning without a lot of driving.

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

About an hour and a half before sunset we head toward the location where we will be watching and photographing the evening flight of the cranes into the sledge marshes. 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. The best location on the road may depend upon the stage of the migration and the water levels in the sledge marshes. The evening flight can last several hours. As sunset approaches you will start to see large numbers of Sandhill Cranes flying into the sledge marshes to nest for the night. Groups of birds can range in size from just a few to over twenty. On this particular evening I was lucky to get some black storm clouds in the background.Sandhill-Cranes-09-126--534f

In addition to the cranes there can also be some spectacular sunsets in the marsh.Sunset-Crex-Meadows-10-_9632

As the evening progresses and the light gets low you can produce some special effects by slowing the speed down.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-Evening-Flight-12-10-_1040

The next morning we typically try to be in the meadows about an hour before sunrise. Fortunately the local BP station is open early so we can get some coffee and donuts. If it looks like there is going to be a an outstanding sunrise on Phantom Lake we stop for some quick dawn or Sunrise photos.Sunrise-Phantom-Lake-Crex-Meadows-11-11-_0761

Even after sunrise it is easy to get distracted if there is a nice frost or morning fog.Sunrise---Crex-Meadows-09-127--092

Eventually we make our way to the roosting grounds. When the birds fly into the sledge marshes in the evening they are generally well back into the marshes. Overnight the cranes usually move much closer to Main Dyke Road.  Several years ago when the water levels in the marshes were very low they could be found right next to the road.Sandhill-Cranes-11-11-_0045

As the sun comes up you can get some nice morning light on the birds as well as reflection shots.Sandhill-Cranes-11-11-_0303

If you are lucky there might be some nice clouds as a background. The morning flight can last in excess of three hours. In the morning the birds move out in smaller groups as opposed to the evening flight where there can be a large number of birds in each group.Sandhill-Cranes-Crex-Meadows-11-9-_1476

I’ve photographed at Crex Meadows for a number of years and have a few things you might want to consider in planning your trip.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-Sunrise-Flight--12-10-_0555

Crex can be very busy on a weekend or if there are fall events underway. Checking the Crex Meadows website should tell you what is going on at any given time. I usually try to plan my visit on a weekday when there is likely to be less traffic.Crex-Meadows-12-10-_0851

There is only one motel in Grantsburg. The other option is the local campground which is popular with visitors. Staying in Grantsburg makes it much easier to photograph the sunset and sunrise flights.

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

If you visit early in the migration you will likely find a lot of standing corn in the fields. This makes it more difficult to see the cranes while they are feeding in the fields. This doesn’t mean you won’t see cranes. You can still find them feeding in open areas and pastures but probably not in the numbers you will see later after the corn has been harvested.Sandhill-Cranes-10-_9381

Early in the fall you can enjoy the fall colors as the trees turn. Later in the fall most of the leaves will have fallen although the sledge marshes still have a lot of color.Crex-Meadows-11-9-_1652

As I noted earlier the best place to view the evening and morning flights of the cranes is on Main Dyke Road. This is true for most of the migration. However, later in the season, when the marshes ice over the cranes can roust at different locations. One year late in the migration we found there was no evening flight over Main Dyke Road because the cranes were rousting at Phantom Lake. A stop at the visitors center should identify where they are rousting.Sandhill-Cranes-09-126--569

Another thing to keep in mind is the dyke roads are dirt. If there has not been any rain they can be very dusty so you need to plan on protecting your photographic equipment from the dust and giving it a good cleaning after the visit. Particularly on weekends there can be quite a bit of traffic kicking up dust.Crex-Meadows-12-10-_0849

If you plan your visit ahead and the weather is good you may get some great moon shots while watching the evening flight of the cranes.Flying-over-the-Moon-10-_9465a

The fall Sandhill Crane migrations if one of the things we look forward to and we think you will enjoy it as well.

On my trips down to Canal Park I usually end up with some photos that I put into my odds and ends category.

This first photo is the Tug Bayfield that sits outside the Maritime Museum. Photo was taken at dawn using multiple shots to capture the range of light.

Tug Bayfield

Tug Bayfield

While I was photographing the sunrise I happened to look back at the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge and notice some beautiful light coming off of the clouds.

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

The Ark of the Anthropocene was an art project gone wrong. It is a 4,000 pound sphere which contained a terrarium with more than 50 plants. On Tuesday it was lifted into the harbor behind the DECC and was anchored to the bottom of the harbor. On Wednesday the creator was checking it and noticed it was sinking. A crane was brought in to lift it out of the water. I found it sitting on the dock near the DECC.

Ark of the Anthropocene

Ark of the Anthropocene

I was a little negligent in getting out for sunrise shots on our last trip to Duluth. On the final day I decided to give it a try. I made it up so I could photograph the dawn which means I was out about an hour before sunrise. I’m glad I made the effort because it was a fantastic dawn.

Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum

Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum

Dawn Duluth Harbor Entry

Dawn Duluth Harbor Entry

Dawn North Breakwater Light

Dawn North Breakwater Light

On our second morning in Duluth I was still searching for dawn. I was up early again the next morning but managed to wake everyone else up because I was so tired from the previous day that I didn’t hear the alarm until after it had been ringing for a while.

The morning was quite the adventure. I decided to walk down to the Veterans Memorial park along the Duluth Lake Walk. It was a warm night and, much to my surprise, I encountered some vagrants along the Lake Walk. I haven’t encountered this problem since The Last Place on Earth closed. I made it to the park and started photographing the Canal Park waterfront. I noticed someone else at the other end of the park and thought it was another photographer until he picked up his sleeping bag. I turned around to photograph the sunrise when I noticed there were two people sleeping about three feet away on the rocks. More vagrants. I decided I needed to leave the area so I headed down to Canal Park.Canal-Park-14-8-_0025

I ended up watching the sun rise over the haze on the lake from the North Breakwater Light .North-Breakwater-Light-Sunrise-14-8-_0100

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Fourth of July weekend I was able to get some nice dawn photographs at Wisconsin Point. I was hoping to replicate the experience on a visit to Park Point in Duluth.

We had visitors at our place in Duluth so I was on my own for this trip. For this reason I was able to get an extra early morning start. I drove down Minnesota Ave to the parking lot next to Sky Harbor Airport. There are several access points to the Lake Superior Beach from this location. I was hoping to photograph the long grass with dawn in the background. As it turned out there was not much of a dawn. It has been hazy in Duluth because of smoke from Canadian fires and fog on the lake. The result was no dawn to photograph and the beach grass in this area was not very long. As luck would have it I noticed this shot as I was walking back to the parking lot from the beach. The color in the sky is from the lights of Superior.Park-Point-Sunrise-14-8-_0122-

I decided to drive back down to a beach access point around 12th Street and see if there were any shots to be had. Dawn was a bust but as the sun rose above the haze on the lake it created a delayed sunrise. I walked along the beach and found a place that I could photograph the beach grass with the sunrise in the background.Park-Point-Sunrise-14-8-_0246
More photos from my visit to Park Point can be found on my website.