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Category Archives: Lilly Pads

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.

Bald Eagle

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


More photos from Crex Meadows on my website.

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.