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Category Archives: Muskrat

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.

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My wife and I made our first visit to Hoffman Hills Recreation Area since our return from Iceland. There were a few birds around. It looks like Eastern Bluebirds have taken up residence in several houses.

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There was a little activity in the ponds. We found this Muskrat in the first pond. He didn’t pay much attention to us as we walked around the pond. The second pond was completely covered in scum and there was no evidence of any birds or animals using it.

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There were a few flowers around. The Spiderwort is the most common.

Spiderwort

The Prairie Smoke is just about gone.

Prairie Smoke

Orange Hawkweed is common on the trails.

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Dragon Flies are out and about.

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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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In spite of the fact that it is a national wildlife refuge I rarely manage to photograph any wildlife at Trempealeau. This trip was different. As we drove through I noticed a large number of Gulls flying around a backwater. When I went over to see what they were doing I found they were fishing. I watched for a while and managed to capture a few of them.

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I also noticed a number of immature Bald Eagles watching the activity. On the trip we probably saw in excess of 30 Bald Eagles.

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I was surprised to find the Painted Turtles out sunning themselves. It wasn’t all that warm out.

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We noticed quite a few ducks in one of the backwaters so we stopped to watch. I managed to get a photo of this Northern Shoveler as it swam by.

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While we were watching the ducks a Muskrat also swam by.

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There is a lot going on at Hoffman Hills these days. We have been seeing Sandhill Cranes in the Prairie area.

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There are Canada Geese, Ducks and King Fishers hanging around the ponds.

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We noticed a Muskrat in the first pond.

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The Eastern Bluebirds have returned.

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In the next couple of weeks the trees will have full color. The Birch and Maples are already budding out.

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The Pussy Willows are just about done blooming.

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Pussy Willows

Walking around Hoffman Hill we encountered a Muskrat in one of the ponds. This is the first one we have seen in a number of years.

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The DNR did a controlled burn this spring and now the grass is emerging through the black burn area.

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The leaves are starting to form around the wetlands area.

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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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We normally make a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in early June. This year we were busy with other things and this past weekend was the first chance we had to make the trip. It’s a long drive so we ended up taking a four day weekend for the trip.

Day 1

The first day is normally a long driving day. It takes about seven hours to reach Pictured Rocks and usually a little longer if we make any stops. The weather report was for a cloudy day so we decided to try and stop at some waterfalls in order to break up the trip.

Bond Falls

The first stop was at one of my favorite waterfalls, Bond Falls. It had been cloudy the entire trip and I like to shoot waterfalls on cloudy or overcast days because it provides a more even light. As luck would have it as soon as we reached Bond Falls the sun came out. I seemed to be cursed on my visits to Bond Falls. The trip to the falls is generally made with overcast skies and as soon as I arrive the Sun comes out. Bond falls is below a dam so there is always a good flow of water over the falls. This shot was made at a small waterfall above the main falls.

Ferns

Our second stop of the day was at Canyon Falls which is just a short driving distance from Bond Falls and was on our way to Munising. I thought the U.P. might have received some of the heavy rains that came through Northern Wisconsin the past few weeks and hoped that the water level was high but it didn’t happen. The water levels were low for this time of year and the falls did not offer particularly good photographic opportunities. This is a shot of some ferns growing on the wall above the falls.

Elliot Falls

Sunset Miners Beach

Because of our stops we didn’t reach Munising late in the day. We grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to Miners Beach at Pictured Rocks. I normally photograph sunsets from Miners Beach. It can offer some spectacular sunsets and there is a small waterfall that it a popular photography location. This was one of the few visits when there was no one else on the beach. It is still early season in the U.P. so there were not a lot of other folks around at any of the locations we visited. My wife noticed that there were quite a few flies attracted to her boots but I didn’t notice them. It turned out this was significant but we didn’t realize how significant until the next Day. The shot on the left shows the sunset. I’ve seen a lot better at Miners Beach but it was still nice. The lake was very calm so there wasn’t much wave action. The shot on the right shows Elliot Creek Falls as it emerges from forest.

Day 2

Pictured Rocks

Day two was a scheduled hiking day. We decided to drive back to Miners Beach and hike from Miners Beach over to Mosquito Beach. It’s about a six mile round trip and it was our first time on this portion of the Lakeshore Trail. The first few hundred yards are very steep and hard on someone with bad hamstrings. There were a wide variety of flowers out but not a lot of each type of flower. It looked like in a week the woods will once again be carpeted with wild flowers. There are some good places to view the lakeshore from along this portion of the Trail.

Sand Patterns

Birch Tree

On the second observation point we got an inkling of what was to come. We walked out into the sand and were immediately covered with Stable Flies. We quickly headed back onto the main trail but the flies remained with us. It made for a miserable day because every stop we picked up more flies. For the most part they just hang on to your clothes but they will bite exposed skin. The last thing you want to do on a warm day is wear long pants and shirts but it is the best course of action. Fortunately they don’t cause large welts when they do bite. Insect repellents have no effect on them. We later found out that they cluster along the beach on hot days, it was close to 80 degrees, when the wind is out of the south. We ended up hiking the entire trip without any breaks. Three young people had started out hiking ahead of us and we met them as they were running back to the trailhead. This was our first and hopefully last experience with Stable Flies. They were out early this year. One of the rangers said they were first seen in May this year. The shot on the right shows some sand patterns at Mosquito Beach and the left is of a Birch Tree with the lake in the background.

Wagner Falls

The presence of Sable Flies considerably reduced out options for the day’s activities. We ended up going back to the motel and watching a Euro 2012 football game. Later in the day it clouded up so we had an early dinner and then went out to photograph some waterfalls. Fortunately there are quite a few waterfalls in Munising. I think there are six of them and we stopped at four of them during the evening before driving out to sand point and hiking a short  nature trail. This is a shot of Wagner Falls just outside town.

Day 3

Day three was supposed to be another hiking day. We had planned to drive to the Hurricane River campground then hike along the beach to Au Sable Lighthouse. We love hiking along the beach because it isn’t all sand and offers a variety of scenery. It is also nice because the wind is usually blowing and there are no mosquitoes.  On the drive to Hurricane River we stopped at Twelve Mile Beach to check on fly conditions. As we exited the car we were immediately engulfed in Stable Flies. Well the best laid plans just went out the window and the flies came in. It took us most of the day to get all of the flies out of the car.

Goslings

Our original plans were to hike  for most of the day then drive over to Seney National Wildlife Refuge late in the day. With Stable Flies at all of the beaches we decided to drive directly over to Seney and forget about hiking along the lakeshore. It was around noon when we arrived at Seney so we didn’t expect to see a lot of wildlife activity as we drove around the refuge. We drove the Fishing Loop and part of the Marshland Wildlife Drive. On the Fishing Loop we could see how close the recent wildfires had gotten to the main public roads in the refuge. There were a few birds out and we did see some Canada Geese Goslings that weren’t very old.

Boats

Since there wasn’t a lot going on in the refuge we decided we had enough time to drive over to Tahquamenon Falls before returning for some sunset photography. We had visited the Upper Falls on a trip the previous fall so we decided to try the Lower Falls this trip. I had seen better water levels and more interesting water action on previous trips so I concentrated on photographing people enjoying the river. This is a shot of the boat rental area.

Trumpeter Swans

We then drove back to Seney and had dinner at a local bar before heading back out to the Wildlife Refuge. It was about six in the evening and we had about four hours to kill before sunset. We ended up taking the Marshland Wildlife Drive twice before sunset. There was a lot to see. Seney has a large number of Trumpeter Swans. Captive swans were introduced over twenty years ago and they have flourished at Seney and are a common sight on the refuge. This is a shot of Trumpeter Swan Cygnets feeding with one of the parents. We were able to observe them for a long period of time. While they were in deeper water the cygnets would wait while the adult fed off of

Cygnet

the bottom. The adult would then bring up food from the bottom for the cygnets. The cygnets would rush over to feed on the material the adult brought up. We observed two different pair of adults. One pair had two cygnets and the other pair had four. In both cases we were able to stand on the shore and eventually they came right up to the shoreline to feed. The adults didn’t seem to be too concerned with our presence. This was definitely the highlight of our visit.

In addition to the swans we saw many other birds including Grebes, Kingfishers, Kingbirds, Loons and Canada Geese. In one location there were a bunch of Canada Geese with their teenage offspring that didn’t want to get out of the road. Every time we drove past they would run down the center of the road in front of the car until finally moving off toward the lake.

Muskrat

We also saw White-tailed Deer with their fawns walking along the road. Muskrats and Beaver were abundant late in the day. They were, well, working like beavers. In a couple of cases we could see what appeared to be small islands moving through the water. The beaver were moving so much material we could hardly see the beavers. We found this Muskrat eating on a tree that had fallen into the water.

Sunset

We made one last drive, our fourth trip of the day, around the Marshland Wildlife Drive in order to photograph the sunset. I have The Photographer’s Ephemeris loaded onto my Android phone so as we made earlier trips through the refuge I used it to pick out some good locations for sunset and sunrise shots. The sunset was good but not spectacular. Unfortunately there were clouds along the horizon so the sunset didn’t last as long as we hoped.

Seney Sunset

Nothing will top the sunset photo I managed to capture last year on our fall trip to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. There were a number of Contrails in the sky at sunset and they combined with the clouds to create a spectacular image.

Day 4

Sunrise

On day four we packed up and headed out for some Sunrise photography. Fortunately, we were on eastern time so sunrise wasn’t until six in the morning rather than five. The extra hour of sleep was welcome after a long day three. When we woke up the sky was filled with clouds so I wasn’t optimistic that we would have a good sunrise. As it turns out the sunrise only lasted for about fifteen minutes before the clouds took over and it started raining. I was able to get a few shots off before things went south.

The plan was to drive down to Manistique, Michigan for breakfast. The local Big Boy had fast internet service so we used the service to check on possible waterfall locations on the route home. I knew that Marinette County has a number of waterfalls but didn’t know where they were located. As it turned out a number of them were located along our route home. All of the falls were located in county parks. The admission fee is three dollars for the day and allows you to visit all of the parks.

Smalley Falls

Our first stop was at Smalley falls. This is a delightful little waterfall that is just a short hike from the parking lot. There are a wide variety of shots to be had if you are interested in taking intimate waterfall scenes. If I had been willing to wade into the stream there would have been a few more shots. Next time I’m going we bring my waders.

Long Slide Falls

The second waterfall was Long Slide Falls. Again this was located in a county park and was only a short walk from the parking lot. Unfortunately it is difficult if not impossible to photograph the entire falls in one shot but there are smaller portions that can be photographed. The area around the falls is quite steep and since I’m no longer an agile youngster I decided to use discretion and probably missed some good shots because of it.

Daves Falls

The last waterfall we stopped at was Dave’s Falls. Again it is difficult to get a good shot of the entire falls but there are intimate shots of portions of the falls to be had. It had been raining so the rocks were wet and I again used discretion and didn’t try for a spectacular shot.

This was our last stop on the way home. The remaining portion of the trip was a little more exciting than we would have liked. We encountered severe storms west of Wausau, Wisconsin. The wind and driving rain/hail forced us to pull off of the road several times. To make matters worse Verizon seemed to be having some problems with their network connections so we couldn’t follow the storm on our cell phones. We eventually did make it home safely.

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.

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.