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Category Archives: Phantom Lake

Late summer is probably not the best time to visit Crex Meadows. The summer flowers and butterflies are gone and the Sandhill Cranes have not started their fall migration. My wife and I were a little desperate to get out. We haven’t been able to get out much because of a home remodeling project and the constant rain. The weather was looking good for a couple of days so we decided to drive up to Crex. The Northern Lights were supposed to be out and I hopped to get some star trail shots.

We drove around looking for wildlife but didn’t find a lot to photograph. There were a few Eagles perched out in the marsh but they were quite far away. There were some Pied-billed Grebes and Trumpeter Swans but they were too far away to photograph.

It was a beautiful day in the morning and early afternoon but as sunset came the clouds moved in and there was no sunset or clear skies so we called it a night.

The next morning didn’t start off much better. I had planned to get up early to photograph some star trails but decided it was going to be too cloudy. It turned out to be a good decision. This was as close as we got to a sunrise.

Phantom Lake Sunrise

Phantom Lake Sunrise

Things picked up a little later in the morning when the sun created some really nice light against the clouds and provided a little color on the horizon.

Crex Meadows

Crex Meadows

As we drove around we could hear the Sandhill Cranes off in the marsh. Soon they started to fly out to their feeding grounds. I was lucky enough to catch this family before they headed out. Although there were only about a hundred swans around there will be thousands of them during the fall migration. Check out my blog for additional fall Sandhill Crane photography information.

Sandhill Crane Family

Sandhill Crane Family

On the north side of the refuge we found a family of Trumpeter Swans near the road. We counted at least three cygnets although it was difficult to tell because they were hidden in the weeds.

Trumpeter Swan Family

Trumpeter Swan Family

As we were leaving Crex Meadows I put my camera gear away. Big Mistake! As were driving through Grantsburg near North Oak Street and Memory Lake a mama bear and three cubs ran across the road and down the sidewalk.

Here are a few shots from my last visit to Crex Meadows. I was able to capture the sunset, dawn and sunrise.Crex-Meadows-Sunset-14-07-_1273a



I drove up to Crex Meadows a few weeks ago on an overnight road trip. It had been raining for weeks and we finally got some clear weather so I took advantage of it. When I arrived there were beautiful fluffy clouds over the Meadows. I drove around Crex for a while but there was not a lot happening. Most of the birds were taking a mid day nap and it was too windy to photograph the flowers.Crex-Meadows-14-07-_1208

I did find a large number of Hairstreaks feeding on Butterfly Plants and was able to get a few shots before heading back to Grantsburg for dinner.Hairstreak-gathering-14-07-_1204

I drove back out to Crex after dinner and found some young Pied-billed Grebes right along shore on Phantom Lake. I watched them for quite a while. The light was good late in the day for photographing them.Pied-billed-Grebe-14-7-_1914

I decided to photograph the sunset from the south end of Phantom Lake. I was disappointed that it wasn’t a better sunset given all of the clouds earlier in the day.Crex-Meadows-Sunset-14-07-_1243

The next morning I was up to capture some dawn photographs. My wife wasn’t along on this trip so I didn’t feel guilty about getting up around 4am. I stopped for some coffee and then drove out to Phantom lake to await for dawn. It was a beautiful dawn.Crex-Meadows-Sunrise-14-07-_0982

About an hour later the sun came up. There were not many clouds but there was a bit of ground fog on Phantom lake that made for some interesting shots.Crex-Meadows-Sunrise-14-07-_1087

After sunrise I spent quite a bit of time watching the Pied-billed Grebes feeding their young along the western edge of Phantom Lake. Unfortunately they were backlit so it was not a good time for pictures. This adult Grebe was feeding two fledglings. The one fledgling seemed to be getting all of the food. It would bide it’s time until the adult would surface with some food then dash to the adult so it would get the food. Finally the adult got fed up and dunked the fledgling and then chased it down the lake. I never saw it again. The remaining fledgling they got all of the food.Pied-billed-Grebes-14-7-_1627

There were a few Sandhill Cranes around. I photographed these in the fields at the north end of the Meadows. I did see one pair of adults with a colt but didn’t get any photographs.Sandhill-Cranes-14-7-_1662

It was well after sunrise and it was still relatively calm out. Normally I have trouble photographing flowers and small objects because the wind is usually blowing at a good clip. I photographed this Northern Bluet Damselfly along Phantom Lake.Northern-Bluet-Damselfly-14-7-_1862

I then started driving around Crex looking for flower photographs. This is a great time to photograph the wildflowers at Crex. The visitors center sells a nice book identifying the flowers found in the Grantsburg areaWood-Lilly-14-7-_1705

Now that fall is officially over I can post my favorite fall photographs of 2011 and start looking forward to winter photography.

I chose this photograph of a Sumac patch because of the interesting patterns. Sumac are generally the first to show the reds of fall. It was taken on my farm after a rain that darkened the color on the Sumac bark.


This small waterfall was taken early in the fall at Big Falls County Park east of Eau Claire Wisconsin. We had started over to the park earlier in the day when it was cloudy out. By the time we arrived the sun was going in and out of the clouds making it difficult to shoot. I managed this shot shortly after the sun went behind a cloud.

Big Falls

On an early fall trip we drove up to Copper Harbor, Michigan. The quality of the leaves varied but this bog shot taken just south of Houghton, Michigan showed the start of some fantastic color.


I love taking fall reflection shots. This was my favorite reflection shot of the season taken at the mouth of the Black River outside Ironwood, Michigan. It was taken from the docks under the footbridge over the river.

Black River Reflections

This photo was taken from the top of the Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill outside Ironwood, Michigan. You can see for miles from the top of the ski jump. There was still a lot of fall color in spite of the heavy winds earlier in the week. You can see Lake Superior in the background.

Copper Peak View

My wife and I had driven out to Gile Flowage just outside Hurley, Wisconsin to capture the sunrise. It is a great place to photograph because you can shoot the sun rising and turn around and shoot the early light on the trees resplendent in fall color. We had actually finished shooting for the morning and were driving to a place where we could turn the car around when I decided to take a couple of more shots. This turned out to be the last shot and my favorite.

Gile Flowage Sunrise

My wife had a meeting at meeting at Turtleback Golf Course in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I rode along and planned on spending the day out photographing fall colors. As I drove into the parking lot I noticed the beautiful colors and captured this shot.

Turtleback Golf Course

Later that same day I was driving around in the Blue Hills east of Rice Lake. Late in the afternoon I managed to capture these bright yellows.

Rusk County

I really like this backlit scene taken near Pete’s Lake south of Munising, Michigan. I darkened the tree trunks to create a contrast with the bright reds and pastels in the background.

Pete’s Lake

This photo of a leaf on leaf was taken at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I was photographing late in the day at Miners Beach. I was attracted to the leaf and the water and rock patterns just below Elliot Falls.

Leaf on Leaf

This is a shot taken from the top of Laughing Whitefish Falls east of Munising, Michigan. I tiptoed between the river and the viewing stand to get to the top of the falls and look over the edge and took the shot with a wide angle lens.

Laughing Whitefish Falls

Pewits Nest is one of the Wisconsin State Natural Areas. It is located just outside Baraboo, Wisconsin. It is a popular photo location in the fall when the leaves are turning. Unfortunately most of the leaves were down when we arrived but it still makes for a spectacular photograph.

Pewits Nest

Crex Meadow was the location of three of my favorite photos. All of the photos were taken within a couple of hours of each other. The first photo was taken as sunrise on Phantom Lake. I had originally planned to drive directly out to the Sandhill Crane roosting grounds but the sunrise on this particular day was so spectacular that I couldn’t pass it up.

Sunrise Phantom Lake

After photographing the sunrise I drove on to the rousting grounds for the Sandhill Cranes. The sky was very dramatic and I caught this small flight of Sandhill Cranes heading out for their feeding grounds.

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

This last photo was taken a little while later. Most of the Sandhill cranes had already left for their feeding grounds but I found a small group of them standing in some thin ice early in the morning. Shortly after this was taken they headed out for the day.

Sandhill Cranes

When most of the fall colors are gone and there are just a few leaves remaining I concentrate on photographing single backlit leaves. You can get some dramatic photographs using this technique.

Backlit Leaf

This hot was taken late in the fall at Duluth, Minnesota. It shows the South Breakwater Outer Light during a spectacular sunrise. We had stayed at a motel in Canal Park specifically so I could photograph a sunrise. When It came time to get moving I was a little slow until I saw the bright red color in the window. I was outside photographing in less than 10 minutes.

South Breakwater Outer Light Slunrise

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.

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