Skip navigation

Category Archives: Sandhill Cranes

After last weekends blizzard things finally started to warm up so my wife and I drove out to Hoffman Hills looking for birds. When we arrived we found the water in the prairie ponds was the highest we have seen it. It was flowing over the pond banks in several places. The first pond we approached was still mostly frozen. Several ducks flew as we approached the pond. I think they were Blue-winged Teals. We noticed a Hooded Merganser across the pond.

The Pussy Willows are starting to bloom although they were further ahead in the Gilbert Creek area.

As we approached the second pond we noticed a pair of Belted Kingfishers. I was able to get a shot of one through the trees before it flew. They seem to be very shy.

As we returned to the first pond all heck broke loose. Two Canada Gee

se were in the pond and a third flew in causing quite a ruckus. One of the initial pair chased the third goose into another small pond and then chased it away entirely. Then the two geese few to another area.

We started tracking the pair of Belted Kingfishers before they finally both flew away. About that time we heard some Sandhill Cranes fly into the area and another pair fly in from a different direction. They were all calling at once.

After things quieted down we noticed what appeared to be a third Belted Kingfisher sitting on a dead birch tree. It was fishing in a small pond of open water. We watched it fish for about an hour. It dove off his perch about a half dozen times three times hitting the water. Finally it caught something. Since the ice was just off the pond there didn’t seem to be a lot of things to eat.

It was a very productive visit.

Advertisements

This weekend was the annual Midwest Sandhill Crane Count. Actually it was scheduled for April 14th but we were in the middle of a three day blizzard so the count was postponed one week. This year my wife agreed to go with me as long as I took her to breakfast afterword. We were up before sunrise and headed to my designated area which happened to be Gilbert Creek. The area is surrounded by roads so I typically drive around stopping along the way to listen and watch. We had already gone around once without seeing anything but things picked up just after sunrise. We noticed a pair of cranes in a backwater area. We watched them for a while before I heard several cranes calling some distance away. As we drove past a pond we noticed a second pair of cranes in the pond. I photographed them before continuing on to where I heard the cranes calling. There was a third pair at that location. In all we saw six cranes. This is the most I have counted during the years I’ve been counting.

There were also some Wood Ducks in the pond.

A pair of Pied-billed Grebes were also swimming around.

Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds were singing.

There was also a Muskrat swimming in the pond.

There were a bunch of American Coots in the pond.

I was surprised to find a number of Canada Geese on the nests considering we were a week away form a three day blizzard.

This was one of the best count days I’ve had over the years.

Photos from a walk along the Red Cedar State Trail.

Bloodroot

Pussy Willow

Marsh Marigolds

Sandhill Crane

Cattail

Wild Geranium

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.

Spring is the time I like to drive over to Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area to view the birds. We had driven past last week and noticed that there were already a number of Sandhill Cranes in the area. I drove down just after sunrise and didn’t see much to photograph. Later in the morning we were in the area so we drove over to see if things had improved. Just as we arrived my wife noticed a couple of Sandhill Cranes calling. There was another pair in the wetlands but we couldn’t see them.

There were quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds around but we didn’t see any females.

Lots of Canada Geese in the pond.

There were also quite a few ducks around including  this pair that seemed to be staking out a nesting place. There were also a number of Wood Ducks around but they were a little skittish so no photos.

When things get a little dull I like to take photos of just about anything. This is last years Cattail.

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.

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-5467

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-4971

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-5709

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-5583

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-4799

sandhill-cranes-crex-meadows-16-10-5568

Last week we made our first summer visit to Crex Meadows since returning from Iceland. Things have really changed since our last visit. The large amount rain we received in May and June has raised the water levels in the ponds and really made the vegetation grow. In some places it is difficult to photograph from the car because the grass is so high along the road.

We found some Wood Ducks sitting on a log. On our second pass around the Meadows this one was still sitting there and posed for me. It’s the first Wood Duck I’ve been able to photograph up close and my first one at Crex.

Wood-Duck-Crex-Meadows-16-6-_8372

The ducklings were all over the place. It was fun to watch them making their way through the lily pads.

Ducklings-16-6-_8358

This Red-winged Blackbird landed next to the road. I had my wife drive up to it and it didn’t move. I was able to get some great shots before moving on.

Red-winged-Blackbird-Crex-Meadows-16-6-_8328

We found this fledgling sitting in the road. When we stopped it hopped into the foliage along the road and sat there while I took its picture. I think it was a young Red-winged Blackbird.

Fledgling-Red-winged-Blackbird-16-6-_8366

There were lots of Trumpeter Swans around with their young. They looked to be teenagers now.

Trumpeter-Swans-Crex-Meadows-16-6-_8338

We drove past a Bald Eagle nest on the north side of the refuge. It had one eagle in it. The wind was blowing and it seemed to be testing its wings into the wind. I will probably be gone from the nest very soon.

Fledgling-Bald-Eagle-Crex-Meadows-16-6-_8361

A short time later we encountered two Sandhill Cranes walking through the Prairie.

Sandhill-Cranes-16-6-_8362

I’ve photographed Great Blue Herons before at Crex but this is probably the best photo of them that I’ve gotten.

Great-Blue-Heron-Crex-Meadows-16-6-_8376

It was a great day for bird photography.

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.

American-White-Pelican-16-5-_4885

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

Ring-necked-Ducks-Crex-Meadows-16-5-_4912

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

Canada-Geese-with-Goslings-Crex-Meadows-16-5-_4962

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

Pied-billed-Grebe-Crex-Meadows--16-5-_5012

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.

Sandhill-Cranes-Crex-Meadows-16-5-_5165

One evening my wife and I decided to drive down the road to a small pond along the road. Earlier in the day we had seen some Wood Ducks in the pond. They usually show up in the spring before disappearing.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

On the way down we noticed this Sandhill Crane feeding in a field. This is becoming a common sight in Wisconsin.

Sandhill-Crane-16-5-_5339