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Category Archives: Sandhill Cranes

My wife and I drove up to Crex Meadows to observe the fall migration of the Greater Sandhill Cranes. About 40 thousand of them pass through Crex each fall. When we arrived at Crex we drove our normal route looking for wildlife. The fall colors were just about done but sill very nice.

 

On our drive we encountered a family of Trumpeter Swans feeding right next to the road. They seemed unconcerned when I exited the car to take their photograph. Our our return drive we found them on an old Beaver house.

 

After driving around the flowages we decided to drive some the back roads south east of Grantsburg. During the day the cranes leave the flowage and fly out to the fields to feed. You can usually spot where they are feeding by following the flying cranes. Most of the crops had not been harvested because of the rain. Those fields that had been harvested were covered with mud. The farmers must have had an interesting time trying to drive equipment in the mud.

 

We then drove back to Grantsburg to check into our motel and grab an early dinner before heading back out to the flowages. Not all of the cranes leave the flowages for the day. This one was feeding along the road. About an hour and a half before sunset the cranes start the evening flight from the fields to their rousts for the evening. The sound of them returning is something to hear. There were a large number of Trumpeter Swans resting peacefully in the nesting areas. Once the cranes started returning they caused such a disturbance that the swans started making their own  racket.

 

 

As the crane flight slowed down we decided to head back to town and try and get a few sunset photos along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to drive to Grantsburg, Wisconsin to view the fall migration of the Greater Sandhill Cranes. Approximately 40 thousand Sandhill Cranes migrate through Crex Meadows in the fall. This is a outstanding place to watch cranes because you can get up close to the cranes.  In the morning, at sunrise, the cranes start moving with most of them flying out to the fields southeast of Grantsburg to feed. The best time to see the cranes is mid October to mid November.

There are also a large number of Trumpeter Swans residing in the flowages. They are typically quiet but when the cranes start moving they make a lot of noise and the swans then start honking as well.

 

 

This visit was made in mid October when the fall leaves were still in color.

 

I recently drove up to Crex Meadows to find out what was going on. Not a lot of wildlife to be found but I still managed a few shots.

On our recent visits to Crex Meadows we have seen quite a few Sandhill Cranes.

 

This past weekend was the Annual Midwest Crane Count for my area. It was originally scheduled for April 13th but was postponed one week because of a blizzard. Probably a good thing it was because there were not many birds around the day after the blizzard. When we headed out early in the morning we were greeted with a full moon. Our counting area was Gilbert Creek Fishery and Wildlife Area about seven miles west of Menomonie, Wisconsin.

 


The goal was to count Sandhill Cranes. We saw four cranes and heard another pair calling. This tied for the most cranes we have counted during the crane count

 

In addition we counted other birds in the area. The highest count was for Red-winged Blackbirds. We stopped counting at thirty five. All but one of them were male birds. The second photo is of the only female that we saw.

There were a few Buffleheads in the pond and they seemed to be chasing one another around the pond.

 

For the first time since I started counting I found Trumpeter Swans in the area. I noticed them a couple of times this spring so maybe they will stay for the season.

 

There were several Canadian Geese on their nests.

It’s the spring doldrums. The weather is nice but there is still lots snow around so I can’t get out to do any yard work. I decided to make another trip up to Crex Meadows on Thursday. My wife decided to come along. It’s always a good idea to have a driver. Turned out to be a good decision because I saw quite a few new birds that have arrived at Crex Meadows. The Sandhill Cranes are back in large numbers. In the first photo the crane is preening itself with mud. The Iron in the mud stains the feathers giving the crane the reddish color. Notice that in the last photos these cranes are still the lighter color.

We also encountered a Great Blue Heron right along the road. Normally they take off when we drive up but this one stood its ground. When it did fly it only few a short distance and stayed along the road. We followed it for about 50 yards as it moved from place to place. It was a great chance to get a variety of poses.

There were a large number of Hooded Mergansers in the meadows. They were a bit shy but I was able to get a few photos.

 

There were more Trumpeter Swans around than there were a couple of weeks ago.

Once again we saw over a dozen Bald Eagles. The first photo shows one near the nest. The mate was sitting on the side of the nest. I don’t think there were any eggs yet.

There were quite a few Canadian Geese around.

We saw a couple of Muskrats. This one was right beside the road and seemed totally oblivious to our presence.

Still quite a bit of ice around the meadows and some of the roads were quite muddy.

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.

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.