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Category Archives: Sandhill Cranes

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

 

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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.

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.

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