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Category Archives: Willow Falls

Last weekend my wife and I drove over to Willow River State Park. When we left home it was a bright sunny day but as we neared the Wisconsin border we encountered heavy fog. The trees along the road were covered with frost. On my last trip to Willow River the same thing happened but the frost disappeared before I reached the park. This time when we reached the parking lot everything was covered in frost. I was there would be frost on the trees near Willow Falls but as we walked into the river valley the frost disappeared.

Frost

There was not a lot of good ice at Willow Falls. There were some big chunks near the top of the falls but not a lot of interesting ice near the bottom.

Ice Formation

Willow Falls

After shooting at the falls we decided to walk west along the river to see if we could find any Trumpeter Swans. I had seen them fly over on my previous trip and I know they winter in the open water below the falls. Normally you can’t walk along the river trail because it is a ski trail in the winter. However, the weather has been so warm that the trail is not skiable and continues to be used for hiking. We did find some ducks and geese along the river but no swans. We met another hiker who said the swans were on some open water at the head of the lake. Shortly after we arrived they took off. There were some potentially great shots of them flying with dark clouds in the background but there were too many trees in the way to get a clear shot.

Mallards

More photos from Willow River can be found on my website.

 

I normally purchase my Wisconsin state park sticker at Willow River State Park. When I stopped in December the office was closed so I thought I would try again today. This time I planned ahead and called the park. The office wasn’t open and the only way you can purchase a senior park sticker is in person. What to do? I started looking around to see if there was someplace else where I could purchase it. Turns out that Baldwin, Wisconsin has a regional DNR office and they just happened to be open on Wednesdays. Since this was on my way to Willow River I made the stop and purchased my two senior park stickers for 2012. I’m now ready to hit the parks for another year.

 When I pulled into the Willow Falls parking lot there was not a car to be seen. I don’t remember the last time this happened. I suppose with the lack of snow and cold weather the falls isn’t much of a draw. The first thing I noticed was the trail to the falls was glare ice. There was no way I would make it to the falls without some ice cleats on my feet. Fortunately I always carry them on my pack in the winter. Even with them on it was slow going on the ice.

 When I reached the river level I notice a mature Bald Eagle fly into a tree. As I was watching that one I noted another one in a tree. Then I saw a Pileated Woodpecker in a nearby tree. When I left home I had my Birding lens and camera in my pack and since I was too lazy to take it out I was ready to shoot the eagles. Unfortunately I only managed a distant shot before the eagles took off. I left my birding lens on the tripod and headed for the falls.

There was no frost, too warm, and very little ice in the falls. Since the ice formations were so small I decided to leave my birding lens (500mm) lens on the camera and use it to photograph the ice formations. I wandered around both sides of the river but could only find a few close-up shots that were worth taking.

 As I started to leave I noticed some watercress growing in a small stream. I stopped to take a few photos of it before heading back down the trail.

Rather than go back to the car I decided to walk down the ski trail that follows the river back toward the main parking lot. Normally you couldn’t hike on the trail but since it was glare ice I though no one would mind. I heard some geese and duck along the river and thought I might get a few shots. As it turned out the ducks took off before I got close enough and the geese were too far away. I took a few ice shots and started back to the car. Just then I heard something overhead and saw six Trumpeter Swans fly over. I had seen them in this area before but didn’t expect to this year because of the large amount of open water available to them. I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot but it was a great sight nonetheless

 

This is probably the worst stretch for photography I’ve ever experienced. Things turned brown in mid October and have continued that way for most of the fall and into the winter. We had a brief snowfall that provided an opportunity for a few photos but for the most part there has not been much to photograph. The last couple of weeks I’ve been out to some of my winter locations without much luck.

Frozen in Time

Normally at this time of year I’m getting some great ice and frost pictures on the Red Cedar Trail. This year the trail has remained open for hiking which is great for those folks that don’t ski and would like to walk down and view the ice formations on the trail. Conditions on the trail vary from no snow, to a slight snow to ice covered. Unfortunately the ice walls have not really formed this year because it’s been so warm. The ice wall looks like it normally would in the spring when it has just about completely melted. It’s even difficult to find ice along the small streams that flow into the Red Cedar River. This was taken along the trail where a small patch of snow had melted and then froze.

Devil's Punchbowl

The Devil’s Punchbowl has the same problem. The ice formation are very disappointing and the warm weather means that you are still walking through mud to photograph the ice that has formed. This is what it should look like at Devil’s Punchbowl this time of year.

Watercress

Normally I’ve made several trips to the Bjornson Education Recreation Center by this time of year. It usually provides some interesting frost shots along the streams. There are a number of spring fed streams that run through the center and when the warm water comes out of the hills it creates a lot of steam and hence frost when it is cold. No such luck this year. There isn’t even any ice in the streams and very little snow cover on the trails. The one thing I did notice is that the Watercress has recovered in the streams. A couple of years ago we had a really harsh winter and in March all of a sudden the Watercress disappeared from the streams. The deer in the area were so desperate for food that they eliminated it in a few days and it is just now recovering.

 

Ice Formation

Willow River State Park is another area I frequently visit during cold weather. There are usually some great frost and ice shots to be had. This winter most of the ice seems to be on the trails. Normally folks are skiing on the trails but the trail down from the upper parking lot to the falls is glare ice so be prepared for a fast trip down to the falls.

Northern Cardinal - male

Normally I do a lot of bird photography on my farm in the winter. This year there are hardly any birds at the feeder. There are always American Goldfinches around. Apparently they are a lazy group and would rather eat at the feeder than forage for food. Normally I have all kinds of Dark-eyed Juncos and Black-capped Chickadees around. This year the only time I’ve seen them is right after a snowfall. As soon as the snow melts they are gone. I’ve seen a few male Northern Cardinals but again only right after a snowfall. This photo was taken last year.

I drove over to Willow River State Park near Hudson, Wisconsin this morning to check on conditions and do a little photography. I checked my log and discovered this was the earliest I had visited the park in the spring. Normally my first stop is at Willow Falls first but today I drove through the park to the nature center. As I drove into the parking lot I noticed a large number of swallows flying around in the open area. I was a little surprised since these were the first swallows I had seen this spring. There were also a number of Eastern Bluebirds also in the area. It is a little early for nesting and none of the birds were showing any interest in the bird houses. In a few weeks they will be staking out their territory.

 

Canada Goose

There are normally a couple of Canada Geese around the lake and today was no exception. I took a few photographs of them and then started walking along Little Falls Lake toward the falls. The trail was clear down to the boat landing but it looked to be covered with snow and ice beyond that point. There were a couple of Golden Eagles on the edge of the ice near the open water. They were a little far for a shot. There also were a number of Buffleheads in the open water. At least that’s what I think they were.

 

Ice Patterns

I decided not to walk to the falls because the amount of ice on the trail and started back toward the picnic area. There were some interesting ice formations on a little backwater area and I stopped to take a few photographs. When I arrived back in the picnic area there were a pair of bluebirds about. After some effort I managed to get a shot of one of them.

 

I then drove out of the park and over to the small parking area near Willow falls. The trail to the top of the hill was clear but the paved road leading down toward the falls was snow covered and icy. I took my time and managed not to fall. There were a couple of Wild Turkeys at the bottom of the hill.

 

As soon as I reached the bottom of the hill I could hear the falls so I knew there was a lot of water running. The spring melt is underway and there was more water than I had seen in previous trips to the falls. My preference is to shoot waterfalls when the water is lower because it offers the opportunity to take intimate photos of rocks and water. When the river is running at a high lever there is not much to shoot except a lot of water running. I took a few shots but there wasn’t a lot that interested me.

 

Rock Climber

I was just about to leave when two young men came down the trail. I noticed they had hardhats and climbing gear so I stuck around to see what was up. The area on the north side of the falls is a popular climbing area and that’s where they were headed. I watched the first climber follow the route and clip in along the way.

There are  more spring photos of Willow River State Park on my Website.

 

My favorite waterfall for winter photography is Willow falls located in Willow River State Park near Hudson, Wisconsin. What I like about Willow falls is the fact that during most of the winter the falls is not entirely frozen so you have the opportunity to photograph ice formations in combination with running water.

Ice Formation

I generally start photographing toward the end of December. If we get a cold snap and some fresh snow it signals that it is time to head to Willow falls. I typically use a 28-300mm lens which allows me to take in the full falls as well as shoot close-ups of ice formations. Occasionally I use a wide angle lens. If we have a real cold snap and there is a lot of open water you can encounter considerable frost buildup on the trees and ground cover surrounding the falls. I spend most of my time shooting individual ice formations usually in combination with open water.

This is the site of my greatest photographic disaster. It was my first winter photographing at willow falls and I became so excited at seeing the great ice formations that I accidentally turned the wrong knob on my tripod head and loosened the camera from the tripod. When I picked up the tripod to move it the camera fell into the water. The camera seemed to fall in slow motion as I watched.

Willow River Frost

Access to the falls is somewhat limited in the winter because most of the trails are groomed for cross country skiing. If you drive to the park on county road A and drive past the park entrance you will see a parking lot on your left. Note that a fee is required for parking. You can walk on the ski trail down to the falls from this parking lot. This is also a cross country ski trail so walk with care and don’t walk on the ski tracks. The walk down into the river valley is steep and can be treacherous if it is icy out. I always wear STABILicers traction devices on the bottom of my boots. They have steel cleats that provide excellent traction even on steep icy slopes and Velcro straps that make them easy to put on and remove. There are a variety of such devices on the market that work well on ice and hard packed snow. These are also helpful in walking around the falls.

Willow River

Additional photos of Willow Falls can be found on my Website.