Skip navigation

Tag Archives: crex meadows

These are my favorite photography locations in Wisconsin. More photos can be found on my website.


Blue Hills

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area


Devil’s Lake State Park


Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area


Gile Flowage


Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area


Lost Creek Falls


Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area


Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area

Vilas County




We made a late season trip through Crex Meadows the last week of summer. Things were relatively quiet. We did see a number of hawks and eagles, there were quite a few ducks around. Most of the flowers were gone as well as the butterflies.
There were a lot of Wood Ducks around, far more than I’ve seen before. It was a little difficult to photograph birds because the ducks were very skittish and the grass was so high along the road it was difficult to use the car as a blind.

The Trumpeter Swans are around. This year’s batch of young are almost adults now.

Grebes can be found on the various flowages.

Smartweed is blooming.

There was some color in the trees but it looks like most of the Aspen and Birch trees are turning brown. We noticed this same phenomenon as we drove through Northern Wisconsin.

On a quick one day visit to Crex Meadows we found a large number of wildflowers blooming.

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Sulphur Cinquefoil

Sulphur Cinquefoil



Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Canada Hawkweed

Canada Hawkweed


I had been wanting to make a trip to Crex Meadows but was down with a bug so we hadn’t been able to make the trip. Also the weather had not been cooperating. We finally found a beautiful warm day so we decided to drive up the Crex for the day. I wasn’t expecting to see much but we were pleasantly surprised.

We counted over twenty Trumpeter Swans as we drove around the dike roads. I was able to get a few action shots because the swans were moving around.



We also saw quite a few Canada Geese. This pair was right along the road and didn’t want to be disturbed.


We  saw a large number of Sandhill Cranes in fairly large groups. They were attracting a crowd in the area just west of Phantom Lake.


We also ran into a Ruffled Grouse walking across the road. I was able to exit the car and get some shots before it moved off into the woods.


In the same area as the Ruffled Grouse I managed to get some nice reflections shots in a birch grove.


I took this shot of the marsh grass in an area that I have a history. I love the beautiful grass in this area. Several years ago I stopped to take a photo and was so excited that when I walked off of the road into the grass I didn’t realize that the marsh was filled with water. Fortunately when I hit the water I was able to keep my camera dry although it took quite a while for me to dry out.


At one of the monthly gatherings of retired librarians a friend of mine, Mary Richards, mentioned that she was working on a quilt based on one of my photographs. About a month ago we had lunch with her and she brought the quilt along to show us. It was really beautiful and far outdid the original photograph. I thought it was worth sharing with my blog followers. The photograph of the quilt was taken by Bill Wikrent another friend from Stout.


This is the original photo that Mary used for her inspiration. It was taken at Crex Meadows in the spring. Early in the morning it is common to find Sandhill Cranes walking in the road.


Crex Meadows is located just outside Grantsburg, Wisconsin. It is one of the premiere locations to watch the fall migration of Greater Sandhill Cranes. In early October the Cranes start arriving in Crex to rest and feed before resuming their journey to the golf coast where they spend the winter. During peak migration there are approximately 30,000 Sandhill Cranes in the Grantsburg area. The migration continues until the marshes ice over in mid to late November.

Before making our trip to Crex Meadows we check out their great website for the latest information regarding the migration.

My wife and I usually spend the greater part of two days watching and photographing the Migration. Crex is a couple of hours northwest of our home so we usually plan to arrive in the Grantsburg area early in the afternoon of the first day.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-12-10-_0754
During the day the cranes are out in the farm fields south of Grantsburg. We drive north on highway 87 toward Grantsburg. Once we reach the junction of highway 48 and 87 we start looking for cranes. We can usually find where the cranes are feeding by watching the sky. In the afternoon they seem to start to gather into larger groups for the flight back to the Crex marshes.  Sometimes there are large numbers of birds right along highway 87. At other times it is necessary to drive the back roads east of highway 87 and north of highway 48. If we spot a flight of cranes we watch were it is heading and follow it. There are large bean and corn fields in the area and they can provide a great place to view the cranes during the day. We usually drive around looking birds in the fields in the early afternoon.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Before heading out to Crex Meadows our first stop is always at the visitors center to check on current conditions. They will have up-to-date information on where the cranes are going to be roosting. You will also be able to pick up some good maps of the area. On your first trip you might find the many roads around Crex a little confusing.Sandhill-Cranes-13-10-_2674

After checking in with the visitors center we like to drive around the entire area to check things out and see what else in happening in the meadows. We have seen American Beaver, Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans and a variety of ducks and geese as we drive around. Typically during the afternoon things are fairly quiet in the meadows with most of the cranes out feeding.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

We always stay overnight at the Grantsburg Inn in Grantsburg. This allows us to photograph the incoming flights at sunset and the outgoing flights at sunrise the next morning without a lot of driving.

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

Sandhill Cranes Sunset Flight

About an hour and a half before sunset we head toward the location where we will be watching and photographing the evening flight of the cranes into the sledge marshes. 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. The best location on the road may depend upon the stage of the migration and the water levels in the sledge marshes. The evening flight can last several hours. As sunset approaches you will start to see large numbers of Sandhill Cranes flying into the sledge marshes to nest for the night. Groups of birds can range in size from just a few to over twenty. On this particular evening I was lucky to get some black storm clouds in the background.Sandhill-Cranes-09-126--534f

In addition to the cranes there can also be some spectacular sunsets in the marsh.Sunset-Crex-Meadows-10-_9632

As the evening progresses and the light gets low you can produce some special effects by slowing the speed down.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-Evening-Flight-12-10-_1040

The next morning we typically try to be in the meadows about an hour before sunrise. Fortunately the local BP station is open early so we can get some coffee and donuts. If it looks like there is going to be a an outstanding sunrise on Phantom Lake we stop for some quick dawn or Sunrise photos.Sunrise-Phantom-Lake-Crex-Meadows-11-11-_0761

Even after sunrise it is easy to get distracted if there is a nice frost or morning fog.Sunrise---Crex-Meadows-09-127--092

Eventually we make our way to the roosting grounds. When the birds fly into the sledge marshes in the evening they are generally well back into the marshes. Overnight the cranes usually move much closer to Main Dyke Road.  Several years ago when the water levels in the marshes were very low they could be found right next to the road.Sandhill-Cranes-11-11-_0045

As the sun comes up you can get some nice morning light on the birds as well as reflection shots.Sandhill-Cranes-11-11-_0303

If you are lucky there might be some nice clouds as a background. The morning flight can last in excess of three hours. In the morning the birds move out in smaller groups as opposed to the evening flight where there can be a large number of birds in each group.Sandhill-Cranes-Crex-Meadows-11-9-_1476

I’ve photographed at Crex Meadows for a number of years and have a few things you might want to consider in planning your trip.Crex-Meadows-Sandhill-Cranes-Sunrise-Flight--12-10-_0555

Crex can be very busy on a weekend or if there are fall events underway. Checking the Crex Meadows website should tell you what is going on at any given time. I usually try to plan my visit on a weekday when there is likely to be less traffic.Crex-Meadows-12-10-_0851

There is only one motel in Grantsburg. The other option is the local campground which is popular with visitors. Staying in Grantsburg makes it much easier to photograph the sunset and sunrise flights.

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

If you visit early in the migration you will likely find a lot of standing corn in the fields. This makes it more difficult to see the cranes while they are feeding in the fields. This doesn’t mean you won’t see cranes. You can still find them feeding in open areas and pastures but probably not in the numbers you will see later after the corn has been harvested.Sandhill-Cranes-10-_9381

Early in the fall you can enjoy the fall colors as the trees turn. Later in the fall most of the leaves will have fallen although the sledge marshes still have a lot of color.Crex-Meadows-11-9-_1652

As I noted earlier the best place to view the evening and morning flights of the cranes is on Main Dyke Road. This is true for most of the migration. However, later in the season, when the marshes ice over the cranes can roust at different locations. One year late in the migration we found there was no evening flight over Main Dyke Road because the cranes were rousting at Phantom Lake. A stop at the visitors center should identify where they are rousting.Sandhill-Cranes-09-126--569

Another thing to keep in mind is the dyke roads are dirt. If there has not been any rain they can be very dusty so you need to plan on protecting your photographic equipment from the dust and giving it a good cleaning after the visit. Particularly on weekends there can be quite a bit of traffic kicking up dust.Crex-Meadows-12-10-_0849

If you plan your visit ahead and the weather is good you may get some great moon shots while watching the evening flight of the cranes.Flying-over-the-Moon-10-_9465a

The fall Sandhill Crane migrations if one of the things we look forward to and we think you will enjoy it as well.

I had several photographs receive awards in this years Crex Meadows Photo Contest. My photograph of a Karner Blue received first place in the insects category. The Karner Blue is on the federal endangered species list. Apparently it is rare nationwide but common in parts of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is making an effort to restore and protect Karner Blue habitat. Their habitat are in oak and pine barrens, dry sand prairies and other open areas with sandy soil. they lay their eggs on or near Wild Lupine plants. The caterpillars feed only on Wild Lupine. Fortunately these conditions exist in the northern part of Crex Meadows.Karner Blue 13-8-_7795

My photograph of a controlled Burn in Crex Meadows received third place in the black and white category. This photo was taken during the spring when portions of the Meadows were being burned to control brush.Controlled-Burn---Philip-Schwarz--11-5-_1977

All of the winning photos can be found on the Crex Meadows Website.

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


The wildflowers were in full bloom as we drove around Crex Meadows. This was the most wildflowers I’ve seen at one time at Crex. We seemed to have hit it just right. Normally I have problems photographing wildflowers because the wind is usually blowing at a good clip but early in the morning it was relatively calm so after driving around looking for birds we started looking for wildflowers.

More  photos from Crex Meadows can be found on my website.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine

Veine Pea

Veine Pea

Hawk's Beard

Hawk’s Beard

Downy Phlox

Downy Phlox

Goat's Beard

Goat’s Beard