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Tag Archives: Sandhill Cranes

We made a short visit to Crex Meadows last week and were rewarded with quite a few different thing to photograph.

Bald Eagle

White Water Lily

White-tailed Deer

Sandhill Cranes

Red-legged Grasshopper

Pied-billed Grebe

Painted Turtle

Milkweed Seed

Great Blue Heron

Autumn Meadowhawk

This past week we drove through Crex Meadows on the way to Duluth, Minnesota. We saw quite a bit of wildlife and the DNR staging for a controlled burn. Unfortunately the burn didn’t happen. More photos from Crex Meadows can be found on my website.


Northern Harrier


Blue-winged Teal

Ring-necked Duck

Canada Geese

Pied-billed Grebes

Sandhill Cranes

Trumpeter Swan


Yesterday we drove up to Crex Meadows to check out the bird activity. Normally the Crex Meadows web site provides a summary of bird activity but the staff has been cut from five to two and they don’t always have the time to update the report. We had planned on spending the night but found there were not that many birds around so we just drove through the Meadows before heading back home. Almost none of the fields south of town have been harvested so it is difficult to find the birds in the fields although if you look hard you can find them in open areas.

This Meadowlark kept flying in front of the car and I was finally able to get a shot of it after three or four attempts.



There were a pair of immature Bald Eagles hunting along Phantom Lake road as we drove out of the Meadows.

Bald Eagles

We didn’t see many Sandhill Cranes. They could have been out feeding in the fields but as I mention it was hard to find them.

Sandhill Cranes

American Coots

It doesn’t look like the fall colors are going to be all that great. Many of the leaves seem to be turning brown and dropping this year.

One of the items on our bucket list was a visit to the Platte River in Nebraska to view the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. Every spring we watch a presentation of the “Crane Song” on PBS. It depicts the migration the Sandhill Cranes through the Platte River Valley. Every year we talk about making the trip but never have. Typically about the time we are thinking of going, the Platte River Valley gets a blizzard or we would get a blizzard.

This year we had some very warm weather early in March so we decided there would be no better time to go. We drove down the Grand Island following back roads most of the way. It seemed that every back road we took added another half hour onto the trip. By the time we neared Grand Island it was dark out. There were violent thunderstorms in the northwest. The clouds in the west were hanging down just above the horizon. As the sun set it looked like the entire western part of Nebraska was on fire. It was a spectacular drive into Grand Island.-Nebraska-Sandhill-Crane-Migration-16-3-_5142The next morning we headed out to visit the Platte River and Rowe Sanctuary. Before we started the trip we read that in a typical year about 30 thousand cranes arrive in February. This year about 230 thousand cranes arrived in February. By the time we drove through the area an additional 170 thousand had arrived. Sanctuary staff indicated there were over 400 thousand cranes in the area.


There were birds in just about every field as we drove along and the sky was filled with them. We noticed that the birds were very skittish. Most of them were a fair distance from the road and as soon as we drove up they headed away from the car. The other thing we noticed is the roads are narrow and on each side they have deep ditches so it is difficult to pull over and take photos. There is enough traffic on most of the roads that we didn’t feel comfortable stopping in the road.



We almost felt like we were at a Wisconsin Badger football game because of all of the cranes jumping around.


We made our way to Rowe Sanctuary. We were curious to see what the blinds look like. From the web cam it appeared they were getting a lot of birds at the blinds. A discussion with a volunteer confirmed that for the last several weeks the birds had been roosting near the blinds. We didn’t make a blind reservations because there were just too many people in the groups and we have already seen thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting. If you haven’t had a chance to see crane rousting I would strongly suggest you make reservations for a blind.




We returned to Rowe later in the day to watch the cranes arrive from the fields. It was a little dark for photos but their arrival was quite spectacular. Strong winds made landing a little tricky. It was fun watching the cranes as they circled around so they were headed directly into the wind. It was like watching planes at an airport.

The following morning we drove back to Rowe Sanctuary to watch the birds fly out to the feeding grounds. The Sanctuary grounds were closed because folks were in the blinds but we found a nearby parking spot to watch them leave the rousts.



This is a shot of the folks leaving the blinds after sunrise and most of the birds left the immediate area.


While we were watching the cranes a herd of cattle was grazing just behind us. I took a few photos. It was cold out and I could see their breath as they walked along. Unfortunately it doesn’t show up on the photo.


I can’t help but comment on how fortunate we are in Wisconsin to have Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Crex Meadows provides a great opportunity to interact with Greater Sandhill Cranes during the fall crane migration.

While there are 10 times as many cranes in the Nebraska migration they are spread over a vast area along the Platte River from Grand Island to Kearney. In Crex meadows they are concentrated in a small area and all of them fly over a mile stretch of main dike road in the evening and again in the morning.

 Viewing cranes at Crex Meadows is a much more informal event. All you have to do is drive along the dike road and stop on the road, get the lawn chair out, and watch them fly overhead. It is a much more intimate opportunity to view cranes than it is in Nebraska. The cranes at Crex can also be found much closer to the road than in Nebraska.

Driving through Crex is a fairly relaxing trip with the ability to stop any time you see something to photograph without worrying about pulling off the road or heavy traffic.

Anyone interested in the fall Sandhill Crane Migration can read a description of what to expect on my blog and see photographs on my website.

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.

On a recent visit to Hoffman Hills Recreation Area I had a chance to photograph three different birds for the first time at Hoffman Hills.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker



This past week the early spring birds started returning to our area.

 Sandhill Cranes are migrating through the area. Large numbers of them can be found along the Red Cedar Trail. The spring Midwest Crane Count will be taking place on April 12th. They are looking for volunteers to count cranes.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes


Red-wing Blackbirds are starting to show up in the marshy areas.

Redwing Blackbird

Redwing Blackbird


A few Turkey Vultures can be seen circulating.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures


I’ve had a few song sparrows around my feeder although they seem to be migrating through.Song-Sparrow-13-5-_0213

I think some of the birds will be surprised by the blizzard that is on its way.

On our last fall trip to Crex Meadows we photographed the Sandhill Cranes returning to the Meadows from the feeding grounds.

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



We were able to view quite a few Trumpeter Swans at Crex Meadows. Early in the morning most of them were sleeping as we drove out to view the morning flight of the Sandhill Cranes. Most of the Cranes were awake and moving about while the Swans continued to sleep.

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