Sunday, July 1, 2007

Return trip to Crex Meadows

On June 30 we made another trip back up to Crex Meadows to see if we could get some better shots of the trumpeter swan cygnets that we had seen 2 weeks before. Crex Meadows is a wildlife management area located just over the border in Wisconsin. The name comes from the Crex Carpet company who once owned the land. The Crex Carpet Co. made grass rugs and used the wetlands to grow and harvest the grass for the rugs which where made in St Paul, MN. During the 1930's the company fell on hard times and during the depression they were not able to pay the taxes on the land. The state of Wisconsin purchased 12,000 acres of the land in 1946 and developed Crex Meadows. The Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area in Minnesota is on land that also once belonged to the Crex Carpet Co. It's history is pretty much the same as Crex Meadows.

Crex consists mainly of open fields with lakes, ponds and pools controlled by a system of dikes and damns. There are some wooded areas on the borders of the park which are managed through routine cutting and burning. This helps promote the growth of the natural prairie.

Hunting is allowed in Crex Meadows during normal Wisconsin hunting seasons. Much of the financial support for the park comes from hunting licence fees. 2400 acres of the park is set aside as a wildlife refuge where hunting and trapping is not allowed.

It was a beautiful day, warm but not too hot with clear blue skies. We drove around to the eastern side of the park and headed up the East Refuge Road. As we drove we saw an american bald eagle flying overhead so we stopped to take a couple of pictures. We took my wife Honda, besides good gas mileage it also has a moon roof which is very helpful for spotting birds flying overhead.
We decided to turn West onto the Main Dike Road. The Main Dike Road travels East to West and is the south border of the refuge. It scurts several different waterways and is one of the best place to see waterfowl. It is also where we saw a group of cygnets on our last trip. As we started down the Main Dike Road we saw a common loon in a perfect pose standing in the water with it wings stretched out behind it. Unfortunately by the time we got close enough and got the car stopped he had sat back down into the water.
We sat and watched him for a while hoping that he would pose for us again, but after a while he moved off into the grass and so we moved on. At the Osprey platform in the Refuge Extension Flowage we saw another eagle but it was far away and took of before we could set up for a picture. We continued on the Main Dike Road off of the refuge and into the wildlife management area. Around Dike 5 we saw a pair of trumpeter swans with 5 cygnets. One of the adults was eating vegetation from under the water. The other adult and the cygnets were eating grasses on the shore. They were still a ways away but were closer then we had seen them 2 weeks before.
After shooting a couple gigs worth of pictures we decided to head down south to Phantom Lake. In the Zulliger Flowage we spotted another pair of trumpeters. This pair had no cygnets but they were very close to the road and very photogenic.
They also where not banded which is unusual for trumpeters at Crex.
At Phantom Lake we did not see much except for a mourning cloak butterfly.So we decided to head to the visitors center to use the restrooms and check out any sightings. After our break we decided to head back to Phantom Lake to try and find the red-necked grebes that have been reported to be breeding on the south side of the lake. We did not find the grebes but we did find a pair of sandhill cranes with a chick in tow.
Crex supports a small population of sandhills through out spring and summer. During the fall migration up to 7000 or more sandhills stop at Crex to eat for the long trip south. While Crex may not have the sheer numbers that you can see at the Platte River in Nebraska during the spring migration in March it does typically offer better and closer views. I have photographed sandhills nesting in Yellowstone but this was my first opportunity to photograph a sandhill chick. We soon lost the chick in the high grass so we decided to head back up to the Main Dike Road again. The Swan family were all in the water and had moved near to Dike 4. This time they were close to the road and easier to photograph.
They even obliged us some fantastic poses.
We continued down Main Dike Road and found the common loon back close to shore again.
This time we were ready when he posed for us.
We continued on and when we got close to the intersection of Main Dike Rd and East Refuge Rd a white tailed deer and fawn ran across the road. I grabbed the camera and was able to squeeze off a couple of shots before the disappeared into the brush.Since the sun was already very high in the sky, it was past 1:30 and my blood sugar was getting low we decided not to north side of the park. Next time I will have to remember to bring some food. Last fall while we were on the north side we photographed a peregrine falcon. there are also nesting osprey and eagles but we will have to save that for another trip.