Posts from the ‘Crex Meadows’ Category

From Namekagon through Crex Meadows

I had a speaking gig in southern Minnesota a couple weeks ago (Sept. 17 to be exact…I’m a bit behind on my editing!) but I didn’t feel like just driving the interstate (I-35) down to Austin…Much too boring. Why not get some photography in? So I drove south on Wisconsin 35…a 2-lane highway that gets me close to one of my all-time favorite wildlife photography locations…Crex Meadows.
spruce tree dawn silhouette WI IMG_6117sun breaking through fog WI IMG_6147Fog shrouded the low-lying spots along the highway, then as the sun rose, rays broke through, illuminating the mist, making it glow. I pulled the van over immediately, knowing the sun would burn this fog off quickly. I managed to get these ethereal shots…silhouette of an old spruce (above) and the sun rays in the fog.

Bald Eagle Namakagon River WI IMG_6216Further down the road, I crossed the Namekagon River (part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). I stopped and spent some time here as the scene was changing from hazy foggy misty goodness to pure morning sun. This Bald Eagle magically appeared, hunting down the river corridor. I wish I’d captured the wings in a better position but I like the silhouette anyway.

Red-tailed Hawk Namakagon River WI IMG_6211An old White Pine along the river made a choice perch for this Red-tailed Hawk. I chose a wider view, giving the branch itself a bit of a starring role. I like the composition.

Red-tailed Hawk coughing up pellet Namakagon River WI IMG_6212Wildlife behavior is always interesting to capture, but not easily done. The Red-tail started making odd movements and I knew it was about to cough up a pellet. I fired off a series of shots. You can see the pellet falling to through the air. I wish I had time to take a video of this. Oh, well. (pellets are conglomerates of undigested bone and hair that are regurgitated by birds of prey and many other birds…including hummingbirds! In addition to nectar, they eat insects, some with hard wing cases or larger wings, that need to be coughed up.)

Pied-billed Grebe Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6428Pied-billed Grebes were very common at Crex Meadows this day. This pond had 5 hunting in fairly close proximity. I saw this guy struggling with a fish so I grabbed some shots as it flew off with its prize bullhead. It eventually was able to turn it in its bill so it could slide down its throat head first.

Paper Birch Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6412The first hints of fall color in a stand of Paper Birch.

Blue-winged Teal flock Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6549Blue-winged Teal flock.

Northern Harrier Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6547Northern Harriers spend much of their time gliding over marsh land and meadows searching (and listening) for voles, mice, shrews and small birds. Owl-like facial disks focus sounds in the grass on their ear holes thereby aiding in triangulating the location of unseen prey. The females, like this one, are brown; Males are a striking light gray. Both have the white band on the upper tail.

Sandhill Crane Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6252 (1)A lone Sandhill Crane forages along the shore. Crex Meadows is known for its huge concentration of fall migrating Sandhill Cranes. It is an important stop over for their migration.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6386Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you find a subject that is comfortable with your presence. You have to take advantage of these rare moments. This Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile) allowed me to actually get out of the van and sit quietly at the edge of the water while it fed, waded, swam, bathed, and preened only 30 feet away! These are my best Short-billed Dowitcher pictures by far.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6341

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6382

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6357

Trumpeter Swan Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6534Trumpeter Swans nest in good numbers at Crex Meadows. This adult was one of a pair that had 4 nearly grown cygnets. Cygnets do not get their white plumage until they are a year old. Also note the pink on the juvenile’s bill.

[all wildlife shots with Canon 7D & Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, hand held]

Photo to Quilt


I got a wonderful surprise in the mail a while back. Unbeknownst to me, my friend from Wilderness Canoe Base, Beret (Borson) Nelson had created an art quilt based on one of my photos I had put in a blog post. It is an image I took at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin of 3 sunset-silhouetted Sandhill Cranes. The quilt piece is beautiful!

My father-in-law, with his amazing artistic eye, had it framed as a present.

Beret and her husband, Brett, met at Wilderness Canoe Base on the end of the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. I worked there too and that is where we all connected. Brett and Beret live outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Brett is a wildlife biologist. They have three kids. Neat family!

Beret says art quilting is a rapidly growing art form ….It is machine stitching called “free motion stitching” in which the feed mechanism is disengaged so you can sew in any direction. All those cattails and rushes are individually free stitched with the machine! Beret also uses an iron and fabric glue to layer hand cut shapes into the design. Beret recently won Grand Champion in the Art Quilt division at the fair this year…I can see why!

Late-season Cranes at Crex Meadows

I hadn’t been out shooting with Ryan for a long time. You know how it is…life gets in the way. So on Friday we headed down to Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin for a little “target practice.” Sandhill Cranes stage here in late autumn to fuel up for their next stage of migration. The cranes feed in area corn fields during the day, but return to roost in the safety of Crex Meadows marshes just before sunset.

When Ryan pointed out the rising moon, I knew what photo I wanted. It’s easy to get cranes flying in front of the moon…The hard part is getting enough depth of field for both to be in focus and yet have enough shutter speed to stop the motion of the flying cranes. So I stopped down to f16 and set the shutter speed to 1/500 and set the ISO to “Auto.” You need a fair amount of light to do this so it must be when the moon is rising before the sun sets but before it gets too high in the sky. Also the cranes need to be not too close and not too far away. It all came together in this shot, though the ISO did have to range up to 1250.

The trip was mainly about just getting out with a buddy…We both have more crane photos than we can count…We’ve been to Crex many times and also spent a glorious five days in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache, a major wintering area for Lesser Sandhill Cranes (and they are even more tame than these Greaters).

Long story, short, I have some very nice Sandhill Crane portrait shots (sharp, beautiful light, etc) So, with the pressure off, it was time to experiment. And this may be my favorite photo from the entire trip (all 6 hours of it!). I slowed the shutter to 1/15 of a second and panned with the flocks as they came in to roost. I cropped it and converted it to black and white. It is the “essence” of crane flight. I love the abstract flow and motion, and the way you can almost see and feel their wings flapping. We joked with Sridhar, a fellow wildlife photographer from Minneapolis, about our mistakes becoming “fine art” photography…but this one was intentional…I promise!

A line of Greater Sandhill Cranes coming in from the west, flying through a streak of color as the sun set.

Top: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/16 at 1/500 second at ISO 1250, tripod
Middle: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/32 at 1/15 second at ISO 100, tripod
Bottom: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 1.4x teleconverter; f/8 at 1/200 second at ISO 500, tripod

Found Treasure

I love it when you go back through photos you took a long time ago and find a hidden gem…an image you bypassed in the first round of editing. In this case I was looking for photos of my eldest son when I came upon images from a trip to Crex Meadows with Ryan Marshik in October of last year. Not sure why I dismissed this image at the time, but now it is one of my favorite all time Sandhill Crane photos.

In order for the moon and the cranes to be in focus, the birds had to be a long ways away. This was shot at f8 so there was enough depth of field to keep both sharp. This is NOT a double exposure or computer generated image. Maybe it would be better if the moon was in the upper left and the cranes were in the bottom right….But I don’t know, I kind of like the feeling that the cranes are MOVING…Migrating south…They’ve put the moon behind them and they have a long journey ahead.

Canon 7D, 400mm lens, f8, 1/1000, ISO 400, tripod with Wimberly Sidekick

Landing Gear Down

Previsualization is important, but the truth is—to quote the Rolling Stones—you don’t always get what you want. On this evening I wanted a nice full frame head-on shot of two to four Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing, legs lowered, wings out. They would be in beautiful evening light. Didn’t happen. They all landed far out in the marsh.

But when reviewing  the images on my computer I found one photo with five cranes with their landing gear down…Yes, it was a mile away and in terrible light, but I made lemonade out of lemons. By tightly cropping the image and performing some extreme color shifts in Aperture, I created a pleasing (to me) graphic creation. Is it still a photograph? Sure. Is it faithful to what I witnessed that evening in the marsh? Not totally. Do I like it better than the original shown below? Heck, ya!

Canon XTi, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/1600, ISO 400, Tripod

The original below:

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