Cranes at Crex

Up till now, my journal posts have all been about the wildlife areas and parks we've visited for nature observations. I've considered writing a journal post about Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in Burnett County, Wisconsin. But the place is so large and has so many areas to consider that it seems too massive a task. We have visited the area numerous times in the last few years and it is my favorite spot to revisit. Just south of Crex is Fish Lake Wildlife Area which we visited (in conjunction with Crex Meadows) for the first time this year and it was a worthy addition to the trip agenda. Below is an account of our visit in late Oct. 2021.

On Oct 30, 2021, we planned a trip to Fish Lake Wildlife Area and Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area. The 'aim' of the trip was to enjoy the fall colors and then see what we might see. We drove through Fish Lake first but it was pretty cloudy and the colors didn't really pop. We each commented more than once: 'this would be stunning if the sun were out.' And we didn't really see anything interesting.

So, on to Crex. Now there are lots of roads that run through Crex Meadows. Some are likely only traveled by people viewing the landscape or wildlife. Some could easily be used by people who live in the area to get from one spot to another. We will take different routes during different visits. The loop we took that day was about 25 miles long and we had taken about 5 hours to drive it. Sometimes we're just coasting slowly along the road. Sometimes we'll stop for a snack or bathroom break with a short hike. There had been recent reports of some birds that are more 'wintery' like Snow Buntings and Northern Shrikes. We didn't see any of them but I suspect we glimpsed some American Tree Sparrows and saw lots of Rough-legged Hawks. We also got a good look at a Wilson's Snipe, a bird we've heard for years but could never find prior to this year when we've seen a few.

We also saw Crows, Ravens, Bald Eagles, Blue Jays, Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans, Pied-billed Grebes, Mallards, and Sandhill Cranes... all common and were easily seen all summer so, no special excitement there. Additionally we saw:

  • a deer carcass that had apparently been picked over by scavengers - just the rib cage, spine, and skin/fur was left
  • two tiny spiders on our windshield - at two different times - the sun setting behind the vegetation revealed numerous spider webs spun between the plants
  • Black Bear tracks - in a sandy hiking path quite near the small campground and picnic area of the refuge
  • a small Red Squirrel in my favorite craggy tree stump in the refuge that I've photographed on previous visits

The sun started to come out about 2-3:00 pm which made the colors pop and we got some cool cloud formations as the weather systems switched. So now we were getting the 'fall drive' we had sought out. When we had to make a choice (left or right) to head out of the park or drive around the eastern half, we decided to do the longer drive.

I was driving the last half hour or so and the sun was getting lower (about 4:30 ish). I suggested to my husband that we drive the entire loop again, this time going a little faster. That would keep us in the park till closer to sunset and provide a chance of seeing migrating Sandhill Cranes come in for the night as well as possible sightings of more nocturnal wildlife. He agreed so we took a road that would take us back to the 'loop' rather than exit the park.

A ways along the road, we came upon a dozen or more cars parked on the shoulder. Ah.... they must be here for the Cranes since I'd read that this was peak Sandhill Crane migration. So, we pulled over and waited.

About 5:15 a few cranes started flying in and within a half hour there was wave after wave flying in. They flew in formations numbering about 15-20 and at one point, I could count at least 25 formations flying in from the north and the formations were coming in from all directions - I just happened to be facing north. The Cranes called continuously - the sound is constant. One person who was there for an hour that evening (about the same time) estimated 3000. But the refuge website wrote on Oct 18:

[There have been] 5,000-7,000 birds already. Our numbers of cranes will only continue to rise throughout this month, normally reaching peak the last week in October or the first week in November.

As the sun continued to set, the colors of the marsh deepened. It is BIG SKY around there and the cloud formations to the north were striking. The SW sky where the sun was setting was dramatic. In the WNW the horizon was turning purple.

We've seen Cranes all summer. A few times, we've seen Cranes in large groups (50-100). But this was magically very impressive. Very hard to explain. And the sky... indescribable.

After about an hour, the sun and light was getting very low and perhaps the Crane arrival was lessening (not sure about that, though) so we decided to head out. To do so, we turned around to go east for a short ways then we'd turn south. As we turned south we looked west toward the setting sun and, OH MY GOD... the sky. The sky was this deep crimson and the sun was right at the horizon and there was a red sun pillar shooting into the sky.

All in all, a pretty cool day.

iNat observations for that day

Julkaistu tammikuu 1, 2022 02:27 AP. käyttäjältä mmmiller mmmiller


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