Friday, December 31, 2010

A Visit to Crex Meadows

Since I've been such a poor blogger of late, I've decided to make this my grand finale post of 2010. Please join me on this wonderful pictorial (and video) journey to Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. This visit took place on November 6, 2010 during the Sandhill Crane migration. Since a spring visit to the Platte River is not in my immediate future, the next best place for witnessing the Sandhill Crane migration is Crex Meadows in the fall. And the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is really easy to find......just follow the goose!

See, it's right there on the road -- you can't miss it! (I was really glad it was just a painted goose though)

Turn right, then left, and you're there!

Be sure to watch for Trumpeter Swans along the way. I was thrilled to see them on the small river running right through town.

with their youngsters too!

We were a bit too late getting going to see the early morning Sandhill Crane departure, but we decided to do a drive around the entire park and try to catch some of the later departing cranes and any other waterfowl that might be hanging around. As you can see, it's a paradise for waterfowl.

While taking these photographs, I was lucky enough to capture this video of a Trumpeter Swan flyover. (In case you're wondering, that's the sound of Sandhill Cranes in the background!)

Farther down the road, we did spot a couple of Sandhill Cranes still hanging around in the marsh.

The Crex Meadows Wildlife Area does allow hunting for deer and waterfowl. In my opinion, if you're a responsible goose hunter, you should be smart enough to know the difference between a Snow Goose and a Trumpeter Swan, but apparently the Wisconsin DNR doesn't want to make any erroneous assumptions regarding the intelligence of their licensed waterfowl hunters.......

In addition to wetlands, there's also some beautiful prairie and oak savannah areas within the park.

Sophie got to go along with us on this trip and we were glad to be able to bring her -- especially after almost losing her earlier this summer. I was really happy that one of the motels in Grantsburg allowed pets for a mere $10 extra on our room price. I think Sophie had a good time too.

You can click on this photo to enlarge it for reading the Crex Meadows story on this sign.

Another view of a large pond in the oak savannah area. Can you see what appears to be a stick pointing up from the lake just to the left of center in this picture? I had to get the binoculars out for this one.
Fortunately I was able to maximize the zoom on my camera to get this shot.......I believe it's an Osprey nesting platform, but the really cool thing was that there were 2 Bald Eagles sitting on the platform!

Driving further down the road, we were lucky enough to spot this Northern Shrike just hanging out on a small tree in the ditch. It's always a good year when I get to see and photograph both species of shrikes.

This is one of the drainage ditches in the park.

After completing the auto tour of the park, we headed back to the visitor's interpretive center.

I believe this is a fairly new center for them and it was really neat inside. There was this big diorama featuring the wildlife, birds, and plants that are commonly found in the park. It was really nice to hear all the spring and summer bird calls and sounds of the park. Except for the Sandhill Cranes, there were almost no bird calls to be heard this time of year.

I'm looking forward to going back for visits next spring and summer.

They had a bunch of taxidermist mounts of waterfowl in the interpretive center but my photos of those didn't turn out. They also had this large wolf on display. I guess there are bear and wolves in the park, but we weren't lucky enough to see any during our visit.

Outside the interpretive center, there was a hiking trail loop, so while Mr. Johnson toured the center, Sophie and I decided to take a hike through the woods........

out to the boardwalk........

and across the marsh.........

to the viewing platform at the end of the trail. What a beautiful view!

From all directions!

Walking back through the woods, I noticed these plants growing close to the ground. Maybe some kind of moss? I don't have a field guide to moss and I was too lazy to look it up, so if someone can ID these plants, please feel free to leave a comment telling us what they are. Thanks!

This plant had a few remaining red berries that the birds hadn't devoured yet.

While were at the visitor's center, we met another couple who were in town to see the Sandhill Cranes. They told us that if we really wanted to see lots of cranes we should head south of Grantsburg and drive some back roads past farm fields. Because almost all of the corn had been harvested, this is where the cranes tended to hang out during the day, foraging for food to prepare themselves for their long migratory flight to Texas and New Mexico. We were grateful to them for this tip because it provided us with the best Sandhill Crane viewing of the day. They are truly magnificent birds and we were just so thrilled at being able to see these huge numbers of birds up close. They're magnificent in flight!
Especially against the background of a beautiful autumn blue sky.
They were extremely watchful when on the ground, much like Wild Turkeys. We were able to stop the car and take photos, but they kept a close eye on us.

I hope their wariness works to their advantage when the Wisconsin DNR decides to institute a fall Sandhill Crane hunt (yes, they're talking about it pretty seriously -- taking their cue from Minnesota, I'm sure!)

I was amazed at the sheer numbers of cranes in this field. I've never seen this many together in my life!
It was cool to see some of them "dancing." They are quite graceful for such a large bird. And the sound of their calls of this many birds was magical.

I'll finish this post with one more video of the Sandhill Cranes.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year full of good health and good birds!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Miscellaneous Photos

Here are some miscellaneous photos I've taken in the last couple weeks.......

A female Pileated Woodpecker showed up at the big suet feeder right outside the back door. That was really exciting as it's the first time I've have a pileated in the backyard. She's come back a few times since then, but she's not a regular daily visitor yet.

Oops! Dropped some suet! Check out those huge feet.....I think that each square on that mesh is about 1 inch.

Here's a pretty snow-covered evergreen in the backyard......just one of many. The snow covered boughs provide some nice protection for the birdies that roost inside the snowy shelter.

Look what arrived in the mailbox today!! Nothing like a couple seed catalogs to get my mind off the sub-zero windchills and 2+ feet of snow piled up on my garden beds.

Looking forward to some fantastic photos in 2011 with the fabulous new camera that my Honey Bunny gave me for Christmas. Thank you Mr. Johnson!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Outwitting Squirrels - Part 2

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last blog post. Between work and knitting projects, I haven't had much extra time lately. In fact, I finished my last Christmas knitting project yesterday morning at 7:30 -- just in time!! After this week's end-of-year rush at work, it looks like my schedule will be getting back to normal again and I'm looking forward to that. In the meantime, I'll see if I can get caught up on blog posts with stories and pictures I've stored for the past few weeks.

But first of all, I'll finish up with my last post about outwitting squirrels. Actually since we now have about 26" of snow on the ground, the squirrels are no longer a problem -- guess they just aren't able (or willing) to make their way through all the snow to get to my backyard and birdfeeders.

However, once the snow has gone, those clever bushytails won't be able to get to any of the tasty birdseed (with peanuts) that I'm now providing in my new Yankee Tipper birdfeeder -- the newest weapon in my squirrel proofing arsenal!

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, we took a trip down to the Mississippi to see the Tundra Swans. Unfortunately, most of the swans had already left for their wintering spot on the East Coast, so we had some extra time to stop at Bauer's Market in LaCrescent to shop for some apples. Lucky for me, they had all their birdfeeders on a 30% off sale! For any of you who have ever looked at one of these feeders, you know how expensive they are, but with the sale, I was able to purchase this feeder for the remarkable price of $70! Cha-Ching! Saving money always makes me :-)

This feeder holds 5 lbs of "Cardinal Delight" birdseed. Not only do cardinals like it, but ALL my birdies (and squirrels) do too! Since I don't have to worry about squirrels anymore, this feeder is now hanging from a tree branch right outside my dining room window.
This photo is from Nov. 30 -- it's nice to remember how the backyard looked before the snow!

I really like this feeder but there was one major flaw -- the platform that the birds perch on was very smooth and incredibly slippery plastic so the birdies (especially bigger birds like cardinals) had a really difficult time trying to perch and pick up seeds. Something had to be done.......
Female purple finch & goldfinch

I thought briefly about covering the platform with duct tape, but decided that would look kind of tacky. After watching the bird's feet slip all around on the platform, I decided that what they really needed was something to perch on. So I cut apart a dowel (about the same diameter as the perches on my other birdfeeders) and hot glued the pieces on the feeder platform.
As you can see, the birdies definitely approve -- and doesn't it look much better than duct tape? Attendance at the feeder has improved remarkably! In fact, I've even had to refill this feeder already! I'm happy to be able to provide this delicious birdseed and see all the birds up close. It will be even more fun to watch what happens the first time a squirrel tries to raid this feeder.
Here's one of those little house finches that's more of an orangey/yellow color -- I don't see them very often at my feeders. I remember when I worked at Wild Birds Unlimited, people would sometimes report them as orioles at their feeders.....

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Outwitting Squirrels - Part 1

Here are a couple "long ago" photos of what my backyard wildlife habitat looked like in its early days. The planning had been done, the trees and shrubs were planted and there was nothing left to do but water the trees and wait for time to pass.......
All those years ago, this backyard was a much better bluebird habitat and squirrels were rare and exciting visitors.......

Fast forward to November 2010 (about 21 years after I planted the first tree in the backyard). In just the past year or so, my backyard has become very attractive squirrel habitat with plenty of large deciduous and evergreen trees and, best of all, lots of birdfeeders!

I'm sure most of you already know what cunning and intelligent critters these cute little bushytails are. While I enjoy watching them scamper and chase each other around the yard, I don't believe in giving them unlimited access to the delicious and expensive birdseed I buy for my "special" birds. (This seed contains shelled peanuts and sunflower hearts -- also a delicious favorite of squirrels!) After working at Wild Birds Unlimited for years and giving customers advice on how to outwit squirrels, I now find myself in the position of putting this advice to work in my own backyard.

The most effective deterrent at keeping squirrels out of the expensive seed in my tube feeders has been the cage that goes over the feeder. A weather dome on top also works to keep the chipmunks and red squirrels from getting in. I removed the seed catcher tray from the tube feeder too, so even if the smaller critters get through the cage, they have nowhere to sit and clean out the tube.

Last week I spotted this persistent (or maybe really dumb) squirrel trying its darndest to get to that tasty birdseed. I hope you enjoy this series of photos as much as I enjoyed outwitting this squirrel! (Be sure to click on any of the photos to enlarge them.)

In this photo the squirrel's head is at the left -- this squirrel has really distinctive, almost white, colored ears.

Their acrobatic skills never cease to amaze me.

Look at the concentration on bushytail's face as it desperately tries to figure out a way to that feeder!

Now it's trying to chew through the cage! Fortunately the mesh is very thick (although most of the green plastic has been chewed off the wire)

Now trying to figure out a way to get to the feeder tube from the bottom.

Look at how fat this squirrel is! I think it's already had plenty of birdseed.

Checking back the other way, bushytail finds out there's still no access to the feeder.

"Guess I'll just have to clean up underneath the feeder!"

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Outwitting Squirrels" coming up in my next blog post.....