We’ve had a balmy fall in the Upper Midwest this year, with mostly warm days and frostless nights.
While this is lovely weather for exploring, it has slowed the progression of fall color as the trees await the arrival of a good hard frost. I’ve had to make an effort to find fall colors for most of the season, so I was delighted to discover the perfect combination of warm weather and rich fall colors last week at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Wisconsin.
Fall lingers at Crex Meadows
A drive through Crex Meadows Wildlife Area gave us a look at a few birds and the tail end of fall.
We saw a few swans as we drove through the wildlife area, but none of the sand hill cranes that draw visitors to this wildlife area during the fall.
Seeking sandhill cranes
The swans are lovely, but the cranes are what brought us here. This time of year they gather at Crex Meadows (and in Minnesota’s Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge) by the thousands until prolonged cold weather sends them off on the next leg of their journey. While waiting here, they spend their days feeding in nearby fields and then return at sunset to spend the night in the refuge’s protective meadows and marshes.
The only time my husband and I have had a really close encounter with a sand hill crane was when we were in Alaska and a pair joined us for lunch, so we are hoping to see a few more at close range while we are here.
We have all our photo gear and intend to photograph the cranes as they fly in for the evening. However, the day is warm and the clouds are finally beginning to slip away – it’s pleasant just to be out here and it appears we may get a spectacular sunset.
Unlike the other photographers who try to locate where the most cranes will be flying directly overhead, we stake out a spot where we should have a good view of at least some cranes AND a good show at sunset.
(We are hedging our bets, trying to ensure we end up with a few good photos of something even if the cranes don’t cooperate or our camera equipment and/or photographic skills aren’t up to the task at hand.)
Thankfully, fabulous photos and close encounters with cranes were not necessary for an amazing evening in this beautiful place.
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is located just north of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, near the Saint Croix River. It’s a gorgeous place at any time of year, but now is a great time to visit, as the cranes will continue to gather in increasing numbers for at least a few more weeks. Seeing (and hearing) them is pretty incredible, as these birds are very large and extremely noisy (you’ll hear them long before you see them).
Arrive before 4 p.m. and the helpful volunteers at the visitor center will advise you on where you are most likely to see the greatest number of cranes. (Keep in mind that this is a bit like being on safari, and there is no guarantee of when or where the cranes will appear.)The cranes can also be observed at sunrise as they leave for the day. There is no charge to visit Crex Meadows.
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