A winter’s morning drive through Crex Meadows

I had a couple hours to myself this morning and also needed to head north to pick my kids up at my Dad’s house so I decided to pack my 20 gauge shotgun into the Prius and drive through Crex Meadows. It was a gray day, so I didn’t even consider bringing my long lens with me, although there were a couple times I wish I had!

With the grouse season closing in a few short days, I wanted to stick to trails that I could hunt on so I started out driving the trail that begins a mile from my doorstep and goes behind the airport between woodlands and wetlands. While I didn’t see anything to shoot, I enjoyed the trail.

The next turn took me to Phantom Lake. Here I had a choice to turn left and go along the lake on township roads or turn right and drive the Phantom Trail. I chose to turn right, since the trail winds through some prime grouse habitat. Once we get enough snow, the trail will be off-limits to road vehicles and will become a snowmobile trail. With 6-8 inches of snow in the forecast for the end of the week, this may well be my last opportunity of the season to travel the trail by car past the boat landing on Phantom Lake.No grouse were seen, however the landscape photography opportunities are abundant along the trail.When I reached the end of Phantom Trail I decided to get out with my shot gun and wander through the little red pine forest across the road from the trailhead in search of grouse or squirrel. Again no grouse, and no squirrels. I heard some chickadees chicka-dee-dee-deeing, but the forest was silent otherwise. I enjoy walking through piney woods, probably more than any other type of woodland. The forest floor is covered with pine needles that soften my footsteps, and the lack of brushy undergrowth make the going easy. It was a good opportunity to practice my slow stalk; walking slowly, less than a mile per hour, in order to sneak up on potential game. I’ve often flushed grouse along the edges of these types of forests where young pines offer them some cover.

It was also a good opportunity to check the site out for it’s potential as a future deer hunting location. The east end of the pine grove looks like a good spot to sit with a bow and wait for a deer to wander in. There are some well-traveled trails coming in from all directions, including the open fields to the east. There’s also a few downed trees to use as a natural blind. Its not a large piece of woods, and I’ve noticed vehicles parked near the open tract around the bend from here this fall, so it may well be claimed by others, but the potential is here.

After spending a half-hour exploring the pine grove, I worked my way north along East Refuge Road. If you visit Crex in the winter months, East Refuge is good to check out, because there are nearly always hawks and eagles perched in the trees along the road. Today I saw an eagle, although it was pretty far away so I could not positively identify it even with my binoculars. It was a dark eagle with little to no white on it at all. It could have been a Golden Eagle instead of the usual immature Bald Eagle, but I cannot be sure. Here is why I wish I would have brought my long lens! I did snap some photos with my 18-270 zoom but I doubt they will help much. I also thought of trying a shot with my iPhone through a binocular lens, but when I tried to zoom in the bird took off and flew away. I think I need to spend some time working on this technique. Further north I encountered a Rough-legged Hawk. I got a little bit clearer iPhone shot when it flew, but still, it cannot compare to what my 100-400 zoom can do. No matter, my drive today was not about getting a great photo, it was more about taking some time for myself to slow down and reset my brain and unwind a bit after a rather rushed and stressful week. It worked for awhile anyway!

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