Crex Meadows is a mix of flowages, wetlands, prairies and forest located in northwest Wisconsin. About 30,000 acres in size, it has an excellent system of gravel roads that allows you to travel the edges as well as cut across the central areas of the park. The easiest way to find the park is by taking Interstate 35 north from Minneapolis, Minn., to Highway 70. Drive east until you reach Grantsburg, where signs will guide you to Crex Meadows. Lodging is available in Grantsburg, although the limited number of rooms makes reservations a wise decision.
The park is open all year, but winter is often hard in this northern climate. Winter snows can be heavy and temperatures can reach minus-30º F. Mid-spring through autumn can be an ideal time to visit. Daytime highs in spring are usually in the 45º to 65º F range. Summer temps are generally around 75º F but can reach the 90s. Fall is a glorious time of the year in this part of the country, with cool nights in the 30s and days in the 50s (and occasional snow).
Every piece of camera equipment you own can be of use here. A long lens in the 300-600mm range is helpful in photographing birds and other animals. A large supply of summer flowers makes your macro equipment a good choice. You'll also find an abundance of butterflies and other insects. Don't forget your wide-angle lens, especially in summer, when the rolling hills are often covered with wildflowers.
Crex Meadows is one of the upper Midwest's premier wildlife areas. In April, look for the sharp-tailed grouse to perform its mating dance. Phantom Lake as well as the many ponds and flowages make this a waterfowl and wading bird paradise, with grebes, goons, trumpeter swans, bitterns, great blue herons, great egrets, yellow rails, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, snow geese and white pelicans. Bald eagles, osprey, red-tailed hawk and northern harrier nest here as well. In wintertime, several owl species can be seen. The mammal list includes common pocket gophers, Franklin's ground squirrels and snowshoe hares. More elusive but even more rewarding wildlife are gray wolves, bobcats, black bears and red foxes. Blinds, scent masks and calls may be necessary to bring in any of these animals.
Crex Meadows is certainly not one of the best-known nature spots in our nation. Many nature-loving Wisconsin residents don't even know about it. It can be well worth the trip to visit and photograph such a diverse place.
Spring and fall are the best times to catch birds in migration. The numbers of waterfowl alone can be in the thousands. Summer is the time to see nesting birds and flower-covered landscapes. The winter, though cold and snowy, has its own rewards with migrating owls and the greater possibility of photographing wolves and foxes.
Contact: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, (715) 463-2896, http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/reclands/crex/.
When you need the ability to make quick adjustments for moving wildlife subjects and solid support for landscapes and close-ups, nothing beats a versatile ballhead for your tripod. Loosen one knob, and you can quickly move the camera to any position; tighten the same knob and the camera locks solidly in place. Ballheads are available in various sizes to support everything from compact cameras to large-format giants.