Archive for the ‘birds’ Category
We now return to my intended post after last night’s unscheduled entry.
I can’t write about my winter in Bisbee without mentioning Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area as Sabrina and I spent quite a few days there with and without house guests. It’s a great spot for birders, especially because it is one of the main wintering areas for Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis). From around the beginning of December through to some time in March, the Sulphur Springs Valley is home to something like 30,000 of these cranes. On any day, you can usually find hundreds of cranes feeding in the dry winter pastures surrounding Whitewater Draw and the Willcox Playa which lies further north in the valley. A couple of times a day, thousands of birds can be seen as they fly out from these shallow lakes to feed on the range, and then return around sunset, but with many making a return trip around noon. I’ve posted a few photos below to give you some idea of the landscape surrounding Whitewater Draw. It’s a very flat plain surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides (Mule, Swisshelm, Pedregosa, Dragoons, Chiricahua, Dos Cabezas ranges, and the Charleston hills).
The wildlife area consists of two more or less year-round ponds surrounded by high levees with a trail system that you can walk over. Here is a map of the area that I found online. It will give you some idea of the lay of the land. The above photo is of the Cattail Pond indicated on the map.
As mentioned, a couple of times a day, the Sandhill Cranes fly in from the grasslands by the hundreds, forming wave after wave of birds. Generally, you hear them before you see them. I had hoped to put up a videotape to accompany this post, but I’m a bit pressed for time this morning. As you might have guessed by my previous post, I’m “on the road” now – more or less headed for home – so don’t have time to prepare a video clip right now. If I get a few spare moments in the next few days, I’ll post a clip in a separate post. Suffice to say that the sight and sound of hundreds of cranes flying overhead is awesome. Sometimes there are so many circling and flying in straight lines back and forth in strange formations, that I find myself thinking that the sky looks like a slide under a microscope, with hundreds of some type of organism swirling in random ways from side to side. It’s almost impossible to get your head around the sight of so many huge birds swirling around above you, never seeming to collide.
After awhile, a few will begin to drop to the earth, followed by more and more. Eventually, most will be on the ground, but from time to time, a flock will rise up and fly around for a bit before resettling somewhere else.
Stray flocks flying around just at sunset is a truly beautiful sight, so it’s well worth staying around for awhile even after most of the action seems to be over for the day.
Over the winter, a large flock of Snow Geese hung out around Whitewater Draw. They would put on quite a show with low passes back and forth over the water. Often, a few Sandhill Cranes would join their formation which was always entertaining to watch as they tried to keep pace.
At least one Vermillion Flycatcher could be counted upon to make an appearance. He hangs out on the willows at the south end of the Cattail Pond. Sometimes others could be found in the tall grass to the south of the ponds.
Over winter, hawks are also plentiful in the Sulphur Springs Valley. I think I saw more Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and Kestrels this winter than (collectively) in my entire life. When I’d drive to Whitewater Draw or Chiricahua National Monument, I would see at least one or two dozen (or more) perched on powerline poles, fence posts, or coursing over the grasslands. From a birding perspective, southeastern Arizona is an incredible place to spend a few weeks in winter.
Six weeks after setting out on our journey, Sabrina and I arrived in Bisbee. Before leaving eastern Ontario, I had made arrangements to rent a house on the outskirts of the town. It’s perched on the side of one of the round-topped hills in the Mule Mountains, surrounded by live oaks and manzanita. The place was ideal for us. It had a flat garden where Sabrina could roam about. In her (at that time) somewhat debilitated state, she couldn’t handle stairs or steep hills. For myself, it proved to be a peaceful place filled with interesting plants, insects, birds and mammals. Within a day of arriving, I had already shot dozens of photos of the butterflies, grasshoppers, bees, flies and other insects visiting the flowers in the garden and on the surrounding hillside.
Although all turned out for the best, our arrival was not without some stress. On the way up the steep lane to the house, the transmission of my limping van gave out — requiring replacement of the torque converter at a cost of about Cdn $1000. However, I tried not to let such things bother me — after all I had been through over the past year, a broken down van seemed like nothing more than a mere blip on my radar screen. It was just good to be in a quiet place surrounded by nature.
Within a few days of arriving, I filled some bird feeders and soon had about 15 species of birds coming to the garden each day. The Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus) are a favourite and there were two pair visiting on a steady basis. The little Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) were our constant companions, even through a few snowy days when I would see them coming and going from their cover within an Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) just beyond the garden wall.
Almost like clockwork, a small herd of Javelina (Pecari tajacu) wandered along the outside of the wall by the kitchen window each evening while I prepared dinner. At first there seemed to be five, but their numbers have since increased to eight as three young appeared soon after my arrival. At first, Sabrina didn’t know what to make of these strange creatures, but she has since become accustomed to seeing them trot past the yard.
If you wonder how I came to choose Bisbee as a place to rest, it was an easy decision. Don and I had always wanted to spend some time in this area after visiting once back in 2001. While enduring his series of chemo and radiation treatments, Don would often sit with my laptop, looking at possible rental properties in the southeast area of Arizona. It was our hope that, if the EGFR inhibitor drug he began in August worked, we would be able to escape to the south for at least a little while. Unfortunately, that treatment failed and he passed away in early September. However, the dream of spending the winter in Bisbee did not die — and so Sabrina and I came to be here. All in all, this has been a good place to rest for a time. It’s with some regrets that I will soon be leaving to return to eastern Ontario as we have made friends and learned to love the land here. However, we are certain to return, but more about that later. For now, I will be writing a few posts about some of the places we have hiked, and the flora, fauna and geology we have seen.
But speaking of flora and fauna and the desert, the second edition of Carnival of the Arid is now up at Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing Be sure to pay a visit and check out some of the wonderful writing, art, and photography.