Archive for the ‘birds’ Category
Back to some chronological leaping around. A couple of days ago, I added to the account of our November travels through Utah. Today, I’m jumping forward to yesterday. I would like to share some photos taken over the past forty-eight hours, illustrating what the dogs and I did in lieu of celebrating christmas. The night before last, I presented good friends with a 12 x 16 inch canvas of the “Nevermore Cat”. As most of you know, it is based on Paul Gauguin’s 1897 painting Nevermore. In 2008, I had created a smaller version on some canvas board, but decided to make a larger version on a stretched canvas, this time working from a better photograph of their cat. My friends were surprised and pleased when I handed over the finished painting. (Note: Click on all photos for larger views).
Yesterday, I spent the morning working around the place and then playing guitar for awhile. Around noon, a friend called to ask if I might like to go for a walk around town. I’m always game for that as Bisbee is a place unlike any other. For those who harbor an appreciation of art, architecture, building materials, texture, and history, there is much to see. I never fail to see something new each time I go for a stroll with my camera. Yesterday proved to be especially nice as there were so few people out and about. That’s a rare thing as there are usually dozens of tourists wandering around the streets on any given day.
My friend and I are both art and architecture junkies, so our attention was drawn to stone, tile and ironwork, old doors and windows, cast-iron manhole covers, metal rain gutters, crumbling concrete walls, graffiti, hand-painted signs and lettering on brickwork, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even begin to go into here.
As mentioned, each time I wander around town, I see something that I’ve never noticed before. Yesterday’s coup was the above panel of an agave and kangaroo rats, and its twin, a panel of a yucca and a horned lizard.
For some time, I’ve been meaning to stop and photograph the wonderful gate and figures created by metal sculptor, Benjamin Dale. If you have spent any amount of time walking around Bisbee, you will have encountered his work. More examples can be found on his website.
Our afternoon walk-and-photo session was cut short when we ran into friends who were heading over to Whitewater Draw to visit the Sandhill Cranes. My friend and I decided to join them, tossed our binoculars and cameras into the van, and made the short drive to the playa where the cranes gather between foraging forays. On this occasion, they were on the east side of the playa, affording a very good view. We remained for an hour or so before heading back to town. I arrived home in time for my evening walk-about with the dogs before making our dinner – leftover stir-fry from the previous night. Not your traditional holiday fare, but then, who keeps track of this kind of thing anymore? Not I.
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.