Archive for the ‘Sandhill Cranes’ tag

Whitewater Draw   5 comments

Posted at 11:54 am in Arizona,birds

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

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.