Whitewater Draw-Sandhill Cranes as far as the eye can see:)
Warning…this blog has a lot of bird pictures;)
I was not expecting this beautiful, raucous sight. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes descended from the sky in the mid afternoon, later than usual I was told as it was cloudy. Seemed they stayed out and nibbled a while longer with the cloud cover. Talking and quacking, calling as they fly in, descending, others are ducking as they make an awkward landing, it is a comical sight to sit and watch the grace and awkwardness of these huge flying creatures. Something akin to Mary Poppins floating down with her umbrella,or let’s just say, Mary Poppin’s less graceful sister;)
After a cloudy morning the sun came through in bits and finally cleared off to watch the show of the descending cranes. Layer upon layer slowly descended from up high. You could see clouds of them in the distance slowly approaching from far on the horizon. Wave after wave of these glorious birds came down to rest, drink from the pond (yuck;) hahahaha!) and talk, wow can they talk, like somebody who has been on a desert island for years, or occasionally one of the old folks at those RV parks that are chatting your ear off even before you have backed in and hooked up the power;) Some socialized, following each other in groups, other solitary birds closed their eyes and slept.
It is a spectacle not to be missed. A wonderful group of people were at the benches or had brought their own chairs to simply sit and watch. Some with years of knowledge about the cranes, helping answer the questions of newcomers. Many were dry camped near us, several friendly photographers, happy to give me pointers on cameras and tripods. A very genuine group. The Conservation area allows up to three days of dry camping in their lot. You can pull up along the small fence, or back in if room is getting scarce. There is a seperate parking lot for day visitors as well. By late in the day, the dry camping lot was pretty much full of all sized rigs.
As the light started to fade, the last stragglers were still arriving, some were just rearranging from one area to another as the crowds swelled. The fields beside the water were becoming extremely crowded, irritated cranes barked at each other as some ugly landings were happening as the space between them dwindled. At dusk a huge flock, hundreds, of Yellow Headed Blackbirds appeared from the East and landed in the cat tails. Was looking forward to seeing them in the morning with better light!
All night, the chatter of cranes, with a few coyote calls filled the horizon with sound, beautiful glorious natural sound. I couldn’t wait for sunrise, I was not dissapointed…a group had gathered to watch the sun arrive, and the cranes depart. Sandhill cranes have a long history in Arizona. Petroglyphs of these birds, etched into stones by native people hundreds of years ago, can still be found along the lower Gila River. This important bird area, is dominated by a ephemeral lake, patchy marshlands, and semi-arid grasslands. Approximately 600 acres (1448 hectares) are the wetland. There are two small patches of riparian habitat. It was acquired by Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1997 according to the Audubon page.
Even Mike appeared to watch the spectacle. The sound was a roar of crane calls and happy gasps at the beautiful event happening before our eyes. Hot coffee in hand, sitting on my chair, I stopped shooting at one point and just watched. Several of us were hoping to photograph the Yellow Headed Blackbirds but to no avail, as the pinks turned to blue and gold the entire flock took off and headed east in a cloud of birds!
The morning light slowly overcame the dark and I headed back to the trailer for breakfast and more coffee:)
Did I mention there is a live Sandhill Crane Cam! Click here for a live view!
After breakfast I wandered out, I could hear a Cactus Wren walking about on the trailer roof. It was eating acorns left over from a previous stop under the oaks. Around the paths in the wildlife area that circle the ponds the bushes and trees were full of bird song. The mucky ponds are home to many species of ducks and other pokey birds:) A Wilson’s Snipe was foraging in the mud and a flock Dowitchers was preening in the morning sun. Dozens of Northern Shoveler Pairs foraged in the muck, shoveling. Green Winged Teals swam about, a bit too far for me to photograph but occasionally a bright patch of green would appear as they preened.
A Loggerhead Shrike had taken up lookout in a tree, it became very quiet save for a Woodpecker hammering away on a Willow. Black Phoebes sat by the waters edge waiting for flies. The birds that captured my heart were the elegant Pintail Ducks in their brown tuxedos:) Such beauties! The first overcast morning they were very close in, bustling about, posturing, posing, eating and just being ducks:) These beautiful dabbler ducks are found all over North America but head North to breed in Canada and Alaska.
Right across from the trailer was a large open shed, very tall, maybe 25′. Looked like an old round bale barn. In the rafters many people were stopping and pointing. At one end a female Great Horned Owl sat in her giant nest of twigs. On the other end of the shed, Mr. Great Horned Owl sat in the rafters peering about. He had a somewhat pissed off look to him so I kept my distance and shot from afar with the Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens.
I’ve read this same pair have been here for over 5 years so they don’t seem to have a problem with the many birders passing through. There was an abundance of gopher holes so I know what they live on:) They must be used to the traffic through this area and seemed unconcerned. I’d posted the shots here on a SW Birding Facebook page and some A-hole accused me of harassing them online, so many trolls out there, and ones with no sense of humour I discovered as well, did I mention owl tasted just like chicken?
What a spectacular 24 hours filled with beautiful birds….I would have loved to have stayed an extra two days but we’d paid a reservation in Rodeo, New Mexico and had to get on the road. Sigh…what a wonderful place and so many lovely people. A refreshing change from RV parks where no one goes outside except to walk the dog. These are my happy places but it was time to spend a week where Mike could take the telescope out and socialize a bit with other Astronomy geeks:) but that, is another tale. I’ll leave you with one last shot of these beautiful birds and implore anyone who has the chance to go see these amazing creatures before they head North!
Saludos amigos, stay tuned:)