Saturday, January 3, 2009

Whitewater Wrap Up

Time has been a-flying! It has been a week since we travelled to local birding hot spot Whitewater Draw, and though we posted about the delayed crane sightings, we really didn't talk about what else we observed there. So time for a wrap up!

Had we mentioned it was cold? A winter storm had just passed through, and the sky cleared just before sunset. With the radiational cooling, it was likely into the 20s as we were leaving. Some of our astro club members happened to be there the next day and reported large expanses of ice, so it got well below freezing that Saturday night.

As we mentioned before, the cranes were absent early, but there was a wealth of other birds. Upon first walking up to the viewing area, the American Coots were first seen. These are pretty large birds, and are quite odd-looking with their not-quite-normal looking beaks and freaky looking lobed toes. I've seen them on every trip to Whitewater, so are quite common.

Duck-looking birds are numerous, perhaps most striking is the Bufflehead with its striking white head. This one was pretty shy and kept tending away from us, and spent a good percentage of the time underwater as it fed in one of the shallow holding ponds.

These rude birds are Northern Shovelers, who spent most of the time digging in the shallows with their broad bills. Evidently they strain out aquatic plants and animals through their comb-like teeth. They rarely had their heads above water to show their iridescent colors.

Another striking bird I've seen before at Whitewater is the Loggerhead Shrike - a medium sized bird with distinct black mask from it's hooked bill across the eyes. It is not particularly shy, allowing me to get pretty close for a photo.

I'm not sure on the identity of this one - you can tell from the beak it is an insect-eater, but it's colors and patterns are indistinct. I'm pretty sure it is a Say's Phoebe, but I'd be glad to be corrected. We're just getting into this birding thing, so it is a learning experience!

Similarly on this pair, the identity is a little uncertain. I'm pretty sure the left photo is a White-Crowned Sparrow, but am less sure of the right. One of our bird books says an immature White-Crowned may have buff or brown head stripes, so it may be a youngster.

We saw others for which we didn't get a reasonable image. There appeared to be a solitary Great Blue Heron that stayed way out in the middle of the estuary. Snow Geese are common at Whitewater, but tend to stay pretty far away from the public areas. They stayed over in the pasture this day. All in all, even on a "slow crane day" it was a lot of fun and we'll likely be there again this winter. And by the way, all shots taken with the Canon XSi and Meade 80mm F/6 triplet (w/good-old manual focus).

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