Sunday, January 10, 2010

Whitewater Draw 2010!

We finally made a trip down to Whitewater Draw yesterday to check out the current supply of sand hill cranes wintering in Arizona. I hadn't seen any numbers posted - last year's census was definitely below two years ago, so it is always with come trepidation when you turn down the access road and see in person if there are any cranes there.

The short answer is yes, we saw cranes! Lots and lots of cranes. The numbers are definitely up from last year, but at the same time, the water level looks lower and the distance from the trails and overlooks to the main gatherings seems farther. They do fly over quite frequently as they move from group to group, but with my small telescopes and lack of auto focus, the flybys are difficult shots to get. The first shot at left is of a mass ascension as a group got startled into the air as noise or a percieved threat got too near. It is amazing they don't run into each other in their rush to get airborne.

This trip we brought our friend Donna along, and also 2 more couples from the astronomy club, and they brought 2 more couples from the photography club, so we were responsible for opening up Whitewater to another dozen fans. There were lots of other birding fans there, but not really a lot for such a nice weekend. We were ready for cold temps, but long sleeves and a sweatshirt was enough to ward off the chill, though the sun was rarely out to add extra warmth.

It is always nice to see something new, and for me this trip was the yellow-headed blackbirds. I've never seen or noticed them before, but just like clockwork, they descended right at 5pm into the reed groves in the lagoons. Evidently they are closely related to the common red-winged blackbirds of the Midwest, in fact, there were a few scattered among these. The males yellow-heads in fact have white patches where the red-wings have their spot of color. Anyway, the yellow color was almost shockingly bright against the dark bodies. The female, shown at right, had less yellow on her head, more down the chest, and is missing the white chevron on the shoulder.

As I said, we'll be posting more from this trip - Melinda has yet to download hers, and with her auto focus, likely has closeups of their flybys. But it was an enjoyable day, and we stayed till well after it was too dark to shoot anymore. And even then in the growing darkness, you could still detect them (hear them more precisely) as they came in from the fields to spend the night in the safety of the water. More later!

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