Monday, January 23, 2012

Another Whitewater Trip

Catching up on old business - it was over a week ago now that we did what will likely be our last trip of the season to Whitewater Draw to visit with the sandhill cranes.  It is always a treat to bring people that have never been there before to show off what would seemingly be so rare in Arizona - birds that winter over in a wetland area!  We had some friends ask how to get there - how could we not offer to lead a trip?  After a stop in Tombstone for a late lunch, we hit Whitewater about 3:30.

Not a lot had changed in the 2 weeks since we'd been there, but with a little blustery wind, the cranes seemed mostly grounded.  There were a lot of birds on the ground, which tells me that they likely didn't go off during the day to feed in the nearby fields.  But while we found many thousands waiting for us, as the afternoon progressed, we did see many waves of those who did go out, come back to the wetlands.  In binoculars, it was cool to see lines of them appearing out of the cloudy sky silhouetted against distant hills.  When they landed they joined the general din of noise as they called back and forth.

Also like last time, a flurry of activity just before sunset heralded the arrival of the yellow-headed blackbirds.  They don't appear here every year, but it is certainly a banner year given the number we've seen our last 2 trips.  Their din almost drowns out that of the cranes.  Their flashes of color are certainly striking as they dart around jockeying for position in the reeds.

The picture at left shows the public parking area at Whitewater.  It shows a LOT more cars than a few weeks ago, when we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It turns out that this weekend had been the "Wings over Willcox" crane festival.  Even with larger crowds it was great - even got to see some ginormous camera lenses - one woman had a Canon 600mm that left me with some lens-envy!

We still didn't get to see any vermilion flycatchers, the showy, scarlet highlight of most of my trips to Whitewater.  We did catch a pair of Northern Harrier hawks this trip.  I happened to be following the female when she dove for a mouse. 

Clouds thickened later in the afternoon, so we didn't get much of a sunset, and we left the area earlier than we normally do, arriving back home by 9pm.  Our work and travel schedules don't permit us to get back while the cranes are still here, so it was fun to get in another trip before they head back north.

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