Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sandhill Crane Watch Whitewater Draw Arizona

We arrived at Whitewater Draw Conservation Area at 2:30 P.M. on Friday October 29th. As we were getting our gear together we could see that the number of cranes had increased substantially since our visit two weeks ago when we counted 1,800 cranes. It was sunny, around 87 degrees with an intermittent breeze and very dry. This picture is of the first pool which did not have any cranes on our two previous visits. As you can see there were hundreds of birds here this time, coming and going on a regular basis.

Sandhills in flight can be both graceful and at other times awkward. I have however never witnessed a collision between two birds. This was the first time I had seen a smaller group separated from the main much larger group. They tend to stick together for protection and socialization when they are on the ground. We did witness many singular birds in flight moving from one group to the other as well as small groups of birds doing the same.

Sandhills have several different vocalizations which include contact calls, unison calls, and guard calls. You can hear these calls at: . At times they were very quiet and at other times they all seemed to be talking at the same time. Birds in flight make the contact call as they prepare to land in a group that is already on the ground.

The cranes in the first pool were as close as we could get as we are always as careful as possible not to disturb them just to get a better picture. Photographing wildlife should always be done with the well being of the subject coming before" getting the shot".

This is a small portion of the larger group which I estimated at between 10,000 and 15, 000 birds! Because the birds instinctively roost as far away from where humans are likely to be it was impossible to get close up shots that really showed the vast numbers of birds that we saw through the binoculars. Hopefully you can get a sense of how many cranes were present from the photographs.

Sandhill Cranes in flight preparing to land among the smaller group. The coming and going from this group went on the entire time we were there with most of the group eventually joining the larger grouping towards dusk.

Cranes feed on on a wide variety of plants and grains as well as small rodents and snakes. The agricultural nature of the area brings these birds here where they feed in the corn fields which we have yet to visit this year.

Truly an amazing sight to see especially when large numbers of them take to the skies at the same time. We have also yet to visit the playa at Willcox Arizona this year but will make our next trip to see cranes to this area where the numbers can be even greater. A playa is a large dry lake bed which is best hiked in cooler weather as there is absolutely no shade to be found.

Our next trip out will be in two weeks. Next week we are planning to head up Mt. Lemmon to see the foliage and take the ski lift to 10,000+ feet above sea level. Spectacular views and crisp air.

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