Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sandhill Crane Watch Whitewater Draw 1/1/11

We decided to head down Rt. 191 through Elfrida and on to Whitewater Draw Conservation Area and as it turned out we were glad we did. As we traveled through Elfrida I noticed a large black cloud on the horizon which seemed to be undulating. Upon further inspection it was clear we had hit the jackpot. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes were on the move.

Everywhere we looked there were Sandhills flying in all different directions. As it turned out most of the cranes were feeding in a field along 191 or headed back to Whitewater Draw where they roost when not in the fields feeding on the local agricultural abundance that lures them here each year.

This is my second trip in January to see the Sandhills. The first was last year to the Willcox Arizona playa. We are seeing amazing numbers of cranes compared to last year's trip.

The above shot shows the cranes flying in different directions at different altitudes.

The skies were awash with thousands of Sandhills in what has to be the highlight of my visits to see them here in southern Arizona.

Temperatures were in the upper 20's ranging into the 30's for most of the day and there was a smattering of snow on the ground and the peaks in the distance were snow capped. It was really a nice day with a light breeze near the water that kept us bundled up all day.

When we arrived at the Draw the show was as spectacular as any I have seen there. The sky was full of returning cranes and surprisingly hundreds of Snow Geese. It made for a very colorful display with the constant calling of the cranes both on the ground and in the air. We were also treated to the calling of the Snow Geese in the midst of all of the crane talk.

Snow Geese in flight.

There was considerably more water in the ponds this trip than there has been on other visits this year.

I estimate the number of Sandhills at more than 30,000 on this trip but there was really no accurate way to count. It could have been even more. All through the day it was evident how social these birds are and how few disputes there are for the number of individuals that gather either to roost or feed in the fields.

The cranes expanded the amount of land that they were using and gradually inched closer to our location as the day when on. It was clear they were becoming accustomed to people with cameras and binoculars.

There were many Northern Shovelers present and they were very entertaining scooting along the ice upon landing and parading in open water.

As the day wore on the cranes settled down and the skies became empty of all but a few stragglers that flew in occasionally from parts unknown.

The Sandhill cranes were happy to leisurely stroll up and down looking for small morsels.

One of the few flare ups that we witnessed took place in a group that had broken off from the main flock. It was unclear what caused the disagreement but like all Sandhill arguments it didn't last long and they went back to relaxing immediately after.

No comments:

Post a Comment