December 14 – 16, 2020.
We first visited Whitewater Draw four years ago on the same trip when we were tooling through Southern Arizona visiting places like Bisbee and Tombstone. It was a quick overnight stop and we probably would have missed it completely if friends hadn’t recommended it to us. We found Sandhill Cranes there. Lots of them. Little did we know that four years later we would be deep down the birding rabbit hole and Whitewater Draw would become more than just a place to stop along the way, it would be a destination and a highlight in our birding quest.
Whitewater Draw is 1,500 acres of marsh and grassland managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and is the winter home to over 20,000 migrating Sandhill Cranes. Three days of free camping are allowed at the Draw every seven days. We took advantage of all those days and saw not only lots of Cranes but many other birds now checked off of our birding life list.
* All pics are click to enlarge.
The marsh at Whitewater Draw.
Sandhill Cranes standing in the field beyond the marsh.
Cranes in the marsh.
To evade predators, the Cranes spend the night standing in the shallow pools at the Draw. In the morning they fly out to other areas to feed and socialize. They return in the afternoon and evening.
Watch out when the male pintail lowers his head, raises his tail, and whistles. He’s thinking about making baby pintails.
Wilson’s Snipe. These snipes are hard to spot, hiding low in the grass. When approached too closely they will fly erratically to evade pursuit. Males court by winnowing, flying in patterns then diving. When they dive their tail feathers create a drumming sound. Alaskan natives named this species of snipe avikiak, because they thought it sounded like a walrus.
The Snow Goose population was declining a century ago but is on the rebound. To get protection from nest robbers, snow geese may lay their eggs near a Snowy Owl’s nest. The owls prey on the birds and mammals that would eat Snow Goose eggs.
Northern Shoveler. Waterfowl are usually dabblers or divers. Dabblers skim their food from the water while divers dive toward the bottom for nourishment. Most dabblers eat vegetation, but the shoveler’s bill has a sieve-like adaptation that allows it to skim for invertebrates. Check out the size of the shoveler’s bill!
Female Northern Shoveler.
Northern Harrier. These birds have an owl-like facial disc which improves their hearing. They try to surprise prey by making low passes overhead. They eat mostly rodents, amphibians, and chicks, but have been known to drown adult ducks to subdue them. Males are polygamous.
Northern Harrier. You can see the distinctive white stripe of the tail here.
Crane in flight.
Cranes flying on different levels.
Cranes fill the sky.
Pano at Whitewater Draw.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds love reeds. Large flocks will descend on a marsh at dusk. The males will claim a reed and loudly exclaim to anyone listening that it is, indeed, his reed. Curiously, these blackbirds must guard their nests from predation by the tiny marsh wren.
Cranes coming home for the evening.
This week I will be sharing this post on Wild Bird Wednesday. Check out WBW to see birds from all over the world.