Whitewater Draw

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.

Liftoff.

Northern Pintails.

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.

Black Phoebe

Snow Geese.

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.

Say’s Pheobe

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.

American Kestrel.

Crane in flight.

Cranes flying on different levels.

Cranes fill the sky.

Canyon Towhee

Greater Yellowlegs

Say’s Pheobe

Pano at Whitewater Draw.

Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Loggerhead Shrike.

Killdeer.

Northern Pintails.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

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.

12 thoughts on “Whitewater Draw

  1. Great collection of bird images. I love that place and have only visited once. Looks like the water level was on the low side compared to when we visited five years ago.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! The water was lower than when had visited before also. This brought the birds in closer – which, of course, made the whole experience even better.

  2. Your photos are magnificent. Another stop for next year.
    Thanks.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Steve! I think you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Oh, how wonderful! I loved all your photos. Ever since we drove through Kearney, Nebraska, on our move from NY to Colorado and I heard about the sandhill crane migration that happens there I’ve always wanted to return to see it! Since then I found out they also stop for a bit in SE Colorado and if were not for covid restrictions we may have driven down to see them. Hope to have that happened next year!

    • Duwan said:

      Glad you enjoyed the photos. The cranes are quite a sight to see. We saw a flock unexpectedly in Northwest Colorado this past fall. I assume they were migrating south.

  4. Great series of images. The concentration of Sandhill Cranes is especially impressive.

    • Duwan said:

      Thank you. It is amazing to see them fly all at once.

    • Duwan said:

      Thank you Linda!

  5. Stewart M said:

    Wow! If that’s the kind of birding you can get at this location I’m not surprised its a bit popular! I could see myself spend so much time there! One day, one day!

    Great set of pictures.

    • Duwan said:

      Thank you Stewart. We were only there 3 days and that wasn’t enough. I’m pretty sure we will be going back whenever we are in the area again.

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