Friday, January 14, 2011

Whitewater Draw

We were down in Tuscon over Thanksgiving and as our own personal revolution against the endless hype surrounding 'Black Friday' we decided to do something as far removed from the materialistic madness as we could so we packed some snacks and drinks into the car and headed south to Whitewater Draw. This is a beautiful area that was recommended to me by my dear friend Kathie from Kathie's Birds.

In the autumn Whitewater Draw fills with thousands of beautiful Sandhill Cranes. These magnificent, elegant grey birds stand between three and four feet high and their main distinguishing feature is the bright red forehead patch. At the time when we visited there was believed to be somewhere in the region of thirty-two thousand cranes in the area.

We parked up and walked down to the main wetland area. It couldn't have been a more perfect day, the sky was a spectacular clear blue and there was a slight chill in the air. The sounds of the cranes carried across the water towards us and although they stayed on the far side of the reserve from us we could see hundreds and hundreds of them strolling through the reeds and picking up morsels as they went. Other groups were resting up in small groups, feathers fluffed up against the cool air.

In amongst the cranes were a group of Snow Geese and also several Tundra Swans. The geese are the smaller white shapes further back in this shot, the swans are the bigger white blobs in the foreground :)

A little closer to the viewing areas there were numerous other waterfowl paddling around. A personal favorite of mine, the Northern Shoveler was very much in evidence.

This is a wonderful area that has been maintained very much with the avian population in mind, large areas are not accessible to the public. However because it is very flat with predominantly low wetland vegetation, with powerful binoculars or a scope it is easy to view all the birds without disturbing them. (That little blue dot is me!)

We watched the cranes for a long time, it was such a treat to see and hear these beautiful birds in such huge numbers it was hard to tear ourselves away and explore the rest of the area.

A vivid speck of red in a low bush caught my eye and as I drew closer I was thrilled to see a glorious Vermillion Flycatcher watching me.

In true flycatcher fashion, he had staked out his hunting area and flew repeated circular forays out to grab a flying insect before returning to the same spot.

We made our way round to a small cluster of trees marked with a large sign which read 'Great Horned Owl Roosting Area - Quiet Please!' We walked quietly along the path, I was staring into all the trees and Dominick walked on ahead when I spotted an extra woody lump on a branch.

I was trying to attract Dominick's attention whilst being quiet (not easy) lots of jumping up and down and hissing!! Eventually he got the idea and turned around. He came back to where I was standing, I said 'look at the owl' he said 'what owl?' Eventually he spotted it though.

In spite of all our walking back and forth and stage whispers the owl refused to be disturbed! I am sure he was thinking 'pesky humans!'

We had one more treat in store before we got back to the car, a Loggerhead Shrike. These ferocious birds are great hunters and their somewhat gruesome habit of storing captured prey by impaling it on thorns or even barbed wire fences has earned it the slightly daunting name of the 'Butcher Bird.' I was thrilled as this was the first shrike I had seen since leaving Africa.

He followed us along the path towards the car park before finally alighting on top of a post.

Who needs to queue for hours outside a big box store to fight over bargains anyway? This was my idea of a perfect day :)

My Bird List for the day:

Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Cinnamon Teal
American Widgeon
Tundra Swan
Sandhill Crane
Snow Goose
American Coot
Vermillion Flycatcher
Says Phoebe
Lesser Yellowlegs
Virginia Rail
Black Phoebe
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Loggerhead Shrike
Great-horned Owl
White-crowned Sparrow

Photo Credits: CJT & DominickV


Arija said...

I don't think I could possibly have torn myself away from this wonderful place. Your sandhill cranes are quite a bit smaller than our brolgas which I have only had the pleasure of seeing in groups up to six and witnessing their incredible courtship dances just once.
Your 'butcher bird' looks like the hooded phantom with his distinctive mask. We too have a similar sized, black and white butcher bird that has a beautiful singing voice,

'If only' seems to be my constant catch-cry these days when I see the wealth of wonders around the world, have the means to travel but am grounded through my heart not tolerating airliners.

At least I can wander on the we . . .

Hugs and Blessings . . . Arija

Kathiesbirds said...

Celeste! OMG! What great shots! You make me long for and miss this place! I am so glad you went and so glad you had such a great time and that you got to see all these cranes! I am familiar with the little vermillion being there on a low bush like you said! OH what a wonderful day and it is exactly what I would rather be doing than participating in Black Friday!

gtyyup said...

What a fun day!! I wonder how many of those same birds will make their way here to the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge. Our annual John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival in April?

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

My kind of day, too. You couldn't pay me to spend the day shopping, when there is all of that beautiful and fascinating wildlife to enjoy :)

The flycatcher is gorgeous! I remember seeing my first one when we were down in Tucson a few years ago. I also saw my first Phainopepla that day, too. Have you had the chance to visit Case Park yet? It's at the far east of Tucson, off of Kenyon Dr. For someone like you who loves wildlife and nature, you would really enjoy this little gem.

But I have seen shrikes here in NM, and especially their caught 'prey' skewered on fence nails, to snack on later. ewww!
And one of my favorite raptors are Great Horned Owls. What a treat that you saw one with a nest.

One of our favorite traditional activities each winter is visiting Bosque del Apache, down near Socorro. There are thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese, and they are so close! The refuge is set up so that viewing areas perch right above the water, and every morning and evening, the entire flock bursts up into the air and takes flight, as they move from one feeding ground/waterway to their resting area. The sound of their beating wings is intense just 15-20 feet above your head.

I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for sharing :)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Your posts about Tucson brig back some wonderful memories of hiking, birding and letterboxing.

Two of my other favorite Tucson parks to enjoy birding and wildlife are:
Agua Caliente Park in the far NE side of Tucson and Sweet-Water Wetlands in the NW side of Tucson, right along I-10.

Have you been to either of those places?


wv: which

Which AZ nature park is your favorite?