Feb 6 - Wintering Birds... Tens of Thousands of Them

Wednesday, Feb. 6, we drove south from Benson, through the tourist trap known as Tombstone, and 4 miles further to the junction with Davis Road. About 20 miles further east on Davis, and two more south on a dirt road, is the entrance to the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. There we found a gravel parking area, a large covered shelter, a few picnic tables, and other expected rustic amenities (i.e. vault toilets). A circular trail is visible from the parking lot which allows closer access to the large shallow natural water ponds that are the big draw to birds and birders alike... particularly, huge numbers of sandhill cranes.

We were tipped-off that this is really something to see, including precision instructions to arrive about 11am. Exiting the car and looking around, I wasn't expecting very much. A few groups of birds were visible, but not enough it seemed to me to create all the fuss we've heard about.

Like your typical snowbird RVers, sandhill cranes live in more northern latitudes during most of the year. This is where they mate, nest, raise their young, and enjoy the riches of the land. The same goes for sandhill cranes. But when the winds of November begin blowing-in chilly arctic air, a natural instinct kicks in and they quickly head south to keep from freezing their cajones off. Those that come to Arizona tend to congregate here in the Whitewater Draw area... drawn by the apparently right combination of factors and needs these birds favor, which I'm guessing include food, natural protection from predators, companionship, and full hookups.

Walking as close to the chattering sandhills as we could, it became clear that the majority of them were just starting to return to the draw from their morning feeding. Binoculars brought into focus clouds of them, as far as it was possible to see... tens of thousands of them, without exaggeration... chattering and calling to each other with their deep, rolling, rattling, trumpeting call... loud enough to drown out a couple nearby snowbirds debating which of their pickup trucks got the best miles per gallon. It really was something to experience.

The experts tell us sandhills love shallow standing water as it provides night-time protection from predators. And about two-thirds of all the sandhills in Arizona make Whitewater Draw their winter home.

We're getting close to the time these birds typically start their migration back to the north. The sandhills will soon be doing the same. We consider ourselves fortunate to have seen all these birds during our visit to Whitewater Draw.

While doing research for this post I did find a set of definitions I'd like to share... for educational purposes, of course:
Ornithology is the study of feathered birds

Ornery-thology is the study of human snowbirds
Of course, more photos from our travels and explorations are always available in our online albums.



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