Bird watching is a hobby requiring great patience, especially when tiny birds flick quickly from place to place or when larger birds are flying overhead and I have no idea what bird it is! So when I have an opportunity to see tall birds on the ground I am taking time to visit them.
What is particularly interesting about these birds, sandhill cranes, is their daily routine; so once you know the coming and going at Whitewater Draw, McNeal, Arizona, with these birds it is fun to spend a day with them. They migrate to this area and stay October through to March.
When I visit, I typically arrive at the draw around 10:30am and watch the sandhill cranes return from the miles away local dry corn stubble they spent time eating for a morning meal. They’ll continue to arrive for the next 2 hours and then settle down or spend time preening. I discovered their stained feathers result from their muddy bills being in water with ferrous solution so while they preen their neck and back feathers become stained.
Around 4:30pm these tall wading birds with more than 6 foot wingspan will take off for their dinner meal and return as the sun sets. I estimated more than five thousand cranes were here and at other times the number will be much higher. Besides seeing them return in their v-shaped flock and individually land so they can roost here by this shallow water for the night, I was delighted to see a beautiful sunset.
I heard the bugling sound the birds make till 10pm and then all seems quiet until maybe 5:45am when some of the birds start to fly off for a morning meal. By the time I am awake and check on the birds almost 3/4 of the birds are gone and that was just after 6:15am. The sun rose a half hour later and still some cranes were hanging around. Later in the morning I left the draw. Enjoyed all 24 hours I was there as I observed the cranes, along with snow goose, northern shovelers, northern pintails and American coots. In the trees near the water’s edge you’ll see vermilion flycatchers, marsh wrens, black phoebes and I caught sight of a Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier. None of us could miss the yellow-headed blackbirds which I will write about in the next blog post.