Overnight in Honda & With Cranes!

I did it! My overnight adventure at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area was an interesting 26 hours. I saw the sandhill cranes fly in during the late afternoon, sleep during the night and fly off in the morning. I slept in my recently converted Honda Element, detailed in a previous post: conversion of my Honda Element to a camper. I talked with various people on the trail and at the overnight camping area. Weather was a sunny 70 something degrees during the day and a very cold 28 degrees at night, as observed in a slushy-water bottle! Many people visited the wildlife area both days I was at Whitewater Draw and at least 15 campers, tents to class b motorhomes, stayed overnight.

First, let’s talk about my “camper”. I built a bed platform in the rear area of my Honda Element and left space for a bicycle, but on this first try-out I did not bring my bicycle. My milk carts were under the platform and worked well when I opened my folding kitchen shelf. At night I had my winter sleeping bag and absolutely needed it since by 3am it was very, very cold! I slept on my bed platform on an ensolite pad and thermarest, unfortunately bringing back memories of sleeping on very hard beds when I visited China. So, I need to improve that concern so I sleep more comfortably. Just as I have organized my gear for solo backpacking and bicycling adventures, I need to arrange items in the car and be sure all fits when I also have a bicycle and that gear in the car. The other need is the importance of how and where to pee and poop. We all do it and as I watched people hesitate to use the available port-a-potties, I was glad I had my supplies. (To be discussed in a future blog post.) Overall, I was happy with my set-up.

With travel I love talking with people who are also viewing wildlife and, in this case, the birds. The majority of people were wearing facial masks and maintaining physical distancing since we are still in the throes of the coronavirus. One couple from Idaho camped right next to me. A solo bicyclist camped across the way. Others on the trail were visiting for their first-time to see the cranes. Each person I spoke with has a love for the outdoors and birds which is so important as we need to understand the importance of providing habitats for all wildlife. We are losing riparian habitats too quickly, and when wildlife goes, so do we … remember the canary in the coal mine? I want to have clean water and clean air in a natural environment for generations to come.

And now for the birds, specifically the sandhill cranes. It was a challenge to estimate the number of birds there but during late afternoon maybe 3,000 sandhill cranes and by nightfall or the next morning as they were taking off it looked like 5,000. I will admit my numbers could very well be low. There were other birds too: northern pintails, northern shovelers, western meadowlarks, killdeer, Greater roadrunner, black phoebe, green-winged teal, red-winged blackbird, Lincoln’s sparrow, curve-billed thrasher, red-tailed hawk which looked on as the sandhill cranes took off in the morning.

Here are some of the other birds:

Photos of the sandhill cranes as they flew in at night and also as they took off in the morning. Their loud gurgling bugle was always heard. It almost felt weird when for a few seconds you did not hear a sound from all of them! A second or two of silence!

I have many more photos, but I want to finish with one photo. I saw this sticker on the back of the van I camped near …

and immediately knew these are people I want to meet! And we did! They are snowbirds from Idaho enjoying SE Arizona for a few months. I enjoyed their company. Plus, they were most kind when I needed fresh matches to start my stove in the morning! I look forward to seeing them and the sandhill cranes again next year!

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes!

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is where you will find sandhill cranes roosting. Yes! and between November till March it is possible to see thousands of them! Let’s not forget though, other birds winter here too. This property was once a cattle ranch; however, since 1997 the Arizona Game and Fish Department has maintained the wetland habitat.

My future goal is to visit when I can capture the birds at sunrise and sunset. It is more a photography goal than birding one, and I hope I am up to the challenge. Results will be shared in a future blog! For now, here are some of the birds I saw on a recent visit:

And of course, sandhill cranes:

Animals Need Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

When I want to see any birds I look for areas near or around a body of water, also known as riparian habitats. Animals need water so you’ll have a better chance to find them there.

Prior to 1900, 10 percent of Arizona’s lands were considered riparian. Now less than 1 percent remains intact, according to the sign I read at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. This loss of habitat threatens the existence of not only birds, but other animals such as rabbits, raccoons, bats, mule deer, and turkeys, to name a few. We need to be concerned about this issue and protect the riparian habitats we currently have.

Most people travel to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area to see the sandhill cranes as they migrate and remain here October to March each year. No doubt the birds are worth seeing. (Check out yesterday’s post about the cranes.)

However, my visit to the draw this month allowed me to see other birds too. Plenty of birds are in the bushes or scratching around on the ground:

Canyon towhee
Female red-winged blackbird
Red-tailed hawk
Say’s phoebe

Others are in the mud-flats or shallow water, such as mallards, northern shovelers and other ducks I am sure not to have identified. I am still looking for a wood duck though; no luck yet.

Killdeer
Greater yellowlegs
Northern pintail

When I finish photographing and leave an area, I always wonder which lens I should keep on my camera. I put my camera on the passenger seat in case I see something to photograph during my drive. Today, I kept my long lens on the camera and fortunately down the road away from the draw, I saw a western meadowlark. I would have been so disappointed if I did not have that lens on the camera to capture a photograph … such is luck and it allows me to identify the bird!

Western meadowlark