Thursday, February 2, 2012

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

The Sandhill Crane
I came home today and went straight to the computer to write about this experience.  Of course laundry has to be done! Today was a first with a new camera lens.  It's really a telescope made for a camera.  And I'm glad I brought this lens today because the Sandhill Cranes were further out than usual. There were two parts about this trip out to the Whitewater Draw that were important.  1. Observe  and    2. Photograph.  The previous night before leaving, I watched the weather reports.  And in a sense, I gambled with the timing of the flight patterns of these cranes.

So I drove excited and nervous about what I'd see there. Worried that my car might not make it on the dirt road. Worried that I'd miss them flying into the wetlands. And I drove and drove and drove in the rain and cloudy weather.  I left the house at 8 AM and arrived a little after 10.  I had my doubts and wondered where the hell I was at times, but I stopped at a gas station in Elfrida for directions when this woman glanced over at me and said in a drawl, "Looking for them birds?"  I didn't want to ask how she made that assumption.  Was it the vest?  Was it the full set of pearly whites and gorgeous greying and receding hairline?  Either way, she gave me the directions to "them birds". So I kept driving on and on and on fiddling around with my radio station in the car.  The channels were horrible and so I switched to a Cirque De Soleil CD.  Don't ask. Side note.  Why do people in rural communities here have southern accents? This is Arizona.

Terrible things run through my mind while driving alone.  What if my car broke down?  What if I get a flat tire?  Does OnStar work out here?  Who would come?  You see, I still don't own a cell phone, but that's a conversation for another day.  I wish I had had a friend who loved birding but wouldn't talk while I was filming.  Unfortunately, my other half had to work.  And you see not everyone would enjoy this activity because patience is required and if you don't like birding, this might be a terrible place to go.  I watched as a guy who loved birding tell his friend that he would "meet up with him" after he was done.  The friend replied, "I'll be waiting in the car when you're done." (Hint.  Hurry up.)

Timing was everything.  In my past, I have observed rain storms cause behavior change in animals and I wanted to be there for the big flight.  I went the day after Wings Over Willcox finished up because I hate crowds and my experience with crowds is that they scare off any wildlife.

I set up my scope and as I did, the heavens opened up before me.  Look closely at the above pic to see the thousands of birds high in the sky.  I was swapping lenses out one after another talking to myself like I always do and there were excited birders all around.  It just so happened the sand cranes were coming in earlier than previous times and with the best numbers that they had seen. This came from several RV guests that had been there for over a week.   I KNEW IT!!!  Good call on my part.  I did a little happy dance once the show started.....and what a show it was!!!

At first, it was like watching a storm coming.  Where were all these cranes going to go? And when would they land?  But the first signs came from the waterfowl as they burst forth in great numbers as they cranes descended onto their area.  Cranes trump waterfowl.

The explosion burst forward and my hands weren't quick enough for all the numbers that surrounded us......the watchers.  Oooohhhhh and ahhhhhhs and Holy @#$! came out of several observer's mouths.  I laughed and felt the rush of adrenaline.  Glorious!

More and more cranes landed......

....which caused this to happen!!!

Mother of pearls was that a challenge.  I couldn't keep the camera steady.  The wind was so strong and that particular lens was super sensitive causing some blur.

Eventually it all settled down.  Everyone gasping for air after the deep plunge.  Better than any movie I've seen this year.  And the best part?  It was free.  Well if you don't consider the gas spent....or the chili burrito.....or the ham sandwich....or the water......but you get my point.  Bring a lunch.  There is a bathroom.  And there are chairs.  I recommend sitting on them just to soak it all in.  There are so many more birds here to discover.  The experts look for the hard to find.  The rest of us just come for the main show...the Sandhill Cranes.  But the show will be closing soon.  By mid month these birds will have flown back to their summer homes.  The recommended time to view these birds is at sunrise when they all take off for corn.  But because it was cloudy, it messed with their timing and I got to see this spectacular show without getting up at 5 in the morning!!

What is that Sandhill Crane laughing about on the end?  Probably thinking, "Hah those idiots can't see us!!  We're too far away from them for any of them to notice!"   Okay, expert birder.  This is where you correct me with your literal no nonsense logic and tell us why Grus canadensis is exhibiting that particular behavior:)

You know what I loved most?  The birders that were there were extremely friendly.  If this is what retirement is like, I want in!  AND I think I spoke with a fellow blogger today.  We met each other and kinda had a, I know you from somewhere....but from where?  He was super friendly and we had a great conversation.  I went back to the car to switch out my lens and saw him again and he thought his shots wouldn't turn out because the cranes were too far, but I had mentioned to him that some moved closer.  His group released him and we went back to the spot and got the shots.  This is the last pic I took before returning back to Tucson. 

I drove home in what seemed like eternity.  Got home and ran to my computer to see all the cool discover that most of my 500 pictures would be duds.  Even the ones on this post today are okay.  But had I not used my telephoto lens, I wouldn't have been able to get the shots I did.  There were 3 key shots that I was not able to get, but as a birder said to me today, "It's just another reason to come again."  And that thought stuck inside this little time:)  And I smile at the pure excitement from it all.  What an awesome day!


  1. Beautiful shots, love the last one.

  2. You did such a great job with the photos and narrative I felt like I was right there. What a thrill!

    I get a few of the cranes here but nothing like that. They are so interesting!

  3. So nice to read someone else who is so excited about Whitewater Draw and the Sandhill Cranes! I love your enthusiasm and sense of exhilaration and wonder. We are on our way there today and will spend two nights in Bisbee. We go every year, and I never get tired of it. Your shots are great!

  4. What a wonderful spectacle and marvellous experience. Glad you had such a good, successful trip and the photos are super.

  5. fabulous sights and you did great with the photos! the new lens you described - is it a regular telephoto or is it one of those digiscope things i've seen on other folks' sites?

    what a great day you had!

  6. I can't imagine your excitement at seeing so many Sandhill Cranes. That is the bigest gathering I have ever seen. I was happy to see and photograph two Sandhills the other day.
    Your photos are beautiful. Enjoy your new camera lens.

  7. What is the scope, is it a digiscope, and what sort a camera do you used? sorry? Lovely photos.

  8. Wonderfull pictures....and a very nice blog.

    Greetings, Joop

  9. How cool, I am so envious. I am dying to see a large flock of Cranes. I enjoyed your post and the photos are wonderful.

  10. Awesome. These birds look very much similar to the ones, that flock Rajasthan India, in Jodhpur areas. We get to see them from a hillside and the blanket of gray is a sight to behold.

  11. To musiało być wspaniałe przeżycie, aż Ci troszkę zazdroszczę. Zdjęcia pokazują jak ich było dużo. Dobrze, że samochód wytrwał
    :-). Pozdrawiam. *** It must have been a great experience until you a little jealous. Photos show how much they were. Well, that car persevered
    :-). Yours.

  12. Fantastic! I've never seen cranes in the wild. I can imagine how exciting it was to be there. Your pictures are awesome!


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