Whitewater Draw: Sandhill Crane winter roost

There's a killdeer in there.
There’s a killdeer in there.

We were out to Douglas again yesterday. After a morning applying more mud to the office walls we headed to this border town to stock up on vegetables and work stuff. The mud isn’t drying as quickly as it does in summer so Burt can only apply one coat a day. That’s leaving us with some free time. We contemplated crossing into Mexico for fun and food but we forgot our passports and it’s quite cold here. Both of us agree eating at an unheated restaurant in Mexico isn’t a big draw. We deal with that all winter long in Baja. Burt had a bright idea next. We decided to drive out to Whitewater Draw and see the Sandhill Cranes. The only down side was I didn’t have my telephoto lens or real camera. Oh well. We’d just have to enjoy ourselves and live for the moment.

Sandhill Cranes are large gray birds sporting crimson caps. The Sandhill crane has an undulating call that sounds like water spilling over rocks. A babbling brook, if you will. They form enormous flocks in winter. At Whitewater Draw they glide in in flights of hundreds or thousands every late afternoon and evening in winter. The draw is their safe overnight spot. During the day they fly out to feed in fields all around. Some cross over the Chiricahua Mountains each morning to get breakfast in the Animas Valley. The birds as individuals are lovely to see but the heaps of them singing together and flying in formation swell my mind with delight.

Yesterday we watched as group after group circled and landed in the fields around the draw. There are 20,000 or more birds there now. Some winters see more than 30,000 birds. While we wandered the dikes around the draw we saw a number of other beautiful creatures and amazing events. I spotted a new for me species: the marsh wren. Burt found two Merlin at two different times, both dining on some unfortunate songbird. We also spotted a black phoebe, northern harriers, cooper’s hawks, northern shrikes, great blue heron….lots of birds. At one point I said to Burt, “Why aren’t there blackbirds?” Blackbirds love marshes. Five minutes later a fleet of thousands of blackbirds came into view and circled the area. They moved in unison like a school of fish, their yellow heads flashing in the setting sun. What a glorious vision. They took their spots on the rushes and reeds of the marsh. No sonorous songs for them. These birds cackle and caw. Lots of gossip to share among the group. The sun set and we got cold so we headed back home.

The sun sets and we get cold.
The sun sets and we get cold.
Yellow headed blackbirds.
Yellow headed blackbirds.

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