Sandhill Cranes of Southern Arizona
A few years ago, someone told us about an area in southern Arizona that was good for birds, and more specifically, sandhill cranes. This is a winter roosting spot for them, and this year there are about 30,000. Don’t ask me how they know that, because I couldn’t count them.
Whitewater draw in southeast Arizona was purchased from a farmer by the Arizona game and fish dept. several years ago. The sandhill cranes have increased in population since the 1950’s, and it’s due to the fact that there is so much land nearby were they can feed.
They start showing up here late fall, and by mid March are all gone.
We didn’t stay at the actual Whitewater draw, but opted to be about a mile away instead. Lot’s of people come and go everyday, and we didn’t really want to be in the middle of all that.
About 6:30 every morning they all start taking off and heading for breakfast. They spend the night in the shallow water to protect from predators. There were coyotes that we heard, but I can’t see how anything could sneak up on these guys. This is the coolest time to be there as the sight, and sound of this is unreal. We shot a lot of video in the mornings to capture this amazing experience.
And the light in the mornings was unreal.
It was worth freezing temps. Another fun angle was having them fly right over the RV. By the time they got to us, they were usually in a nice V formation. By 8am, all the birds have left for the day.
By late morning they would start to return, and usually by mid afternoon the area was full of cranes again.
This was also a good time to photograph them. Good light, and lots of birds. There was lots of preening, resting, and just hanging out.
Afternoon and especially towards evening would be when they would start feeling spunky. The males would jump and kick at each. They get some serious air.
Animated for sure.
We have to go that way!
This was funny to see. There are several green winged teals that share the water with the cranes. They swim all around them, in between their legs, and all over everywhere. This cranes was standing alone and the teal was swimming circles around him. Apparently the crane didn’t like that because he pecked him on the head.
Birds in flight. Something that is hard to master, but what every wildlife photographer wants to get. This was the perfect place for me to practice, and I was extremely pleased that I got some good shots. I also got a lot of throw away missed focus shots, but hey. We are going to celebrate the in focus stuff.
They look like they are falling out of the sky when they come into land. I guess when you’re mostly legs, it’s the only way.
But they have grace, and elegance too. Why yes, I am Fabulous.
I love this shot. Sandhill Stack.
The sandhill cranes mate for life, and the fact that these birds are hunted is appalling to me.
Our last evening there. This guy looked like he was running on the water as he took flight.
And we had the most amazing sunset.
We got up early the next morning, knowing it would be our last. We went to a slightly different area, which was great because we had a different angle to watch from. And bonus points, no people.
I would definitely do this again. We were there a week, and I took so many photos. But the experience of it all is simply amazing. And, the Japanese believe that cranes bring good fortune, and a long life.
We absorbed a lot of good crane energy!