A few weeks ago, my husband and I headed out for a birding adventure that has been on our list for quite some time. Less than an hour from Casa Wallace, there are wetlands, yes--in the desert which are a siren call to thousands of migrating waterfowl and other birds.
Whitewater Draw is owned entirely by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and comprises about 600 acres of lake, wetlands, and riparian area. The Audubon Society has designated the draw as an important bird area. With the rise of dairy farming and other agricultural pursuits in the Sulphur Springs Valley located in eastern Cochise County, the population of Sandhill cranes has especially grown in last decade. In other words there's a lot of feed for birds in the harvested corn fields.
After wending our way over back roads and finally to a dirt road that led down to a parking lot with just a few vehicles, I was eager to take in the sights. We walked the easy trail that borders the wetlands and the lake itself is further off with spectators kept in viewing areas that won't encroach on the cranes.
Serious photographers were setting up camera equipment at one viewing platform with enormous telescopic lenses readied for use. Before settling into watching the arrival of the cranes, we decided to check out the marshlands and found lots of ducks placidly swimming around filling their bills with delicacies from the cold waters. There were American coots and Northern pintail ducks in abundance. Returning to the viewing platform, we saw that the real show was beginning. Overhead, a large flock of snow geese began their elegant descent toward the water. The sunlight glinted off their pure white plumage like snowy diamonds gliding toward the lake. It was breathtaking.
The Sandhill Cranes were making an appearance--just small groups in the beginning. And then, the sky was filled with them. Flocks coming from the Willcox area to the northeast and more from the east and south. They called constantly to one another, the air filled with their "song" which was overpowering. What a choir! It's interesting to note that mated pairs have their own complex duet that is synchronized with the female making two calls for every one of the males. No snide comments now.
And then in the midst of crane arrivals, a male vermilion flycatcher caught our eye as he preened in the branches of a mesquite tree. The photographers scrambled to catch the red bird's antics as he took center stage for a few minutes. A Northern Harrier hawk landing on the ground nearby received his few minutes of fame apart from the cranes, but the stars of the avian show weren't ignored for long. Magnificent and huge, the long-legged gray birds with red foreheads filled the lake, the flocks adjusting their positions as more flew in. They average from just under three feet in height to four feet six inches. Their wingspan can be over seven feet which allows them to be master soaring birds, riding the thermals with nary a flap of a wing. Graceful, beautiful, and noisy.
It was a lovely morning with glorious sights in hidden desert wetlands, off the beaten track in southeastern Arizona. We continue to scout out new adventures in this unique part of the world. Whitewater Draw Website
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20-21