This past week I returned to Whitewater Draw in AZ
Many many Sandhill Cranes!
to view the Sandhill Cranes. I understand over 20k are there and I can easily believe it.
A typical day for them starts out between 0600 and 0700 when they fly out to the harvested fields to feed. The farmers receive a supplement from the AZ G&F department to leave some for the cranes. I was out each morning by 0630 to hear and watch them. They are all making noise and it is
Before sunrise, many had already flown out
almost a roar as they start to leave. Of course the temperatures were about 20º so bundling up was required, there was ice on the water in spots! Until the sun rises it’s almost pointless to try to get any decent images but I always had my camera with me.
Early morning sun lights this one up
Between 11 am and noon the birds return by the
Returning at mid day
thousands, literally! You see them in the distance as they fly towards you and their roosting place to rest and get water. As the groups of cranes get closer they fly at different elevations, swirling around preparing to land.
Different groups of cranes at different elevations as they return at mid day
It is an awesome sight! They hang around for a few hours then may fly out again, returning around sunset.
Late afternoon, some returning
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A pair of Great Horned Owls have returned to the hay shed and she is sitting on a nest.
On Wednesday I moved to the over-flow camping area. This is north of the main one and right in the flight path of the cranes as they leave and return to the roosting area. Late one afternoon a great number of them settled in to a harvested cornfield to glean.Something spooked them and they all took off, flying right overhead.
It’s a challenge to photograph them overhead but fun to try.
Last evening there was a pretty colorful sunset and this evening while it wasn’t as colorful I was able to capture some of the cranes against the color. A pleasant way to finish up a good visit!
Whitewater Draw AZ G&F refuge makes a wonderful stop as a place to relax and enjoy nature. It is a major winter stop for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with some Snow Geese and various ducks. In March it isn’t as cold as it is in January and the birds are still there.
The geese fly out to feed in the morning then return to relax before flying out for a late feed. Sometimes you get lucky and see them dance. Other times they’re just resting.
This visit there is a large flock of Yellow Headed Blackbirds. At one point they flew over the cranes and for some reason that caused many of the cranes to leap into the air very briefly.
While a lot of folks think “ducks are ducks” I have to admit some of them are very handsome with their vibrant coloring.
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The last few days I spent in Arizona were at a state game & fish wildlife refuge. What a wonderful place! It is home to thousands of Sandhill Cranes in the winter. There is also a variety of ducks and a pair of resident Great Horned Owls.
The cranes fly out early so getting up before down to capture them as they fly out can be challenging. It’s usually pretty cold, but definitely worth the effort as the sun rises and highlights the birds.
They return late in the morning, coming back in great groups. Then the sun is high and it’s more a matter of looking for interesting behavior as they mingle.
The ducks are very fast, hard to capture. The owls were a different matter entirely. She was sitting on a nest and he was perched at the opposite end of the shed high up so the challenge wasn’t in capturing action but getting the lighting right.
There were a also some Snow Geese there but they tended to stay pretty from from the berms where watchers can stand.
The last evening I was there there was a spectacular sunset. As I and others watched it just got better and better, the colors so strong. Then some of the Cranes flew across, making it even better!
This was my second visit to this refuge and it was well worth the time. It was also a lot warmer this time than in mid January last year!
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One of the events offered by the festival organizers was a few hours out with a falconer which I signed up for. It was very interesting, Matt was happy to talk about his birds and answer questions. He flew the birds with an eye to making it possible for us photographers to get lots of great images. The first bird flown was a Peregrine Falcon.
After that we moved to another site where there were some bushes for the birds to fly from and to. He brought out an Aplomado Falcon, once more common in NM and making a small comeback.
Then he brought out the Harris Hawk, a large bird that will hunt in family groups in the Southwest. It was a great way to spend a morning!
Thursday morning I was up before sunrise and out at the crane ponds (along with a lot of other folks) to see and capture the cranes fly out. As always once the sun was up a bit the images got better and better. A good way to start the day for sure!
This morning I was up early again and when I saw a few clouds in the east I headed into the refuge to a place I expected some cranes to be. The idea was to photograph some as they flew in front of the sunlit clouds heading to the feeding grounds. There was a strong cold wind but I was able to use the truck as a windbreak for the time needed.
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It’s been an interesting week, learning more about the refuge and its inhabitants. Early morning is a wonderful time to get photos, the light can be challenging at times but rewarding. Once in a while there are a few clouds at sunrise, this means added color and the chance for some unique images, IF the birds are in the right place! This particular morning there were some Sandhill Cranes in the water and as the sun came up I had a great time!
I try to get to the refuge 3 times a day, sunrise, around mid day and then late afternoon. Often at mid day the Snow Geese are gathered in the water right near the refuge entrance.
While I’ve been here I’ve seen both a Kestrel and a Northern Harrier hunting the fields. The Kestrel is small and really too far away for me to get an in flight image. Today while I was watching a Bald Eagle eating his lunch (too far away for decent photos) a Northern Harrier was working the area in front of me and I managed to get some great images of it.
Do you wanna dance?
Always fun to see the cranes dance!
I finally saw a Roadrunner! They aren’t particularly large and seem to keep to the gravel road across the water from where the public can drive so I had to crop my original to get this.
The Festival of the Cranes kicks off on Tuesday. I’ve signed up for several photography workshops and look forward to learning new skills.
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Mornings start early here since I like to be out watching the cranes and snow geese before sunrise. Lately the temps have been in the 20s until close to 7 am. This young crane was having fun annoying the geese, they just moved away. As it gets lighter the birds start flying off to their feeding grounds.
There’s a white crane here, too, its beak and legs aren’t as dark as the others but it has some dark feathers so I’d guess it’s not an albino.
After getting up at 5, watching the birds for 3 hours or more I head back to the trailer for breakfast, then it’s back out again. The Snow geese have
gathered at one of the wetlands near the road in the refuge and there is a bald eagle on the dead tree in the background. I waited a long time there, watching the geese and wondering if the eagle would fly but he didn’t.
Back to the trailer for lunch then late afternoon back out with the camera. The late afternoon sun enhances the fall colors.
This I’ve seen a few herons around, this one was most obliging as it posed nearby.
In the other direction were the snow geese and as the sun went down it accentuated the colors in the wetlands. It also cast a golden glow on the birds in flight.
Up and out at dawn to see the cranes fly out from the safe pond where they overnight, three mornings so far and each one slightly different.
Later in the day I did another drive around the loops and happened on a Mule Deer doe with a fawn. A lit
tle ways past them I noticed a couple of Javelinas in the ditch on the right side of the road. I slowed down to see if they would emerge, then stopped and got out of the truck. I stayed near the front end but watched all around. Just spotted two of the critters as they had crossed the road and went into the brush. But, the third one took its time and I managed to get a couple of good images. Charming critter, huh?
Stopped in at the Visitor Center and looked around, lots of good info there! Very nice shop, too. I’ve made a practice of collecting a pin and patch at each national park, wildlife refuge or similar place I’ve visited so I got those.
Later in the afternoon, after a brief rain I went back into the refuge and was treated to a bright bit of rainbow.
Got one image over some of the water then moved along the road and got another with some snow geese (the white line you can see) in the frame.
I was parked at the side of the road and four cranes came pretty close (the t
ruck makes a great blind if you are quiet and just stick the camera lens out the window). A beanbag thing I made years ago worked great over the edge of the window to rest the lens on.
End of the day I went back into the refuge hoping to catch a good sunset. Wonderful way to wrap up the day!
You know what they say about real estate, it’s all about location?! Well, this little RV park has it! Basic parking lot camping bu
t only 1 mile from the first ponds inside Bosque del Apache NWR. Quite a few Sandhill Cranes at the first pond when I got there at dawn. As it got lighter they started taking flight.
A little bit later the sun was on them and
the mountains in the distance.
As the sun got a bit higher I went into the refuge to the loop drive and found some Snow Geese.
That evening I returned to the pond and with the cranes’ sounds as a bit of background the Milky Way was in view.