Enticing Whitewater Draw

Six foot wingspan Photo by Karen David

My sister and I drove down to the Sulpher Springs Valley in Southeast Arizona where desert grasslands roll out beneath the blue sky in great sheets of tawny landscape. Tens of thousands of Sandhill cranes overwinter in the valley, foraging on harvested crop lands and resting in rare marshy spots. We arrived at Whitewater Draw in the early afternoon. Formerly the Hyannis Cattle Company, the 1500 acre property was purchased by Arizona Game and Fish in 1997 through a Heritage Fund grant. Over 600 acres of intermittently flooded wetlands have been rested and reseeded creating a stopover point for migratory birds. Whitewater Draw is maintained as a habitat for waterfowl, Sandhill cranes and a host of other migratory species, and serves as a major attraction for wildlife watchers. A dyke meanders around the wetlands area, constructed to keep human feet dry and to provide good viewing into the grasses that crowd the shallow waters. Several railed platforms overlook the crane loafing grounds.
The cranes first appear as dark specks in the sky, flying in long scraggly formations. Soon you hear their trilling cries as they call to each other. The gangly birds shorten and bend their wings as they glide in, dropping their feet like rudders. They break away from the main formation in couples and small family groups, casting for a likely place to set down among the hundreds and hundreds already on the ground. Drifting gracefully, they finally meet the earth.
Below the observation platform and in stretches of water beyond a variety of ducks foraged enthusiastically, while others drowsed and digested in the reeds. No experts on waterfowl, we consulted our field guide to identify even the most basic green winged teals, northern shovelers and ring necked ducks. In the time we lingered, other bird watchers came and went with scopes, binoculars and bulky cameras. Couples bundled against the wind exclaimed over the spectacle of cranes and ogled the bobbing ducks. Folks traded stories of previous visits and other places to see migratory birds, and compared notes on their waterfowl identification. We were popular with our field guide. Sandhill cranes spend their summers in the north; Alaska, Canada and even Siberia, but will continue to hang out at Whitewater Draw through the month of February. If you go, nearby Bisbee has charming lodging and delightful people.

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One response to “Enticing Whitewater Draw

  1. Beautifully done….should be sent to Bisbee as a human traveler attractant! Nicely done again. Their sounds give me goosebumps.

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