Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Welcoming the Cranes

Despite the fact that my birding buddy was still working her way back from Cape May, I headed out to Whitewater Draw to welcome the cranes back to Arizona. Only a couple of weeks ago the skies were full of Swainson’s Hawks headed for Argentina. We saw over 200 one day and the next morning before the thermals began cooking it seemed like every fencepost and utility pole had a hawk awaiting liftoff.

This one was disappointed that he was not allowed to eat before leaving.

As the last of the Swainson’s Hawks (and Turkey Vultures) left, the first few cranes began arriving. I like to think that Siberian-hatched Sandhill Cranes share the same field with Argentine-bound Swainson’s Hawks for a few days in October each year.

At Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, all the usual suspects were there, including this Barn Owl peeking out from the willows.

I ran into the Wildlife Area manager and he said that there were about 9000 cranes at the roost earlier in the week, about a third of the total expected to arrive. I got to the viewing platform as the first groups began arriving in noisy squadrons from the corn fields where they spent the morning and sat quietly taking photographs. I probably have 2000 crane pictures but they are just too damn photogenic to resist. Actually, I’m still learning a new camera and enjoyed the practice. I can probably put all those boxes of slides in storage and just stick to digital images from now on.

The cranes were so close that along with the constant bugling of the adults and chirping of juveniles, I could hear the flapping of their big wings as they moved about the playa. Suddenly I heard a whoosh like a jet plane overhead and an entire flight of cranes dropped out of the sky as fast as gravity could pull them. I love watching them drop their legs and cup their wings to parachute in, but this was a panic drop down to the water.

So I glance directly overhead and there was the first Golden Eagle of the season, an immature bird hang over my (and the cranes’) head.

Winter in the Sulphur Springs Valley is a wonderful birding experience. Although I miss the hummingbirds and other tropical migrants that brighten our summers, the hawks, eagles, cranes and other birds make up for their absence.

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