Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Sandhill Cranes winter by the tens (hundreds?) of thousands in southeast Arizona. Perhaps the best-known place to see them is the Willcox Playa, home base for the annual Wings over Willcox birding festival. We opted to travel another fifty miles or so south, to the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. The gravel road leading to it through the arid grassland of the Chihuahuan Desert biome makes it feel like you’re in the middle of a wasteland that couldn’t possibly harbor an extensive wetland… but it does.

It’s not just cranes – I spotted a Virginia Rail skulking in the brush, there were Northern Harriers coursing back and forth over the marsh, there was a HUGE flock of gorgeous, noisy Yellow-headed Blackbirds that came in to roost at dusk, and there were LOTS of great ducks, including Redheads and displaying male Cinnamon Teals.

But oh, the cranes… click to view full size!

For some reason a lot of my photos turned out sort of blurry, and none of them show the cranes close up since I just have a pocket-sized point-and-shoot. If you want to see a closer look at Sandhill Cranes check out this post from my visit to the Okefenokee last year. But wow, were there a lot of them. There were a few Snow Geese mixed in with them as well, which was also a treat.

We stayed until around sunset, and I loved the color of the water reflecting the darkening sky.

Not a bad way to spend an evening. One final thought: if there were 10,000 Sandhill Cranes at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area when we were there yesterday, which is a reasonable rough estimate, then in one look we were seeing about twenty-five times the entire remaining wild population of America’s other native crane, the endangered Whooping Crane.

7 thoughts on “Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area”

  1. I’m on the wrong end of the migration route, I think it is great if I see 25 to 50 sandhills at one time. Of course that’s not bad considering they were almost as rare as whooping cranes are now back when I was your age. Thanks for the photos showing how numerous they are!

  2. Seems like it must be awfully noisy there! I’m glad you encouraged us to biggerize; at first glance I was thinking, “Ok, but where are the cranes?” Then I saw the big version and thought “Whoopsie–hidden in plain view!”

  3. Man oh man, a wealth of cranes! What a great visit.

    I’m partial to yellow-headed blackbirds, mostly because i’d never heard of such a thing before I spotted one in a ditch beside the road, and had to do a double-take. Almost felt like I’d discovered a new species ;o)

  4. Nice description and pictures of a lovely place. This is the Sonoran Desert. Head east over the Chiricahua Mountains and into New Mew Mexico, or just south-east into Chihuahua State, Mx., to find the Chihuahuan Desert.

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