Archive for February, 2013

Wezil Walraven – Birding Tour Guide

February 20th, 2013 by Mike Hug

Since our bnb is on the San Pedro River at the northern end of the San Pedro National Riparian Conservaiton Area, we have many birding guests at Down By The River B and B. They will relate to us what they found and the locations that they have been at during their trip. A recent guest couple told us about their experience with a “Wonderful Birding  Tour Guide” that they had met when they first came to Cochise County to stay on a birding vacation. They told us of a couple of tours that he was their guide and escort. They raved about how he was able to take them to just the right areas and finding the birds that they had hoped to see on their trip to Cochise County, Arizona. With their rave review of the tour with their guide, we asked for his name and contact information. Since we are in a centralized location for Cochise County, we felt that learning about the guide might be a great benefit to our birder guests. We made an effort to contact Wezil and set up a time to meet and talk with him.

Angie and I finally were able to meet with Wezil Walraven on February 19th when he stopped on his way home to New Mexico after spending time in Southeastern Arizona doing tours. Wezil told us that he is of Dutch decent and his name is pronounced like the animal, weasel although in Dutch it is Vesil. He told us that he had been doing birding for almost 40 years and really enjoys working with his clients. He told us that he was more of a teacher than a guide. He wants to be able to give them some guidelines to use when they are on their own. He also told us that he likes to have fun birding and related some stories about things that he has done.

Vermillion flycatcher picture

Vermillion Flycatchers are found in the San Pedro River area and on the property of Down By The River B and B in St.. David.

Wezil is a senior tour guide for High Lonesome Bird Tours. He told us that he has gone all over doing tours but tends to stay in Southeastern Arizona and his home state of New Mexico. When he isn’t doing the High Lonesome tours he does his own tours under the name of Wezil Walraven Bird Tours. When he does a High Lonesome tour in this part of Arizona, he also can set up a reservation for private tours before and after High Lonesome tour before he returns back home to New Mexico. He told us that he has acquired a good knowledge of birds, their songs and behavior as well as knowledge of their habitat. He demonstrated some of the songs and gave us some insight on what we could find out the back door of our BnB on the San Pedro River.

To that end he talked about our area here at the Northern End of the San Pedro River National Riparian Conservation Area. He was telling us that there are Gray Hawks and Western Screech Owls along the river in this area. He also confirmed that we had probably seen Golden Eagles last year and the Mississippi Kite in early February. He said that the Mississippi Kite used to be in the Winkleman area and had migrated down into this area maybe 10 years ago. He said that this is one of the unique locations for finding this bird and the Gray Hawks. As we talked, he told us that March through May are good birding months in this part of the state. But he went on to state that June is very good too. That is because the birds are nesting and they stay close and are therefore easier to spot.

Wezil can be contacted through his website, email wezil@wezilwalravenbirdtours.com or phone him at 828-575-3107 to set up a tour reservation. Angie and I believe that you will be pleased with your experience with Wezil.

Fort Bowie Ranger Lead Tours

February 16th, 2013 by Mike Hug

The following was just released today that the Rangers at Fort Bowie National Historic Site will lead tours on the weekends from February 23 until March 31. On Saturday a van will pick people up at the parking lot at 10:00 AM for a tour of the fort. There is a limit of 11 people for the tour so reservations are strongly suggested. There is a preliminary talk and then the tour of the ruins will take about 45 minutes. After the tour is finished, you can take the van back to the parking lot or you can hike out the mile and a half to the parking lot. The vans are handicap accessible as is the ruins at the fort.

On Sundays a guided ranger hikes will be available and will leave the parking lot at 10:00 AM. The hike will be along the trail to the fort. The trail is relatively flat most of the way and will focus on the events that ensued in establishing the fort. More information on the limited tours are available at the website on this special program or by calling 520-847-2500 x 1.

Fort Bowie Ruins Picture

The ruins of the quarters for the enlisted men is still visible.

The fort has a visitors center where you can look at many of the historical items in the display cases. There is old clothing and various military pieces for visitors to look at. I wrote about this hike in 2011 and you can read that blog by clicking here. Just a reminder hiking in the desert can be dangerous so take a hat and plenty of water when you hike. There is no food at the ranger station so take along something for a snack or a back pack with a picnic lunch. It is a fun hike so make the most of it.

The historic site is a short driving distance from Down By The River B and B in St. David, AZ.

Fort Bowie Overlook

Overlook of the ruins of Fort Bowie on the hills in the north side of the fort,

White Water Draw Part II

February 10th, 2013 by Mike Hug

This is Part 2 of my blog on White Water Draw. If you haven’t read about Part 1, click here.

Sand Hill Cranes in Field

The Sand Hill Cranes feed in the fields north of White Water Draw during the day.

When we arrived at White Water Draw, we were alone and I wondered why.  More than likely it was because it was cold outside and the smarter people decided to stay at home for a while. Well after we were at the barn another couple drove up so I figured ok it isn’t a holiday for the cranes after all. But I am digressing for those that read Part 1 so I will fast forward to about 10:45. Angie and I saw the cranes when we were near the Willcox Playa on our way to Cochise Stronghold for our hike. There is a corn field  that is located on the  side of the road that we were traveling on to the Stronghold Campgrounds.

Angie and I were on the levee and a few straggler cranes had flown over to land among the group that was about 100 yards/meters away from our location. When a new arrival flew in there was a chorus of honks until the new arrival landed then it quieted down. We had been informed that the cranes usually returned from feeding between 10:30 and 11:00. But it seemed that there were no birds in the air except a group of 3 or 4 or the singletons.

3 Sand Hill Cranes Returning

Three Sand Hill Cranes Arrive while others can be seen in flight returning to White Water Draw.

These birds were usually coming from the south and since I didn’t believe that there were any fields south of us I was wondering why they would come from that direction. Still don’t know unless they came from the southeast.

11:00 AM and Angie and I are on the platform at the water’s edge.  I am saving my battery then I see a small group of 7 fly in from the east. Battery on focus but the shot is not what I want so battery off. We are talking with other birders that have arrived and they were out of town from Illinois.  More people arrive on the platform including a couple of people that we had passed on the drive in. They were on bicycles when we passed them. We didn’t ask where they came from but it had to be from Tombstone, Sierra Vista area or Bisbee the closest being 30 miles. I don’t mind biking and I have done my share when I was younger and dumber on roads like Davis Road. Wouldn’t do it today it might leave a permanent dent in unseen places and not necessarily from my error. Now a tour bus arrives and the people are given their box lunches. Obviously someone knows about timing this better than I do. I think I should contact them to find out what the real facts are next time I plan a trip.

Sand Hill Cranes Returning Picture

When the Sand Hill Cranes arrive they come in waves.

It is 11:20 and still nothing. Now I am starting to wonder if this will be a bust. I figured we could go to 11:30, shoot these wonderful “National Geographic Shots” and then we would be traveling back to have lunch in a perfect world. But the birds are saying “I laugh at you!” We see all sorts of ducks, teals, plover, and the snipe less than 20 feet away. Great shots but do I waste the battery ….NO! I will kick myself later after I get home and charge the batteries. 11:25 arrives with more people on the platform but at least we are in front. I tell Angie we need to leave by 12:15 if there is no action.  We hadn’t brought any food and I figured by 12 we would be close to Bisbee and a quick lunch in the PERFECT WORLD.

It is 11:45 someone says they see some birds. I look north and see some irregular black lines in the air. But wait there are cranes down low coming into the lake area. The mountains behind them sort of hide them from view because they are similar in color.  As we looked we saw more and more. Now it is time to turn on the camera battery. The cranes on the ground seem to be

Sand Hill Cranes Returning Picture

After 20 minutes the cranes are still arriving at The Draw.

doing the chorus of greeting to the newcomers.  As wave after wave come in the birds land it different areas with some being closer about 50 yards away. This is really grand. The birds are doing a dance in the air as they find a place to land. At one time the birds converge at the point in front of us and flair out some to land and some to go to another location.  Focus click, focus click.  I am thinking if only I hadn’t made the mistake with the batteries and if I had my regular lens.  Que Sera Sera, Estupido!

12:00 brings more flights and I look to the horizon and see black strings of birds still on their way. Already thousands have landed and more are coming. The noise is pervasive and I remember that Barb had said that it almost sounded like something you would hear in prehistoric times. The birds keep coming and now that I have some shots that I feel are good I don’t want to waste shoot something that may not be as good as what was coming. This is a tragedy because if the batteries were good I would shoot until the memory card was full – maybe a thousand shots. That makes digital cameras so nice because you don’t have to process the film if it isn’t any good.

12:15 comes around and the black lines have lessened.  Now it seems like only stragglers are coming, so I ask Angie if we can go. We head back and to the car and on the way I take a shot back at the people that are still

White Water Draw View Area Picture

Many birders come to see the action at White Water Draw. There is a large viewing area for people to watch.

there watching. The sun is starting to come out and I get a pretty good shot across the field with the automatic focus turned on. Amazing I still have batteries even though it tells me every once in a while that it is depleted.  We get in the car and head back home at about 12:40. As we are headed west on Davis road we watch another flight of Sand Hill Cranes with maybe 40 birds in it fly over us to the Draw. I see another group further on north coming. I would like to think that at that time the trip home would be uneventful but NOT! Davis Road was undergoing maintenance during the day and part was closed down and controlled by the highway department. You had to wait your turn and be piloted through. Unfortunately a van and a truck had an accident while following the pilot car but we weren’t involved.

There are at times an estimated 15 to 20 thousand cranes are at White Water Draw. My guess at the total population of birds in the area is close to 30 thousand during this time of the year. I have been here during the summer and late spring and found the area still to have birds but the water is pretty much gone. There are still some birds around but at a small fraction of what you see in December through March. Many of our guests at our San Pedro River B and B have no idea about White Water Draw. They have heard about the Willcox Playa from their birding friends but after they go to White Water Draw they fall in love with the place.

So if you are an amateur or an avid birder, consider visiting Cochise County in Southeastern Arizona and see what there is for you to see. When you come also realize that The San Pedro River B&B, Down By The River is central to all your birding activities and you will find that it is the Lodging Hub of Cochise County. Oh and as a reminder, make sure your camera equipment and batteries are in good repair.

White Water Draw Wildlife Area Part 1

February 4th, 2013 by Mike Hug


View Larger Map

Sign Picture

The sign at the entry to White Water Draw tells you about the property

White Water Draw is a birder’s paradise during the late fall, winter and early spring. This place is located in Cochise County about an hour south and east of Down By The River B and B. The 1400 acre site has been owned by Arizona Game and Fish Department since 1997 when it was purchased from the Hyannis Cattle Company. About 700 acres is wetland and is known as a wintering area for Sand Hill Cranes and Snow Geese. After talking with guests Barb and I had gone to the area during the early spring after we had first opened the B & B 8 years ago.  Angie had never been there, so at the beginning of February we had a chance to sneak away for a couple of hours before our next guests were to arrive at the B & B for check in. We really were looking forward to this and I wanted to have the chance to get some good pictures of the action there.

The Barn Picture

The Barn At White Water Draw Is Home To Owls

The cards seemed to be stacked against me as I gathered things together prior to making the trip. We didn’t have a great sunny day like we hoped to have, and the temperature that morning was cooler as we headed off. My one zoom lens that I always use for occasions like this had recently become disabled and wouldn’t focus so I had to improvise. I had some magnifiers that I could put onto the shorter camera lens and I hoped that doing this would work. I anticipated that I would not be as satisfied with the results between the overcast skies and the lack of my reliable zoom lens. But que sera sera as Doris Day once sang. Just gotta deal with the cards you’re dealt. Little did I know that the deck would be stacked against me in other ways I hadn’t thought of.

Great Horned Owls  Picture

Great Horned Owls Can Be Found In The Barn At White Water Draw.

The drive to White Water Draw is about 50 miles and takes under an hour. We headed to Tombstone and drove through town. After a few miles Davis road was on our left and we took it to just after milepost 21. We turned right on to a dirt road named Coffman Road. The road sign wasn’t there but there is a sign for White Water Draw on the road. After about 2 miles we came to the parking area. It was still overcast and cold; so we bundled up and walked over to the barn that sits on the site. “The Barn” is about 30 foot tall and there usually are Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls roosting in it. One owl was there instead of the customary pair. After taking some pictures and saying “How Do” we walked on over to the viewing area to check out what was going on with the cranes and other denizens of the wetlands.

Snow Geese Picture

Snow Geese On The Water

Besides the Sand Hill Cranes and Snow Geese, the area is frequented by many other birds and water fowl. These include Blue-Winged, Green-Winged and Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Western and Clark’s Grebes, Mallards, Egrets, Great Blue Heron and many others. The area has many raptors including Northern Harriers and Swainson Hawks. During my previous visits I have spotted Phoebes, different types of Sparrows, Yellow Headed and Redwing Blackbirds, and Vermillion Flycatchers to name a few. It is a good place to see a large concentration of different birds in a small area.

Snow Geese Picture

Snow Geese As Seen Through The Magnifiers

As we walked along the levee, we came to one of the viewing platforms constructed at the water’s edge. The platform has free for use, large magnifying glasses that you can use to look at the birds. While at the viewing platform, we saw a Loggerhead Shrike right below us. He was camera shy. Every time I tried to get the shot, he would hear the camera focus quickly duck into the reeds and become almost invisible.  I noticed the Snow Geese and shot some pictures of them grouped on the water. After my shot, I looked through the glasses that were provided to see them better. It was much better than my lens. Then I thought that maybe I could get a shot through the magnifier to get an idea of a comparison of my lens to the viewer. It wasn’t a real sharp picture because I was attempting to focus through another optical instrument. I was semi successful and you can see in comparing the two pictures it does give you an idea of what the magnifiers can do.

Water Foul Picture

Ducks And Other Water Foul Fill One Of The Ponds

We moved further along the levee and came to the next pond that contained a lot of ducks. We startled them when we walked up to the edge and they saw us. They all took flight and landed a little further away. It would have been a great shot had I known that the ducks were there and been ready for them. But by the time I got the camera on the birds they had gotten settled a little further from shore. There was a multitude of water fowl in the group. It was fun to watch them feed, with tails up in some cases, and others like the Shovelers just put their heads down with the long beaks to root around in the mud.

Egret Picture

Egret Hunting

A little further along, I took some time to check out an Egret that was feeding in the reeds. They exhibit a lot of stealth and wait for the fish to come to them. With a quick move he had a fish but I was so mesmerized by watching what he was doing that I forgot to click the camera and I missed the shot. Not the first time that I have missed pictures because I’m concentrating on what I am viewing. I have to get over that since I can see the action later if I take the picture when I should.

Over the fields to the west we saw some Northern Harriers gliding over the grasslands.  It is a beautiful sight to see these birds gliding through the air. It reminded me of the time last summer when I saw the Harrier that frequented our San Pedro River B & B and how I finally got a series of pictures of the Harrier in flight. But as I watched, the

Green Winged Teal Picture

Green Winged Teal Were Out in Plain ViewGreen Winged Teal Were Out in Plain View

Harrier changed paths and flew toward the Snow Geese. In an instant they were up in the air and scattering out of the way. Again, camera down and batteries off so I didn’t get a shot again. You think I would learn this lesson but in the long run it was probably best that I didn’t walk around with the camera always on. While the geese were flying in a circuit, I tried to focus on them as they flew toward us and the automatic focus just wasn’t cooperating. I did get some nice pictures of the gray sky. By the time I had them in focus again they were landing back in the water where they had started.

About this time my battery started telling me that it was getting depleted. Ok, not to worry I always have the spare in the camera case, so I stopped to change to the recharged battery. I put it in and found that it had less of a charge than the one that I had just had in the camera. “DOH!” as Homer Simpson would say.  I forgot to charge it after our walk around Texas Canyon and then our hike to Cochise Stronghold.

Northern Shoveler Picture

Northern Shoveler Can Be Found Here At White Water Draw.

Now I am in a bind. One battery with one anode in the grave and the other already 6’ under raising daisies! OK, I ask myself, what takes most of the energy to run the camera? Number one is the autofocus. So I put things on manual focus but this really is not the best for what I want to do with the pictures. The manual focus depends more on your eyesight determining what is in focus and what isn’t. Not bad if it is bright out or if you don’t intend to enlarge the picture later. Both conditions will make it more likely for a picture to be blurred. Mas que sera para mi! I don’t have a lot of choices if I want to have pictures.

So what happened? Well, you will have to wait to read about this misadventure in Part 2 of this blog where I will be talking about watching the Sand Hill Cranes come in from feeding in the fields. Consider staying at a Southeastern Arizona B and B with easy access to a lot of Birding in Cochise County. The San Pedro River B&B is located at the northern end of the San Pedro River National Riparian Conservation Area between Benson and Tombstone.

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