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