By Franklin Lane PCMN C1
7 February 2022, (near) McNeal Arizona.
I visit the Sulphur Springs valley south of Wilcox, Arizona several times a year. Normally I’m enroute to the Chiricahua Mountains or, accompanying a historian friend tracing the route of the old Butterfield stage line. But early every February I’m outside McNeal at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. This is the major Arizona wintering spot of Sandhill Cranes (Crus canadensis). ‘Purrll’ might not be an accurate description of their distinctive call but that’s what it sounds like to me. Hard to distinguish when several thousand birds are all communicating at the same time.
The Sandhill is one of just two cranes native to North America. The other is the much more threatened Whooping Crane (Crus americana). The other dominant, migratory species at Whitewater is the Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens).
I go in early February because the timing is right to observe the birds re-massing at Whitewater between 10:30-11:30 a.m. after their morning scavenging. This makes the departure from Tucson for the approximate two-hour drive much more civilized. I also drive the ‘back way’ through Tombstone. Shorter and prettier than taking the Interstate to the Dragoon or Wilcox exits. Birds can be seen, however, from November to early March.
What particularly struck me this year was the realization that the Sandhills represent the largest gathering of vertebrates that I will probably ever see. Other than Homo sapiens in a football stadium where else can we observe 10 -15,000 individuals of a species this large?
This year the AZGFD has cordoned off the ramada where a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is nesting.
Additional Blog posts about Whitewater Draw are archived inApril 2020 and August 2018.