A few weeks ago, I missed what sounds like an amazing festival, Wings over Willcox, which celebrates the huge flocks of sandhill cranes that spend the winter near the little town of Willcox, Arizona. I love sandhill cranes. I used to see them every summer when I lived in Logan, Utah. I've migrated to southern Arizona to escape the cold weather, just like the cranes. We're like kindred spirits, so of course I wanted to see them here in their winter habitat.
My friends Alice and Alice and Sue and I headed southeast from Tucson in late January to seek out the cranes. Alice B., who grew up in Tucson and has an encyclopedic knowledge of fun outdoor activities in the area, suggested we go to to Whitewater Draw, a state wildlife area, because we might be able to get closer to the birds than at Willcox. Our route would pass through Benson and Bisbee and a whole lot of desolate tan desert.
As we cruised into the town of Benson, Alice R. said, "There's an awesome used book store in Benson." (I met her at a book club.) I said, "I need to find a bathroom." To which Alice R. replied, "There's a bathroom in the book store." So we pulled over and took a break to shop for books.
Thousands of cranes waded in the shallow water, flapped their wings and jockeyed for position, flew in from somewhere and passed over our heads in pairs and threes and v's. And made a lot of noise! They have a loud, ratcheting bugle of a call which wove in and out and around the marsh. We stayed there with the birds for a couple of hours, in the cold air (but not that cold for January!) and yellow afternoon light. Beautiful beautiful beautiful!
We met two older men camped out on the boardwalk with lawn chairs and spotting scopes on tripods. They pointed out to us a coyote in an adjacent meadow. It was hunting rodents, jumping straight up into the air, and landing on front paws, ensnaring dinner. (Sorry, no photo of that! Too much tall grass and dim light.)
They told us they'd been there for five hours, watching the cranes. Then one of their wives walked up and asked how much longer. "Two hours, at least until dark," was the answer. She got the truck keys, so that she and the other guy's wife could sit inside the truck, out of the cold wind.
Other birds we saw (but did not love quite as much as we loved the cranes) included...