The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lies at the south end of the McNeal Playa, 20 miles north of Douglas, Arizona, and the Mexico border. At the northeastern edge of the grasslands-dominated Chihuahua desert, the area attracts about 30,000 Sandhill cranes — from separate Rocky Mountain and Mid-Continent populations — every winter, generally from November through February. This year, however, nearly 50,000 cranes overwintered, and though usually gone by early March, there are still at least 15,000 cranes at the Draw, plus hundreds of other species, from snow geese and ducks to owls and songbirds.
Over New Year’s 2008/2009, my family and I traveled to the Bosque del Apache to see cranes (view photo gallery). I was hoping to take my daughters to Whitewater Draw for comparison this weekend, but it rained; so on Tuesday I took the afternoon off and drove down — about two hours southeast of our home. Though I couldn’t get as close to the cranes, there were thousands more here than in central New Mexico last January. And the clouds! Well, here are a few photos from my recent trip, and there are a total of 64 over in the gallery.
Sandhill cranes flying at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area on a warm early March afternoon.
I’d guess there were at least 15,000 cranes at one point.
Unlike the Bosque del Apache last winter, there were very few snow geese here.
Mostly the scene called for my wide-angle lens — dramatic clouds and water with strings of mountains all around.
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon skipping out of work, eh?
Warm glow on the mountains east of the Whitewater Draw.
Cranes relocating for the evening, and perhaps beginning their migration back as far north as Alaska and even Siberia.
At first subtle, then fiery, the sunset flared like a crane’s scarlet cap, and then some.