Wintering Sandhills (12 photos)

Tall yet graceful, social yet independent, Sandhill Cranes have long fascinated people.

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Sandhills are named for their breeding grounds on the Nebraska prairie, which bleeds into Sandhill Region of the state. Huge flocks migrate to winter in such places as Florida, Texas and Mexico.

Sandhill 4Sandhill 3Some 10,000 Sandhills migrate to southeastern Arizona for the winter. These birds were photographed at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, near Wilcox, AZ.

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The sight of thousands upon thousands of Sandhill taking flight is awesome. Yet that’s not what was most memorable about the cranes. My friend Tom and I parked a good half mile from the wetlands where we hoped the Sandhills were congregated. As we hiked toward the water, we started to hear an unfamiliar sound. Before long the loud, rolling, raucous sound stopped us in our tracks. It was the cranes.

Sandhill 10Sandhill 11Sandhill 12The cranes left the wetlands in small groups, heading to feed before nightfall.

Desert Double-crested Cormorant

We had less than 2 inches of rain our first year in Phoenix.

You read that correctly. Less than 2 inches of precipitation.

So I was shocked to find a diverse number of waterfowl and shore birds winter in Phoenix. All the habitat is man made, mainly community ponds or canals bringing water from mountain reservoirs or the Colorado River.

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These Double-crested Cormorants were in a pond at Red Mountain Park in Mesa, AZ this past February. The pond is large enough to support hundreds of birds. And its stocked with fish often enough to attract hunters as cormorants.

I found the eyes of the cormorants striking. The water reflects the sky which reflects in the eyes. However, I’ve found a few of people (FINE! A significant number) of people who say the birds rather unattractive.

Personally, I will continue to defend the gothic beauty of the Double-crested Cormorant.

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