Monday, February 06, 2017

Seeing the Sandhill Cranes in Wilcox Arizona

Whoopee!  Field Trip!

My wife and I are not birder beagles, but we do like to travel and we do love nature. A day trip from Tucson to Wilcox, AZ and the Sulphur Springs Valley to see the Sandhill Cranes fulfills both desires.  These splendid birds migrate into the area in the fall and stay until late February or March.
There are a number of viewing areas in Cochise County, but Wilcox is the closest to Tuscon. It is a little over an hour and a half  (85 miles) from the city and almost all of the driving is on Interstate 10.

Wilcox was originally a whistle stop on the Southern Pacific RR.  The trains still go through, but they don't whistle any more--much less stop. The old station is still there

as are some older buildings along the right of way. 

You can find a historical movie theatre that is actually still open

 and a museum honoring  local dignitary movie cowboy Rex Allen

 So even without the birds there are things to see.

But birds are our business today and  Business Interstate 10 takes you into Wilcox on Haskell Ave. See google map.  Turn right at the Hwy 186 (Maley Ave) intersection and drive out over the RR tracks and turn right again at the Golf Course sign on S. Rex Allen Drive. Drive up that road past the border patrol station and keep going past the golf course pro shop.  One dirt track to your right will lead you along the side of the golf course and has a nice observation point with a free telescope.  Straight ahead is another circle road around a pond that also has periodic observation stands and telescopes. 

Basically this is what you can expect to see?   The birds leave their roosts around sunrise, spend three or four hours feeding in the surrounding areas, and then return. Some may also go back to feed in the afternoon, but everyone is nicely bedded down and tucked in by sunset.  To catch the sunrise takeoff  (which is supposed to be spectacular) you would have to plan an overnight stay in the area or a very early departure from Tucson.  We decided a better plan was to leave at a reasonable hour and try to catch the returning flights in the noon to 2 window. That leaves time for an early or late lunch in Wilcox and a return to Tucson before dinner.

As they return from feeding the birds start to appear in high flights and so far away that they look more like spots in the sky.

 As they get lower you will start to hear them.
Then they will  separate into smaller groups and begin to search out their landing zones. 
Whether purposeful or accidental their movements often seem almost balletic.  

And finally it's flaps down for landing.

After they settle down it seems like many of them will take a well deserved rest. Though it does look like they post at least one guy to keep watch.
They are big birds. They weigh between 10 and 14 pounds and may stand up to 5 feet tall. They are mostly gray in color with black feet, legs, and tails.

  All told it is an ideal day trip.  

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