Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds. Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled. The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap. It was freezing outside. Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon. I lit the stove and heated water. I looked around. The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn. I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped. It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.
Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley. It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife. The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes. They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.
Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out. Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa. At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters. We met some great people. One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S. Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore. Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel. Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond. The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going. Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.
I came home with questions to research. I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity. The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last. It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for. I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.
If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world. –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity
Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs! You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site: https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram
The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam! https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/
The Year of the Bird website: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/
We brought our bicycles with us. What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.