If we hadn’t stopped at a bar in Tombstone we probably would have gotten to Whitewater Draw in time to see the massive flocks of cranes coming in for the evening. It was worth it though because where else are you going to find yourself sitting next to a real life gunslinger (reenactor) drinking whiskey? As he left to go to rehearsal we left to camp next to the Sandhill cranes. Even though in was getting dark and most of the birds had settled in, as soon as we shut off Lil’ Squatch’s engine you could hear them. The conversation at the bar was fun but these creatures speak an ancient tongue that is beyond description. It was so compelling that both Rachael and I, without speaking, began walking towards the sound. The cranes rest for the night standing in shallow water as protection from predators and the sound of thousands of their trilling voices carrying across the wetland penetrates you and reaches some primal part of your brain. It’s as if you can feel the thousands of years that this chorus has been raised nightly and it connects you to prehistoric ancestors who surely knew this sound well.
Whitewater Draw is a wildlife management area and one of several seasonal wetlands in the center of Sulphur Springs Valley an expansive example of basin and range country in the southeast corner of Arizona. With prairie and agricultural fields to feed in by day it is the perfect winter home for the cranes. It is also an excellent place to camp and we stayed here two nights, the all night conversations of the birds infiltrating my dreams. With some of the least light polluted skies in the US it is also an amazing place to see the stars, though with a bitter chill it was hard to bundle up enough to enjoy for very long. I was picturing the cranes huddled in together for warmth and gossip.
As dawn approaches the chattering trills begin to escalate. The sound grows to a crescendo as the sun is rising and with the sun the birds rise in groups of 20 or 30, then groups in the hundreds. The horizon fills with long lines of cranes flocked up to go to their chosen feeding sites in the valley. For some hours you can spot the now scattered groups rising and dispersing across the sky. As I said the sound of these magnificent birds is indescribable so even though this recording is also a poor substitution for hearing and feeling it in person, I’ll let the Sandhill cranes speak for themselves in this video I made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdQETjnDYik&feature=youtu.be