A couple of weeks ago I ventured north from the Imperial Dam area where I am camped (about 20 miles north of Yuma, Arizona) to the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. It’s located on the Colorado River, along the California/Arizona border. To get there, I drove north from Yuma into California for about 50 miles, then crossed over a funky old bridge back into Arizona to get to the refuge headquarters.
This refuge has a two mile drive around loop where you can watch the various bird populations that either live there full time or are migrating through. At this time of year, there are large groups of sandhill cranes and snow geese, as well as ducks, Canada geese, yellow headed blackbirds, redwing blackbirds and more.
One of my favorite birds is the sandhill crane. They mate for life, there are several different migrating groups around the country, and they make the most amazing sounds that I call “purring”. I was hoping to upload a video of them so you could hear it, but I don’t seem to be able to upload video to this blog. Maybe I’ll post something to YouTube.
Sandhill cranes and snow geese tend to hang out together. In the image below, the snow geese have decided to go somewhere else and are flying away. The blueish shapes on the ground are cranes. This is a field of corn that was allowed to mature and dry, and then cut down for easy access by the birds.
When the snow geese are not feeding in the cornfields, they may be found in the loafing ponds with lots of different kinds of ducks. Note the goose on the left has tilted his/her head to look at several other geese that are coming in for a landing. (I wasn’t quick enough to catch that photo!)
In the image below, you’ll notice the third bird from the front (its orange beak is pointed to the left) doesn’t quite look like a snow goose. I didn’t notice when I shot the photo, but it made me chuckle when I saw it. I believe this is a cattle egret…perhaps trying to pass as a snow goose…
I have discovered that yellow headed blackbirds like to visit this refuge. I saw them here last year and they were here again this time.
Each morning I got up before dawn and drove to the loop to watch the cranes and geese come in from their nightly roosting areas to feed. The large flock of yellow headed blackbirds would arrive about the same time and land right on the road in front of me! I’m not sure why they did this, but it seemed like they were coming to watch the sun come up. After just a few minutes, they left. And, interestingly enough, there were no redwing blackbirds present during this gathering (these two birds are related and often hang out together).
Later in the morning, I found lots of blackbirds in a field of still-standing cornstalks. This little industrious bird was poking around in the ear of corn and finding a yummy breakfast:
Cibola NWR is a relocation area for displaced burrowing owls. You can see them here every day of the year. They are active during the day (most owls are nocturnal). The refuge has created numerous burrows, each one requiring two orange Home Depot buckets, two 6″ diameter insulated pipes, and some large rocks to keep coyotes from digging into them. The conditions are great for these little owls…pre-made burrows, a water supply, and fields with rodents in them!
My luckiest image was this peregrine falcon…I was driving slowly on the loop and was not looking up (often you can see one of several resident kestrels as well as this falcon), I was focused on the sandhill cranes in the field nearby. I noticed some little black feathers floating down in front of my windshield. Looking back in my side view mirror, I saw the falcon on top of the power pole behind me. I backed up a little, grabbed the camera and got one image before it flew away with dinner in its claws. While I’m sure this bird was not happy with me for disturbing its meal, I was very happy to see later that the photo was in focus! Yay! If you look closely you can see that there is a dead blackbird under the falcon’s talons, and there are little fuzzy feathers stuck to its beak.
That evening, after two days of totally enjoyable bird watching, I was treated to this beautiful sunset:
Cibola NWR is a remote refuge, doesn’t get that many visitors, and has become one of my favorite places to visit. There is BLM land across the street where you can camp for free. I have seen fox, coyote, blue herons, great white egrets, lots of little birds (I’m not that great at identifying them…yet…), and the scenery is really pretty. Sandhill cranes and snow geese are at their peak populations in December and January each winter.
I’m posting this on the Winter Solstice. I hope this reaches you in good health and good spirits, with many exciting hopes and dreams for the coming year.
My sister, Vonda, sent me a haiku she created earlier this morning while taking a walk in her Seattle neighborhood after midnight (the rain had stopped, the clouds had dissipated a bit, and it was, after all, the beginning of Winter Solstice day). I thought I would share it with you:
Bright solstice half moon
Dives into the western clouds
The world is still here.