There’s only one thing I can think of that is better than exploring and finding beautiful new places, and that is exploring and finding beautiful new places that have excellent wildlife photography opportunities!
That’s what happened when Ray and I stumbled upon the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, in southern Arizona. I hadn’t even heard of the place, but it popped up on the map as we were on our way east along southern Arizona.
Every year around 30,000 sandhill cranes, along with plenty of other waterbirds, spend their winter at this small 1,600 acre preserve. There is a lovely little pathway that meanders along the pond with plenty of platforms providing excellent viewpoints for photographing the birds.
As you can see, tens of thousands of birds create a bit of chaos! To make a compelling photographs, you have to find a way to make order out of the chaos. It is important to find separation between the birds and look for patterns that create interesting graphic designs in your image.
At night the cranes go stand out in the shallow water to seek safety from predators. Every morning when the day’s first light starts to creep into the sky all the cranes start talking, cackling up a big storm, and as the light gets brighter the cranes get louder and louder. When the sun rises, they begin to take flight to make their way to nearby fields to feed. This means there are incredible opportunities to photograph birds in flight because they keep doing it one after another after another until all the birds are gone. And then later in the day, they all come back!
When it comes to photographing birds in flight, quick reactions and a fast shutter speed are the key.
At the end of the day when the cranes come back, it is an incredible sight to see layers and layers of them off in the distance, like endless distant waves making their way towards shore. As the flocks get closer, the sky becomes filled with birds both near and far that just keep coming and coming in a seemingly endless supply.
It may be chaotic, but if you can combine good light, a clean graphic design, and interesting behaviour in your image, you’ll have a keeper.
I am amazed at how many keepers I came away with! I made all the photos in this post, and many more, in one day at the park. And … I have even more images from subsequent days at the park when there was better light and even fog!
At the end of the day we were treated to another outstanding Arizona sunset and I made this photo of Ray standing on the top of the RV enjoying the view.
Keep your eyes open for Part 2 of this series to see more images from one of my favourites new finds from the last snowbird season: Whitewater Draw.