Birding Hotspot: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, AZ

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March 5, 2011

The combination of deserts and sky islands combine to make Southeastern Arizona one of the most spectacular regions in North America for bird watching.

During our numerous visits to this region we have visited many excellent birding spots including San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve, and Patagonia Lake State Park.

Our most recent discovery was Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

The Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north, is great for birder watching. The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields. A wide variety of birds winter here alongside permanent residents.

The Sulphur Springs Valley’s crown jewel is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Located in the southwestern part of the valley, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lies within a desert grassland habitat. Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.

Formerly a cattle ranch, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area was purchased in 1997 and is now managed to enhance wetland habitats and provide waterfowl habitat, and wildlife viewing. For a detailed map of Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, click here.

Managed by the Arizona Fish & Game Department, Whitewater Draw has a newly developed one-mile boardwalk trail that takes you around cattail marshes, shallow ponds, and eventually to several viewing platforms. Here you can use permanently-mounted telescopes to observe the spectacle of 10,000 to over 20,000 wintering sandhill cranes. Flocks of snow geese and tundra swan share the sky with the cranes.

The winter bird watching here is simply amazing with many species of ducks, grebes, teals, shovelers, pintails, egrets, herons, shorebirds, and terns.

A pair of great-horned owls sits on the rafters of the large open barn that currently serves as a picnic shelter.

There is no visitor center at Whitewater Draw. Visitors are asked to sign in at register boxes located at each parking area. The register sheets include spaces for comments and sightings, so sign in when you arrive and check to see what recent visitors have reported.

Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) offers Whitewater Wetlands walks each Friday morning at 9 a.m. for a nominal fee. Reservations are recommended.

Whitewater Draw is located on Coffman Road, accessible either from Central Highway via Double Adobe Road or directly from Davis Road, 1 mile west of Central Highway near McNeal.

From Bisbee drive east on Highway 80 for 4 miles and continue east on Double Adobe Road; turn north onto Central Highway until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign. Alternately, drive 4 miles south of Tombstone to Davis Road; drive east on Davis Road for about 20 miles until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign at Coffman Road and turn right and follow Coffman Road south to the Refuge.

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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