Photographing Sandhill Cranes at the Whitewater Draw in AriZona

If you have never seen, heard, or smelled 20,000 Sandhill Cranes, you have missed out on one of nature’s incredible gatherings. From November to March, tens of thousands of Cranes descend on Southern Arizona. A great place to see and photograph them is Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. Here is what you might see.

Whitewater Draw is 100 miles and 1:40 from Tucson and is a pretty easy day trip. It is also 24 miles and 30 minutes from Bisbee if you want to overnight and visit Tombstone and other attractions in Southeastern, AZ. Finally, its an hour from Wilcox and local wine tasting. In short, there’s plenty to do around here.

The best time to see the birds in flight is early morning as they take off to feed and late afternoon and early evening as they return. They are large birds and need some room to take off and land. They also travel in small groups called a “construction”, a “dance”, a “sedge”, a “siege”, or a “swoop” of cranes.

For bird photography like this we usually use our tripods with our Fujifilm cameras and a 100-400 mm lens, sometimes with a 1.4x extender. At the Whitewater Draw, you can get pretty close to the birds, so this is plenty of magnifying power. The biggest problem here to solve is focusing on moving birds and moving birds at different distances. I usually shoot at f/11 and adjust my ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action.

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