Every winter I lead a tour of Whitewater Draw for Pleasurebent Tours, a Tucson-based general-interest tour company. It is, of course, the SANDHILL CRANE tour.
I was worried earlier in the winter that the tour would be a bit of a damp squib this year, as the crane show hasn’t been the best due to the lack of water. But once again, we were lucky on this tour and it was one of the best crane shows of the winter. It was still pretty poor compared to previous years, but everyone seemed to be happy. We also saw a good selection of ducks and other birds.
After I’d waved everyone on the bus goodbye, I took a walk around the draw to see what else I could find. A female MERLIN came sppeding past and landed in a tree, and I could see that she had just caught her dinner – an unfortunate SAVANNAH SPARROW. I couldn’t get a good angle and the light and shade made photography difficult, but it was fascinating and somewhat gruesome to watch her pluck her prey.
It only took a few minutes to reduce the sparrow to a featherless, bloody mess. Had I found the Merlin at this point, I would never have guessed her prey was a Savannah Sparrow, the black skin of the sparrow making it look more like the remains of a blackbird.
Two minutes later, she had stripped and devoured all the flesh from the sparrow.
Once she’d had her fill, the carcass was discarded. She wiped her bill and face on a branch, had a quick preen, and then she was gone. The whole process took less than ten minutes. I wouldn’t want to be a sparrow at Whitewater Draw!
Talking of sparrows, some species are more circumspect when it comes to showing themselves out in the open. One example is SWAMP SPARROW, and it was nice to find a couple tucked in, safely and sensibly, along the edge of the cattails.