Monday, 12 January 2015

Up, Up and Away: Birds of Flight and Plight

 

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Over 500,000 Sand hill Cranes winter in Arizona and Mexico.  The 30,000 cranes near Wilcox and McNeal spend half their day feeding in farmers corn or grain fields and resting and the other half flying three to four hours between their roosting and loafing marshes. The cranes overnight near Wilcox and hit the skies at sunrise heading south across the mountains to Whitewater Wash near McNeal.  Birders and nature lovers flock to the viewing platforms to watch the spectacles of takeoff in Wilcox or arrival in McNeal.

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We experienced the spectacle this week and it was absolutely breathtaking.  At about 10:30 am, hundreds of Cranes began arriving in the fields and along the shore of Whitewater Wash.  We needed binoculars to see the “clouds” of one-two hundred cranes flying in like waves on a beach.  They just kept coming and coming.  Some small groups flew directly above us so that we could appreciate their feathers and flight close up.  There were some Snow Geese and a variety of Coots and Shorebirds, Hawks and Songbirds that kept our attention during the brief intermissions of the “Big Arrival Show”.  The soundtrack; a loud, bugling rattle call, increased in volume as each flock arrived.  Over three hours elapsed before the last groups arrived.  The experience matched the degree of enchantment and awe that many nature shows capture.

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There are two types of Sand hill Cranes, The Lesser, at 3.5 feet tall with a five foot wingspan and The Greater, at 5 feet tall with wings stretching out 6-7 feet.  They migrate in September from Alberta, Wyoming, Montana and Utah.  They nest in shallow marshes and lay two eggs in the spring.  Young cranes eat small animals and fish as they grow ready for their fall trip down south.  The town of Wilcox in Arizona holds an annual festival in January honoring the migration called Wings Over Wilcox where guest speakers, artists and naturalists gather to celebrate the spectacle.

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We celebrated another day of flight at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson.  The Main Hangar held over sixty Fighter, Bomber, Cargo, Commercial and Patrol Aircraft, some Helicopters as well as Drones.  It was great to walk underneath the many aircraft as well as examine the engines, guns, bombs and Air Force paraphernalia on display.  Including the jet and propeller marvels there was a a hang glider, model of the Wright Brothers’  Biplane Glider and the cute wee Bumble Bee, smallest plane in the world.

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We also toured Hangar 3 & 4 that featured World War II aircraft.  The docents in all the buildings were former pilots who brimmed with pride and information as they told personal stories about the exhibits.  As well, there are over 150 planes to view outdoors.

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By far, the most amazing segment of our visit was the bus tour of “The Bone Yard”.  Visitors are restricted to the bus during the hour long drive around The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  Dry weather conditions and solid soil base in Tucson, provide an ideal place to store thousands of unused planes and helicopters, all military aircraft.  The engines are removed from jets and stored in barrels.  A special plastic material is sprayed on the aircrafts to help preserve them.  Many are used for parts, some are restored and reused but the majority are doomed to a permanent residence in the desert.  The sheer numbers of aircraft lined up for miles across acres of land is difficult to comprehend.  Our enthusiastic tour guide had served in Vietnam and his personal stories and passionate descriptions of the planes made the trip even more worthwhile.  While there, we saw some C1-30’s flying overhead which we see over our RV resort and four A-10 Warthogs flying in formation.  To gain a better sense of the enormity of the scale of “The Bone Yard” google: http://www.airplaneboneyards.com/davis-monthan-afb-amarg-airplane-boneyard.htm

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