Meeting some real snowbirds- Sebring, FL

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Sandhill Crane

With our cruise vacation over, we’re back to our “normal” travel life.  This winter will be spent here in Florida, enjoying the sunshine and warmth – or so we were led to believeBear in Florida. But upon arriving back home the weather was a bit more brisk than we had hoped.  Oh well, maybe it will warm up a bit as we continue toward the southern end of the state.

As we were preparing to depart the Orlando area, we heard a noise behind Betsy and went out to see our friend the bear again, strutting out of our site after helping himself to our bird feeder.  Our neighbor came by to tell us that he had very carefully sucked all of the food out of it one day while we were gone. Hmmm.

Making our way closer to the southern tip of Florida, we first stopped for a week at Sebring and visited my niece.  Although we hadn’t seen any birds near our site while setting up here, I put my feeder out just in case.  To my surprise we began getting daily visits, not from small birds but from three really big ones – Sandhill Cranes!  Now these are some real snowbirds!

Sandhill Crane

It doesn’t take long for this guy to empty the feeder!

The trio came by looking for food every day at around noon.  Of course, I was ecstatic to see them on their first visit.  But on the following days they began pecking on things (like our car!) and we soon realized they are actually a nuisance here.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane

Hey lady, I can stand on one leg – can you?

The Buttonwood Bay RV Resort (Steve’s review here) is large and lush, with natural surroundings and lots of on-site activities.  Since we just arrived from a vacation, we’re mostly just taking it easy at this stop.  Fortunately, the resort has 2.5 miles of paths through and around it, so we were able to walk and bike every day to burn off some of the calories from that cruise food.  It was during one of these treks that we discovered a lake behind the resort that was teeming with various birds.  Steve and I enjoyed hanging out there, people watching, bird watching and sunset watching!

Buttonwood Bay RV Resort

It always puts a smile on my face to see birds I haven’t come across before, such as the two shorebirds below – a Limpkin and a Wood Stork.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

During another walk on the path we encountered this huge spider.  Steve put his hand behind it to show how big it was.  Yikes!

Big spider

Many guests (people snowbirds) at the park gathered here in the evenings with their friends to witness the setting sun.

Buttonwood RV Resort

Buttonwood RV Resort

Next up:  Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant!

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Oh my, the Cranes! – Whitewater Draw

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Sandhill Cranes

We heard there are two excellent places to watch Sandhill Cranes winter by the thousands in southeast Arizona, at Willcox Playa and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.  Both areas are owned and managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department.  Larry and Nancy, whom we met initially at Cave Creek last December and saw again at Patagonia, urged us to view the Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw.  They were just there and advised us to arrive by 11am.  Since we were closer to Whitewater Draw and I recently got hooked on birds, I drove the 39 miles from Tombstone Territories RV Park to witness this amazing nature event.  Steve stayed home and cooked chicken for dinner!

The last mile leading to the Whitewater Draw is an arid grassland of the Chihuahuan Desert which makes it seem you’re in a wasteland, but upon arriving there were open-water areas,  marshlands and mudflats which attract birds throughout the winter months.

Whitewater Draw

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

The migration of Sandhill Cranes is not the only attraction or winter birds here – a variety of waterbirds, nearshore birds and birds of prey were seen hanging out as well as other critters.  While waiting for the cranes to fly in, I walked around the 1500-acre wildlife area and looked for other birds.  A flock of Snow Geese made several passes overhead and settled down by the wetland.

Snow Geese, White Water Draw

-Snow Geese on approach.

And then more people arrived…

Whitewater Draw

By noontime we started hearing a gurgling sound from afar and knew they were coming.  From the north we could see black specks in groups as they arrived in flocks of thousands, and I really mean thousands!  They came in wave after wave and were just amazing to watch and listen to.

Whitewater Draw

The sights and sounds were pretty awesome.  They flew overhead, straight or circling around in a dance, swirling in random ways side to side, until they slowly landed when they found a spot.  Then a flock would rise up and fly around for a bit before resettling somewhere else.

Whitewater Draw

20130131AZ-WW-15

Flock after noisy flock of Sandhill Cranes kept arriving…

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

And what do they do here?  They will spend the night standing in shallow waters to roost and avoid predators.  Then they’ll leave the Whitewater Draw in the morning to spend part of their day feeding in the surrounding grasslands and agricultural fields before returning to the wetlands later.

Whitewater Draw

~The gray specs you see are the thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting for the night.

These Sandhill Cranes usually leave for their northern breeding grounds by the end of March, but a few of them sometimes remain longer.

Finally, another one of those fiery sunsets in Arizona.

Fiery Sunset Arizona

Fairbanks – our impressions

Comments 6 Standard

We spent 5 nights in Fairbanks.  Perhaps longer than other RVers would stay there before moving on to Denali.  But a check of our progress shows we have plenty of time and there are a few things we want to do while in Fairbanks, e.g. grocery shopping.

Unknown First Family'

Statue of the ‘Unknown First Family’ at the center of Golden Heart Park near the river in “old town” Fairbanks.

Fairbanks, Alaska

There were amazing flower arrangements all around the “old town” area of Fairbanks.

On the way into town, we stopped at the Santa Claus House at the North Pole, which was fun.  The whole town uses the Christmas theme, with candy canes and bright colors that tend to put people in a happy mood.  I got to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him whether I had been naughty or nice – not sure how that conversation went.  If you send postcards from their location, they will be postmarked “North Pole”, and so, of course, we had to send a few.

North Pole, Alaska

What else would you expect to see at North Pole, Alaska?

Once in Fairbanks, we spent some time checking out the “old town” area by the Chena River and learning some history about the city.  As described elsewhere on our site, we also spent a very long 18-hour day on a tour to the Arctic Circle.  It’s a beautiful trip and a good way to learn about and touch the permafrost and the Alaska pipeline.  Finally, we spent a few hours taking the Riverboat Discovery trip on the Chena River. This is a sternwheeler (paddle boat) and the 3.5-hour tour in on the Chena River. On this tour we got the chance to see the late Susan Butcher’s  Iditarod champion dogs in action, a Bush pilot taking off and land on the river, and a guided tour at the Chena Indian Village.    It was fun and informative, a must-do in Fairbanks.

Bush pilot

Bush pilot displayed a short field take-off and landing along the Chena River

I also enjoyed the University of Alaska- Fairbanks Museum of the North where it features an interesting gold collection, excellent displays and exhibits like ‘Forced to Leave’, about the detention of Alaskan Japanese Americans and Aleuts during World War II.

A stroll at the Creamers field was in order to watch the waterfowl and birds migrating at this time especially the Sandhill Cranes.

Creamers Field

Creamers Field

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

We were also able to take a nice bike ride on the excellent paths in Fairbanks.  Maybe the beautiful weather we had most of the time there helps to form the very positive opinion we have of the city.  It is nice to see a place with housing fairly spread out, but also the conveniences of supermarkets like Safeway nearby.  We certainly enjoyed the super-long days, never seeing darkness while we were there.  We did our laundry late one night and were surprised to see lots of folks out and about in the park after 11:00pm!

Giant Lupines

Giant Lupines

Giant Dahlia

Chena River

The confluence of two mighty rivers, clear water from Chena River on the right and slit laden Tanana River on the left.

We stayed at Rivers Edge RV park along the Chena River. A nice big RV park that is close to everything.

Fairbanks gets 2 thumbs up from us! Next stop, Denali National Park.