The clouds continued to roll in and the wind continued to pick up as Chris and I headed north through the Sulphur Springs Valley and Kansas Settlement. Flat grassy fields spread in all directions as we kept our eyes open for raptors on utility poles and longspurs or pipits in the grass.
A quick stop at the Faria Dairy Pond along Kansas settlement Road gave us a few more species, including our first Common Mergansers for Cochise County, though we had seen this species on the first day of January at Reid Park.
The Flatlands of Kansas Settlement soon gave way to low rolling hills as we neared Willcox. Our destination was Lake Cochise, a place Chris had never been before. It’s an odd place, kind of out of the way, and it doesn’t look like you will find much there as you drive down the gravel road past a chain link fenced Border Patrol Station and abandoned farms and then Twin Lakes Golf Course. As you pass through a brick and stucco monument you usually start to see sparrows and meadowlarks alongside the road. But not today. It was just too windy! Then, as you drive up a little rise you can finally see the lake with the mountains beyond and you realize that you have entered another world.
The silver water of Lake Cochise was being whipped into whitecaps on this blustery day in January. By now it was 3:45 PM and so cold! The wind was gusting so hard that it made it difficult to stand up and hold your camera steady. Wind whipped tears into our eyes and froze our cheeks. I put on every last bit of clothing I could find. I zipped up my coat over all my shirts and sweaters, put on my headband, pulled up my hood, and donned my gloves! Oh My goodness! What was I doing here, I asked myself! But then we turned the corner and I saw these birds…
The Curlews were gathered in a flock of about 120 birds along a sandbar that stretched out into the middle of the lake. Many of them had their long bills tucked into their feathers to keep warm, but now and then a few did poke their heads out and we got a good look at those magnificent bills!
As the sun sank lower and the curlews hunkered down, we knew our birding day was over. I shook my head as I realized this was only Day Three of our Big January and I just knew that today’s excursion was going to add big numbers to our big list! Now it was time for a warm place with warm food. Then we needed to get home and go to bed because we already had plans to get up again the next morning and go birding at Florida and Madera Canyons!
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Lake Cochise Bird List for January 3, 2013:
- Snow Goose-1
- Northern Shoveler-30
- Common Merganser-2
- Ruddy Duck-6
- Northern harrier-1
- American Coot-50
- Sandhill Crane-2000
- Long-billed Curlew-120
Notes: Total birding time: 30 minutes. Distance 1 mile. Temperature 37F, cloudy, with high gusty winds!