A loop trail around the wetlands at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal provides close-up views of sandhill cranes, snow geese, many species of ducks and other birdlife. Guides will lead tours for small groups during the Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival on Jan. 15-16. As many as 25,000 cranes spend the winter months here.

All the tours are sold out but there are still ways to participate in the 28th annual Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival. The festival takes place this weekend, Friday and Saturday, January 15-16, with local activities taking place at Cochise Lake.

A guide will available to show people birds both days at Cochise Lake as well as the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near Elfrida. Social distancing and masks will be required. In fact, limited-edition festival facemasks have been created with cranes, owls and other birds, and will be for sale at the registration desk at Cochise Lake. Photos of the three designs can be seen on the Wings Over Willcox Facebook page.

Can’t come to Willcox? You can join the excitement online by watching the morning liftoff of cranes from Whitewater Draw and their return at sunset. Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center will show and discuss several species of live animals that are in their care.

Online webinars will be hosted on both days, including a featured presentation by internationally known author and world birding guide Rick Wright.

Other webinar topics include Grassland Bird Identification, Wintering Owls of Southeastern Arizona, Rarities of the Sulphur Springs Valley, and Basics of eBird. Webinar registration is available through the WOW website at www.wingsoverwillcox.com.

A silent auction is being held through January 31 for a handmade quilt titled “Birds and More Birds” by local artist Barbara Moe. Bids may be sent to info@willcoxnature.org. A photo of the quilt and recent bids will be posted on the festival website.

For more information about the upcoming festival, email info@wingsoverwillcox.com or call 520-384-2874.

More than 70 species, including 3,000 Sandhill Cranes, have been observed at Cochise Lake and Twin Lakes since January 1; that list can be viewed at https://ebird.org/hotspot/L266875.

Another 5,000+ cranes and nearly 80 bird species are currently at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L168765.

Submitted by Diane Drobka