Sunday, February 10, 2008

Two Days in the Desert


I went birding today with my friend, Jean, at Sweetwater Wetlands. I have not been back here since doing my IBA Survey Training last October. We didn’t see many birds that day, so I am quite surprised at the number and variety we see today. The trees are alive with Orange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers. We barely start down the trail when we spot a sparrow in a nearby bush. I’ve been studying my sparrows recently, trying to learn how to tell them all apart, so when I see this streaky little guy with the buffy breast I immediately recognized a Lincoln’s sparrow. Jean agreed and so I’ve added another bird to my life list.

The ponds are full of ducks with the most numerous being northern shovelers. We must have seen over 300 shovelers. To my amazement we only saw one pair of mallards! Along with the usual coots we counted 3 moorhens, a new bird for my Arizona list. Sweetwater is another habitat developed from treated effluent from the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Treatment Plant is just down the road to the west with a couple of additional ponds but we ran out of time to visit it. Here at Sweetwater there are numerous ponds, some with islands in the middle. The trail winds around these areas with viewing platforms and even a gazebo. Cattails and bulrushes grow in profusion and periodically the ponds are drained and the overgrown vegetation removed to maintain the open water the ducks like best. They never drain all the ponds at the same time, but maintain some water-filled while others are being cleaned and dried. When a pond is in the draining stag, it creates the mudflats that are so popular with sandpipers and plovers. As a result we did see killdeer and a spotted sandpiper on one pond that was draining. Before the day was over we counted 36 species of birds, but to our surprise we never saw one marsh wren, though we looked and looked.


It is such a beautiful day today. After Monday’s cold and snow the temperatures are warming every day. I decide to have Gus drop me at the bottom of the hill with the dog and we will walk back home. It’s early morning but with a bright sun shining I decide it’s warm enough for just a t-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt over it. As we are driving down the road, however, I see a man out walking his 2 big dogs. He is wearing a red fleece jacket and he has thick black mittens on his hands! Have I misjudged the temperature, I wonder? Will I regret not having a jacket 2 minutes after Gus drops me off? Blossom and I disembark near the bottom of the hill and start our 2 mile walk home. Golden sun streams across the desert. We walk under a cloudless blue sky that looks as if it were a painted cardboard ceiling. The sun is backlighting everything giving the plants the appearance of being outlined in gold. Even the mountains look fake, like cardboard cutouts against the artificial blue of the sky. I have the impression that I am walking around in some giant diorama created by some master craftsman in a heavenly museum. Perhaps we really all are part of someone else’s dream. However, the sun is beating down on me, and dream or not, I am getting hot! What was that guy thinking! By the time I get home, I am peeling my long-sleeved shirt off. Later in the afternoon I open the window on the west side of the house and let the heat flow in.


Larry said...

You are putting a lot of time in birding.-I don't blame you with all the great birds you are seeing!

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, you have inspired me to even greater levels of birding. Plus, being here in Tucson makes it easy, there are so many new species to see. There are still so many places I haven't been to yet, all with possible new species of birds. Joining Tucson Audubon has helped also.