Thursday, April 10, 2008

5 Days of Birding: Day 5, Sweetwater Wetlands

Monday, March 31st, Kathryn’s last day here at Sycamore Canyon. Surely today we would rest we told ourselves, but Monday morning dawned bright and sunny and we could not resist the opportunity to visit one more location, so off we went.

Sweetwater Wetlands is created by the recharged water from the Roger Road Waste Water Treatment facility. Several ponds are created for the birds with cattails, reeds, and trees along the banks. At various times the ponds are drained and others are filled, creating an ever changing environment. Birds of all types are drawn to this lush oasis with tall eucalyptus trees, willows and cottonwoods. The ponds being drained provide mudflats for shore birds. The full ponds provide habitat for ducks and other waterfowl. Trees are full of warblers, sparrows, kinglets, vireos and other forest dwellers. On the perimeter of the wetland you will find the typical desert birds, including thrashers, cactus wrens and roadrunners. On this small parcel of land you can see numerous kinds of birds. After all the hiking we have done over the past four days and being slightly sun burnt, being at Sweetwater allows us to go at a leisurely pace in a relatively shady environment. Along the hard-packed trails are numerous benches for sitting and bird watching. There are a few observation platforms and a wonderful covered gazebo on the west side of the ponds.

Today the ponds are raucous with whistling great-tailed grackles, the sawing, grating sound of yellow-headed blackbirds, and the trilling music of red-winged blackbirds. In the reeds red-eared sliders bask in the warm sunlight. The high winds of yesterday are still gusting today, tossing tree branches and reeds about in a wild dance. The pink feathery blossoms of a tamarisk tree, along with the tossing willows and bulrushes become a pastel blur creating an impressionistic view of the wetlands. Across the pond Northern Shovelers fill the ponds. Coots cackle from the reeds, while common moorhens peek quietly out at us. Song sparrows hop about on the pond edges, or fly to a low tree branch to serenade us. White-crowned sparrows also hop about in the shadows on the trail. The yellow-rumped warblers flit from branch to branch searching for insects on pollen covered catkins. We find one yellow warbler in the trees and one ruby-crowned kinglet. I searched the drying ponds to the east for sandpipers, but only find 2 killdeer hunting the shallow mudflats. At the south end of the ponds nearer the desert trails we spot a roadrunner searching for prey among the scrub. We ascend a spot called “The Knoll” where we find a pair of mocking birds singing in the bushes. High overhead we see three birds of prey circling. Their long tails, white at the base and tip, are diagnostic of Harris Hawks which nest in the nearby tall eucalyptus trees. Harris Hawks are very social and often hunt cooperatively. They are frequently seen in pairs or trios.

On the west side of the pond we sit in the shade of some cottonwoods and watch the ducks and song sparrows. There is one stripy bird that baffles me, so I snap off a few photos to review at home. It turns out to be a female red-winged blackbird, but the distortion of the photo angle made the beak look more finch-like. Abert’s towhees are in abundance on all sides of the ponds. We count 10 in all, but the most numerous birds are Northern shovelers (70) and yellow-headed blackbirds (65). We count 9 each of Ruddy ducks and mallards, and 2 each of cinnamon teals and blue-winged teals. One blue-winged teal floats lazily in the shade of a willow, dabbling in the shallow water near one of the islands. In the center of one of the ponds the ducks all nest on a large tree-cover island in relative safety. The whole time we have been here Gambel’s quail have been darting in and out of the scrub alongside the trail, their little top knots bobbing as they walk. Sweetwater is an active place with something happening around every corner.

To get to Sweetwater Wetlands is a bit of a challenge right now as I-10 is under construction in this area and you can only access this side street from the frontage rd. From the north you exit at Camino del Cerro and travel the West-side frontage road south to Sweetwater Drive near Afmuth Motors. From the south you exit at Ruthruff Rd, go left under I-10, then left onto the southbound frontage Rd and turn right on Sweetwater Drive next to Afmuth Motors. The parking lot is on the left just 0.2 miles down the street. For hours check out this Sweetwater Website or Tucson Audubon’s Sweetwater webpage. For additional photos of the wetlands and some of the insects, follow these links: Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers or The Firefly Forest


Beth said...

As always such beautiful pictures--do your birds stay in the summer? When are your best months for birds? We are still snowed in but it's going fast. I had to get a ladder out today to refill the feeders that I had put up by standing on the snow pack--so the snow is shrinking. I saw my first Maine robin today.

Anonymous said...

I love the photo in the middle of with all the different textures and soft colored plants and trees. Looks like a painting:)

Kathie Brown said...

Beth, some birds are year-rounders, but we too have winter and summer species. I haven't seen rock wrens in awhile but the white-winged doves and swallows are coming back. Soon we will have lesser nighthawks and, I hope, purple martins! Here in AZ anytime of year is good for birds, depending on what you want to see. Spring migration is upon us and we get all the birds passing through on their way north. You never know what might show up!

bookbabie, can you say Monet?

brucesc said...

What a wonderful place to bird--a true oasis! Thanks for the trip.

Patrice said...

Wonderful wonderful pictures! Now I know that the bird I admired the other day is a song sparrow. I'll bet mine is related to yours--distance cousins. Thanks for all your work, Kathie. It is truly appreciated.

John Theberge said...

Interesting series of posts this week, I've enjoyed viewing them. I'm glad you liked the moody photos I posted yesterday. Yes, I was on the Androscoggin River in Greene.

Pappy said...

I think you'll probably need to get a bigger bird book.:)

Mary said...

Kathie, I'm sorry I missed so much of your adventures. Do you realize you saw more birds in one day than I see all year??? That's right!

Beautiful commentary - takes me there with you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathie,

Enjoyed the report of your great 5 Day Expedition.

Larry said...

Beautiful photos! I can see why birds would like the area with all those fancy trees. you painted a wonderful artistic desription of the area.

Amy said...

What perfect photos! I so enjoy the visual art I find when I visit your blog. It would be a real treat for me to get to watch a trio of Harris Hawks hunting together. Thank you for posting these photos Kathie!

Kathryn and Ari said...

Thank for the great photos and the link to the wetlands. I always think of Tucson as dry, dry, dry. I had no idea this refuge existed!!

Texas Travelers said...

Great photos and story as usual.

When we first started birding together after we were married many long years ago, we alway had trouble with the female Red-winged blackbird.

Any bird that we don't immediately recognize now we say "It's a Red-winged blackbird female! ) ;o

Thanks for sharing. Hope to get back there soon.

Troy and Martha in Ft. Worth

Kathie Brown said...

brucesc, you are welcome! come along anytime!

Patirce, nice to see you again. Thanks for the encouragement. I hope that song sparrow is still singing for you!

John, thanks for stopping by and answering my question. The Androscoggin flows through Livermore Falls where I use to live. I bet it's peaceful to kayak down it.

Texican, you may be right!

Mary, really? wow! You need to come visit me then! Still, one or 20, birds are the best! Nice to hear from you again. Glad to see you back.

Roy, thank you. I enjoy your walks in the fen also!

Amy, thank you! That is so nice of you to say. Harris hawks are awesome and very beautiful.

Kathryn and Ari, I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't done the IBA training. I'm glad I found it because it is a wonderful place to bird with ever changing species. I'm sure I will be back for other posts. Gus still hasn't been there with me and I know he would enjoy it.

Vern what a cute story! I'm glad you and your wife are so happily married with such good memories. It's nice to be able to share things like that. Your story makes me smile. If you do get back this way, let me know. I'd love to meet you somewhere birdy!

Ocean, it's been awhile! Glad to hear from you. The pink flowers of the tamarisk are so pretty but they are invasive. Amazingly I found some growing in the parking strip up here in Sycamore Canyon! How'd that get here? I'll be over to see what's happening at Island Rambles here soon!