Monday, June 9, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Our plans to go to Cave Creek Canyon had to be put on hold due to the high cost of gasoline and needing to buy plane tickets to fly back east this summer. In an attempt to still redeem the weekend, we went to Sweetwater Wetlands on Sunday instead. While I have been there several times, most recently with Kathryn in March, Gus has never been. We should have left early on Sunday morning, but it was late by the time we got out the door and we didn’t arrive until almost 11 a.m. By now the sun is high overhead and we can feel the heat as soon as we step from the car. Still, Sweetwater is surrounded by trees in most areas so I expected the shade to keep us somewhat cool. Though the temperature is high and the air dry, I didn’t take my water with me as it is just a short walk back to the vehicle where we have a cooler full of drinks.

We head down the paved path past the information kiosk and over the bridge. The sounds of birds are everywhere and already I am seeing Barn Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and White-winged Doves. The raucous calls of Great-tailed Grackles fill the air and more subtly behind that I can hear the trill of Red-winged Blackbirds. The Yellow-headed Blackbirds that Kathryn and I saw when we were here have apparently migrated north, for I don’t see or hear even one.

The middle of the day like this is just about the worst time to be out birding at this time of year, but we have high hopes of seeing something. Now we scan the brush and ponds to see what we can see. I’m amazed at how high the cattails and bulrushes have grown, for I can’t see into the first pond at all except for small glimpses between the greenery. When I do see open water, there are no ducks at all, where previously there were hundreds. Finally in a little channel under the branches of an overhanging tree I spot a pair of Cinnamon Teals floating lazily in the current. However, the insects are out in force and Gus photographs these two just a short distance form each other.

Blue dasher dragonfly (Left) ID. courtesy of Doug Taron

At the Island Pond I scan the banks of the island for any sign of life and spot a pair of mallards sleeping on the shore. Then a coot comes paddling out from the reeds white beak shining in the bright sunlight.

Lizards are everywhere rustling in the bushes, or scampering across our path. A big fat guy is sunning himself on the trail but moves off quickly as we get closer. Next, a male Gambel’s Quail scurries across the path. He crosses to one side, then doubles back before returning to the other side again. Gus comments on how he looks like one of those mechanical birds in a shooting range game at a carnival. Most of the recharge basins are empty and dry right now, but we discover that recharge basin 5 is full of water. I hear the cries of killdeer and soon spot them on the shoreline. But then, to my surprise, I also spot 3 black-necked stilts feeding in the shallow water. While I can see them fine in my binoculars, they are still quite far away for the camera to capture them with its 300mm zoom lens, but Gus makes a valiant effort for my sake.

Now we are standing on the area known as The Knoll if you check out this map.

The killdeer and stilts are down in the recharge basin, but I am surprised to see water in Overlook Pond. I have never walked out this way or seen water in this pond before, so Gus and I head on down the path. By now we have been here for an hour and I am starting to feel the heat. My mouth is getting so dry and I want a drink of water, but the water is back at the car, and we have walked farther than I anticipated. I find a bench under a tree and stand in the shade to see what I can see. There are swallows dipping over the water and landing on the branches of a dead tree that overhangs the pond. I study them carefully trying to determine what I am seeing. The birds are mostly a dull brown with a totally brown head that fades to a light gray or white on their breasts and underbellies. I am sure I am seeing Northern Rough-winged swallows but they are suppose to be solitary, so I am surprised to see 5 of them hanging out together.

While I am watching swallows, Gus is stalking a Great Egret he sees farther down the path. I watch as he gets closer and the bird spies him. It crouches down, lowering its long neck, trying to disappear. Finally, it decides Gus is too close and it lifts its great white wings and flies off a short distance to hide in the reeds again. Gus strolls back towards me and I take the camera to photograph the swallows on the distant shore. I don’t expect to get any great shots, but it’s helpful to be able to confirm the identity when we get home.

By now I am so hot and thirsty that I tell Gus we need to head back towards the car. As we round the curve of the pond I stop in my tracks. I can't believe my eyes, for there in a willow tree a flock of 15 Northern Rough-winged Swallows are perched in the branches. (How many can you see?) And I thought 5 together was unusual!

They are right beside the path, so I freeze while Gus gets some shots. They almost look fake, don't they? But they are very real.

The little birds are sitting with their mouths open, panting in the heat.

Then, one breaks into song and Gus take a shot of the bird with its beak open.

We find a small path through from this pond up to the main trail and I tell Gus to follow this back to the car. I hurry on ahead for I can tell by the way my body feels that I am getting dehydrated. I try to hurry back to the car but can’t resist stopping to identify an Abert’s Towhee, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and a Gilded Flicker on the way. I pass a man standing near the Gazebo Pond. He has a tripod and a camera with a long lens on it, but I don’t stop to talk. At the car I open the cooler and guzzle a pint of water. Then, I get another bottle out to take back with me. It is my intention to meet up with Gus and continue birding, but here he comes walking down the path.He has had enough of the heat also, so we get into the air-conditioned vehicle and talk. He tells me he spoke with the guy with the camera and he was looking for the Elegant Trogon! Someone had seen it here just an hour ago, but no luck so far. I wished I had known that was even a possibility. I wouldn’t have wasted time on mallards and grackles; I would have been scouring the trees for this elusive bird. I have yet to capture it for my life-list and what an awesome photographic opportunity that would have been for Gus! Just before we leave we see the guy come walking out with his camera. He tells us he never saw it, so we drive away.

Perhaps we will make it to Cave Creek Canyon in a week or two (To see some awesome photos click on the link). From the information I have read, spring and summer are the best times to be there. For now, we head back home with our picnic we intended to eat at Catalina State Park where even the shade is too warm.


Anonymous said...

The Swallows are cute, I didn't know birds pant!

Pappy said...

It's only money - go ahead. Great journal of your outing. Thanks

Kathie Brown said...

Bookbabie, they sure do and they are panting a lot more these days!

Pappy, glad to see you. We'll make it there someday soon, I promise!

Amila Salgado said...

Lovely post, I enjoyed it. Those dragonflies look good. They always pleasant distractions especially when bird activity drops.

Kathryn said...

After all the yellowheaded blackbirds we saw, there were none! Wow. Sounds like a great day, even though it was hot.

Marvin said...

Sounds as if you had a great outing despite the heat and forced change of plans.

Kathie Brown said...

Gallicissa, they are fun to watch. Some of their bodies are so transparent! I used to be afriad of them when I was a kid, but now I just enjoy them.

Hey Ocean, so sorry you are so cold. It's 105 in the shade here this afternoon. Want to come warm your bones? I hope it warms up there soon. Glad you are back online! Thank you for your kind words.

Kathryn, yes, I was amazed also, but I believe they are all up in your neck of the world right now. Perhaps some are even at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge!

Marvin, thanks for stopping by again. We did have a nice time. Gus liked the place and we will go back again, though hopefully earlier in the morning! Now I want to find that Elegant Trogon!

Shelley said...

Great series of photos - looks like a great place to go birdwatching!

Texas Travelers said...

Great post and photos.
We heard an ELTR when we were in SE AZ once. We never did get it in the binocs.
I always enjoy going on a walk with you and Gus.
I must stop now and go get a drink of water. ;o)

The moral to the story is: Always carry a small half-pint of water in your pocket. Warm water is better than no water.

Thanks for the recent visit,
Troy and Martha

Stacey Olson said...

Kathy.. great post.. looks like you had a great time.. thanks for sharing and I look forward to your trip

Amy said...

Wetlands are just teeming with life! Thank you for these wonderful photos. It seems gas prices are effecting everyone now. I know I have reduced the amount of driving I do.

Kathryn and Ari said...

Nice! And pretty gosh darn good for a mid-day excursion, too.

We empathize with the gas price issue: it's really been limiting the amount of recreating we have been doing, too.

Doug Taron said...

You weren't the only ones who were hot. The dragonflies are both in the obelisk position. They point their abdomens towards the sun to reduce heat. I think the lower one is a blue dasher.

Kathie Brown said...

shellmo, it is, and it's never the same twice. You never know what you will see on your next visit!

Texas Travelers, I did know better but it seemed such a short walk back to the car. The pity is the birds I missed hurrying back! Darn! I hope to "capture" that Elegant Trogon one of these days. Then you can all rejoice with me!

Stacy, you are welcome! It's always nice to see you here.

Amy, well we have some of the cheapest gas prices in the country but it's still tough. They just topped $3.80 a gallon today. I dread going back east where my sister says they've just topped $4.30! And wouldn't you know yesterday congress just gave the oil companies billions in tax breaks but voted down a bill to give rebates for solar and wind!

Kathryn, Yep. See comment to Amy above. BTW, I will be in your neck of the woods in July.

Doug, that is amazing. Gallicissa just had a post about the same thing. I never knew that. Good thing we humans don't try that trick. Ouch! it wouldn't be a pretty sight but the thought of it has me laughing out loud!

Texas Travelers said...

Just going on some of my favorite walks agein.

Have a nice weekend.

There's a party over here.
Come and visit for a while,