Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My World: A Sweet Day at Sweetwater Wetlands

Road Runner 09-09-09

I had to think of something special to do on o9-o9-o9. I had been in the house all weekend and I was getting squirrelly. I need to be outside! So, I load up my gear and leave the house early, arriving at Sweetwater by 7:30 a.m. The parking lot is already full of birders who arrived before me, but I find a spot un the corner and park my car. In the middle of the parking lot sits a big white truck and wandering the edges are some workers cleaning up debris and trimming trees. Warm golden sunlight pours down on me as I head down the path past the information boards. A lot has happened since the last time I was here when when the parking lot was closed and I had to park along the street and enter Sweetwater Wetlands from the side.

Now as I cross the little bridge I can see all the work that has been done. A large amount of brush has been cut back revealing the little creek that flows beneath my feet into a pool on the left. Now I see a small "waterfall" tumbling over a ledge and flowing past rocks bathed in sunlight and shadow. It is a peaceful way to start my walk around the perimeter of these manmade ponds. Like Gilbert Water Ranch, Sweetwater Wetlands is made from reclaimed sewage water. The trees and plants growth thick and lush in this nutrient rich water and soil. To migrating birds, this is an oasis in the desert and Sweetwater Wetlands is well known for the variety of species it attracts. As usual I saw my first birds in the parking lot with Great-tailed grackles and cactus wrens flitting about. Already I hear the call of the killdeer and now an Abert's towhee appears in the brush alongside the path along with two song sparrows. I hear a raucous call above and look up to see three yellow-headed blackbirds flying east and then in the trees alongside the path I spot a different bird. At first I think it is a Western Wood peewee, but then I see the lower orange mandible, some dull wingbars and an bit of an eye ring. It has a faint yellow wash on it's belly and from what I can determine from consulting 3 different bird guides I believe I have seen a juvenile Greater Pewee! The lower orange mandible is so striking. However, when I raise my camera to get a photo of course it flies away. This is a *Life Bird for me and a good omen for the day.

Tropical Kingbird 09-09-09

Farther down the trail I hear a metallic chattering coming from over the ponds. I wend my way through the downed limbs of a willow tree and emerge into a more open space where I can see across the water to a dead tree. Scattered throughout its branches a family of kingbirds is chattering away and hunting insects in the early morning coolness. I watch excitedly hoping against hope that I am seeing what I hope I am. Here in Arizona it is possible to see all seven varieties of the Tyrannus family of flycatchers. I have seen Eastern Flycatchers in New England and Scissor-tailed flycatchers in Oklahoma. Here in Arizona I have seen Western and Cassin's Kingbirds, but I have yet to see a Tropical Kingbird. Now I watch and listen. I have been studying their voices and field marks and I look carefully now. I see the notched tail and the large beak. I do not see any white outer tail feathers. I listen to that metallic chattering and I snap photo after photo. At first the birds are quite far away and small in the frame but then one finally flies closer and I get the look I need. Tropical Kingbirds confirmed! *Life Bird number 2 of the day!

Cinnamon Teal, female blue-winged teal and ? 9-9-09

Of course, Sweetwater is well known for the ducks it attracts and today is no exception. I find Northern shovelers, mallards, ruddy ducks and cinnamon teals. I came here initially because a wood duck was spotted here, but I have not found it yet. The descending whinny of a sora fills the morning air and I walk on. I find a family of kestrels hunting along the bank of one of the recharge ponds to the east when I encounter another birder. His name is Dan and he tells me that he saw some Nashville warblers here today. I tell him I wouldn't know a Nashville warbler if it came up and landed on my finger! I have never seen one and I have not studied their field marks. We end up talking for quite awhile then follow yet another birder to a spot where he saw a semipalmated sandpiper. That would be yet another Life Bird for me, so we follow him to the location. While we find a solitary, western and least sandpiper, the semipalmated has moved on. Yet as we stand there I look of to the side and notice a large goose floating among the flooded grasses.

Greater white-fronted goose 9-9-09

"What is that goose I ask?" It turns out to be a greater white-fronted goose, yet another *Life Bird for me! I have never seen one before and so I stare and stare through my bins and camera lens. I cannot get enough of this new bird. It paddles around slowly grazing on the seed heads of the grass. It is in no hurry and shows no fear of us. I am already feeling like this has been a bonus day for me when Dan and I look up to see a flock of white-faced Ibises winging overhead.

White-faced ibises 9-9-09

We estimate the flock at around 40 birds and watch as they circle and soar over the mudflats. Will they land? Will they land? I feel the rush of their wings in my breast. I feel their trepidation. Is is safe? Is it safe? They circle and drop then lift skywards again. They fly off to the east and I fear they are gone, but they circle around yet again and land in the muddy field.

It is the same field where the sandpipers are and it is the same field where a Great Egret hunts in a corner pool for breakfast.

By now Dan has to leave after we have had a lively discussion about the environment. Once again I am alone until a road runner pops up like toast from below the embankment. I smile at its comical face and stance. Ever since I have seen the movie Jurassic Park it is so easy to equate these birds with dinosaurs. I love the way they move with head and tail raised as they look around, then they drop both and slink along the ground hunting low and swift. It seems every muscle in their body is tense and ready to pounce on whatever crosses their path.

I have been here quite awhile now and the sun is starting to bake me. So, I start my trek back to the parking lot. On the far side of the ponds I find the Harris Hawk on its usual perch. It watches me pass unconcerned as it surveys its Kingdom. I wander back to the parking lot thinking of all the birds I have seen today. My pocket notebook is full of page after page of species and notes. I have consumed the bottle of water I took with me. Now I head to the car for a cool drink. I guzzle a bottle of juice, then grab a new bottle of water and some chips and head over to a small boulder in the shade at the edge of the parking lot. I saw an unusual bird over here and I want to check it out. There are actually a couple of them flitting about on the twigs and branches. I know it is a warbler of some sorts, but it seems a bit different from the orange-crowned warblers I am use to seeing here.

Nashville Warbler 09-09-09

Look at that eye-ring and that big dark eye! Look at that gray head and yellow breast! Now I have the luxury of pulling out my bird guides which I took out of the car along with my snacks. I set my camera down and thumb through the books. Oh my goodness, this is a Nashville Warbler! this is the bird I told Dan I wouldn't know if it came up and landed on my finger! Well guess what? I figured this one out all by myself! And while it didn't land on my finger, it did land in my heart!

Nashville warbler 09-09-09

I am so proud of myself for figuring this out. While the other birders tried to find the semipalmated sandpiper for me and told me the name of the Greater-white fronted goose, this one I did all by myself and there is a certain satisfaction to that.

Nashville Warbler 09-09-09

Like a proud parent I snap photo after photo. I cannot get enough of this bird either even though sweat is running off my forehead and into my eyes. It is so cute! Gus always likes to photograph the big birds. They are really so impressive. But I kind of like these small treasures that hide in the woods.

I pile back into my car with head and heart and bird list full. I picked up 4 *Life Birds right here in Tucson on 09-09-09. When I get home and compile my list, I find that I have seen 52 species of birds on this special day. And that's...

*Life Bird: The first time a birder sees a species of bird.

Bird Count:

Location: Sweetwater Wetlands
Observation date: 9/9/09
Notes: Met Dan, Jerry, and Nina while birding. Tried to find the wood duck but to no avail. Sunny, warm, beautiful day!
Number of species: 52

Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Mallard 35
Blue-winged Teal 1
Cinnamon Teal 10
Northern Shoveler 30
Ruddy Duck 3
Gambel's Quail 5
Pied-billed Grebe 2
Neotropic Cormorant 1
Great Egret 1
White-faced Ibis 40 flew in and landed in the eastern recharge basin.
Turkey Vulture 2
Cooper's Hawk 2
Harris's Hawk 2
American Kestrel 3
Sora 2 heard
Common Moorhen 1
American Coot 11
Killdeer 6
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Western Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 2
Mourning Dove 10
Greater Roadrunner 2
Black-chinned Hummingbird 1
Anna's Hummingbird 1
Gila Woodpecker 7
Greater Pewee 1
Black Phoebe 3
Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Tropical Kingbird 3
Warbling Vireo (Western) 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 8
Verdin 12
Cactus Wren 8
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 2
European Starling 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 5
Nashville Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 2
Canyon Towhee 1
Abert's Towhee 2
Vesper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Black-headed Grosbeak 2
Red-winged Blackbird 15
Yellow-headed Blackbird 3
Great-tailed Grackle 6
House Finch 1
Lesser Goldfinch 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2



SandyCarlson said...

Your photos are extraordinary. Thank you for making my evening.

Bernie said...

WOW Kathie what a wonderful day you had and your photo's are absolutely wonderful....I love coming here and losing myself in your wonderful world of bird watching.......:-) Hugs

Gaelyn said...

So many sweet sightings. Your wonderful style of writing always carries me along as though I'm there. The images bring it all to life. What a magical way to spend a morning.

bobbie said...

You had quite a day! And your photos are marvelous.

eileeninmd said...

What a great birdie day you had! Congrats on your lifers. Most of them I have noe seen so they would all be lifers for me. I would love to see the Road Runner.
Thanks for sharing yoru birding day.

Deborah Godin said...

Wonderful shots - and I wonder how many visitors here went "meep meep" out loud when they saw that roadrunner. (I did, and four cat heads swiveled around to look at me!) And that photo of the water and rocks is amazing, I love the layers of reflection!

Anonymous said...

I've missed your posts - welcome back! Is that a juvie roadrunner in the first picture? He looks a little different from ones I remember, but it's hard to tell in a photo some times.

Great birds, great photos, great times -- thanks for sharing the day and your world with us.

abb said...

Love the photos - that king bird is just extraordinary!

denapple said...

They sure gave Sweetwater an appropriate name. I remember seeing that Harris Hawk when we were there last winter.

DeniseinVA said...

This has been an exemplary read Kathie and all your photographs were amazing. I loved how you described your feelings, "it didn't land on my finger, it did land in my heart". Truly a beautiful line. Thanks so much. Always a joy to visit here.

Larry said...

Very impressive Kathie! Will I be reading Kathiebirds the book some day?

Celeste said...

Four life birds in one trip - that is a truly special day Kathie.
I totally agree with you, there is nothing more rewarding than figuring out the identity of a new species for yourself.

janet said...

You describe the excitement of "figuring birds out for yourself" so well...I'm in my 3rd year as a birder...and those self-discoveries are still thrilling! I love your Blog...thanks for doing this!