Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Good-Bye Chronicles Chapter 7: Sweetwater Wetlands

1. Sandpipers Solitary Sandpiper and Least Sandpipers on eastern mudflats 7-22-10

It is two days after we have an answer when I meet Donna Simonettie at Sweetwater Wetlands. She has come to town for a concert and we agree to meet here to go birding. Sweetwater is a place I learned about when I first did my Important Bird Area Training almost 3 years ago now. It is one of my favorite places in the Tucson area to go birding and I always come away with a rather large list of birds. An oasis in the desert, Sweetwater attracts all kinds of birds from the typical desert favorites to the exotic tropical species. It is a manmade wetlands formed from treated wastewater. One never knows what they will find here.

2. cliff swallows Cliff Swallows on reeds 7-22-10

I meet Donna in the parking lot and we grab our gear and head for the trail. The air hangs heavy and humid and soon a light shower is falling. I head back to the car to grab a plastic bag to cover my camera with.  I do not think the shower will last long, but any amount of water on my camera is not good. We head for the path once again and right off the bat we are seeing birds. Swallows fill the sky as we cross the bridge over the manmade creek. Purple matins are mixed in with the swallows and Donna informs me this is a life bird for her. 

3. desert spiney Desert Spiny Lizard on wall 7-22-10

I told Donna about our planned move when she first arrived, but now we are lost in the birds of this wetland. I keep telling her that there are not many birds here today.  It seems so quiet.  The birds are quiet, but they are here. With cameras at the ready and binoculars in hand, we scan the ponds, the trees and the reeds. We watch the sky for birds. Some sort of rodent scurries along the path and disappears into the reeds. Off to the east we scan the drainage ponds for birds.  Here we find killdeer, sandpipers and black-necked stilts.  There are more birds than we can positively identify for some small sandpipers are far across on the mudflats  and neither of us has a spotting scope, so we do the best we can with our bins and cameras and wait to enlarge blurry pictures at home.  Some birds we just have to let go, but we do get a good look at a solitary sandpiper that is close by as well as a spotted sandpiper and a couple of Leasts.

4. green heron juv. Who’s hiding here?

We catch the flight of a Harris Hawk overhead circling on dark wings with chestnut shoulders. We see the characteristic white tail coverts as the bird flies overhead.  I know that a family of Harris Hawks nests nearby and this is a reliable place to see them. Then Donna spots a Kestrel and we add that species to our list. The brief rain shower stopped awhile ago and now the sun is out turning all the cool moisture to hot steam.  I feel its affects and cling to the edge of the trail where I can stay in the shade of willows and cottonwoods. I see a shape like a stump up in a willow and train my binoculars on it.  Is is a bird? I call Donna to have a look and we both wonder and hope that we are seeing a bittern, but it turns out to be a juvenile Green Heron trying to blend in with the branch. It keeps a wary eye on us as we pass by, then flies farther across the pond for refuge.

5. common Moorhen Common Moorhen 7-22-10

In the winter there are so many ducks here in these ponds but for today we are only seeing mallards with a few ruddy ducks, a pied-billed grebe and a couple of teals.  There are usually more birds than this I say as we walk on.

6. lizard Greater Earless Lizard 7-22-10

There are no lack of lizards, however, and we have seen several kinds, including desert spiny lizards, zebra tails, a greater earless lizard, and a possible tiger whiptail.

7. Neotropic cormorant Ruddy Duck and Neotropic Cormorant 7-22-10

In the farthest ponds we find great egrets, more mallards, a few neotropic cormorants and some green-winged teals. We have been here for a couple of hours now and my list is getting longer. We have been seeing kingbirds and we are wondering, are any of these Tropical Kingbirds? We find a western kingbird at the far edge of the wetlands near the open desert and a large wash. Across the street we see the Rogers Road wastewater treatment plant and there on the fence is a Cassin’s Kingbird with its dark gray head and white throat. We follow the paths back into the interior of the ponds where we see 3 other kingbirds perched at various heights on a cottonwood tree.

8. tropical kingbird Tropical Kingbird 7-22-10

They are all silent in the heat of the day but they are not shy and we are both able to snap away. Our photos reveal the typical notched tail, brighter yellow breast and the faint mask of the tropical kingbird.  This is a life bird for Donna and we stand there enjoying the moment.  I am remembering that I saw my first one here last year and this is only my second sighting of this species. Last year they we flying about chattering away. This calm bird is so different from the behavior I observed last year, but I am beginning to think these kingbirds have more sense than me! The sun has risen higher and with it the temperature and the humidity!  I feel like I am melting! Donna and I make our way to the gazebo where we sit in the shade and talk and watch birds. I am starting to realize that I have filled several pages of my notebook.  I wonder how many species we have seen after all.  After telling Donna all morning long that there are not many birds here today we end up with a list of 48 species of birds! Not bad for 3 1/2 hours of birding!

We say good-bye at the parking lot, not knowing when or if we will see each other again.  I first met Donna just a couple of months ago when we went birding together in Portal.  Donna is like Dawn and Jeff Fine and I.  We can bird all day long without getting tired, but today the heat and humidity have gotten to me.  I am ready to get in my car and go home. I drive away from Sweetwater with so many sweet memories of birding here with friends and by myself. My heart if brimming with thankfulness for ever moving here and finding this magical place.

Who hatched from these eggs? We found them along one of the paths. They were soft and leathery, a sweet gift of nature that we both enjoyed seeing. If you have any idea, please tell me!9. eggs

Location: Sweetwater Wetlands
Observation date: 7/22/10
Notes: Birding w/Donna Simonetti. Cloudy with a light sprinkle when we first arrived, then the sun came out and it got hot and humid. We walked the entire perimeter of the ponds.
Number of species: 49
Mallard 65
Green-winged Teal (American) 2 smaller than mallard; small,dark bill; mottled cinnamon brown; green wing bar
Ruddy Duck 8
Gambel's Quail 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Neotropic Cormorant 3
Great Egret 2
Green Heron 1 gray back, streaked neck
Turkey Vulture 1
Harris's Hawk 3
American Kestrel 1
Common Moorhen 6
American Coot 12
Killdeer 8
Black-necked Stilt 20
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Western Sandpiper 3
Least Sandpiper 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
White-winged Dove 30
Mourning Dove 7
Black-chinned Hummingbird 2
hummingbird sp. 1
Gila Woodpecker 6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1
Black Phoebe 3
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Brown-crested Flycatcher 1
Tropical Kingbird 3 notched tail
Cassin's Kingbird 1 dark gray head and back, white cheek/throat square tail with pale tip. No white side tail feathers
Western Kingbird 1 pale yellow belly,white side tail feathers at farthest end of ponds near open desert and wash
Bell's Vireo 1
Purple Martin (Desert) 2
Barn Swallow 6
Cliff Swallow 14
Cactus Wren 2
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 2
Yellow Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 6 heard all over and saw 1 singing from branch of tree over pond
Abert's Towhee 3
Song Sparrow 1
Western Tanager 2
Red-winged Blackbird 35
Great-tailed Grackle 30
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 6
Lesser Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Greater Roadrunner 1 (I saw this bird while I was waiting for Donna to arrive)


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathie,

Sorry to hear that you will be leaving. I have certainly enjoyed reading about my hometown desert through your eyes.

As for the eggs, I believe they are from pond sliders. For the past two springs we have watched the sliders lay their eggs (along the paths and even along the outer perimeter fence). But we have not seen any hatchlings. Something we will look for next year.

Enjoy the next stage of your journey!


Gaelyn said...

Yet another great day of birding.

Seems odd to create a wetland from treated water, but it appears to be working.

Although I'm sorry to see you leave AZ I look forward to your new adventures in a different local.

Birding is Fun! said...

Sweetwater Wetlands is an awesome place. Sure you'll be adding loads of new life birds in your new location, but there is certainly a lot to miss about Arizona.

TonyC said...

Lovely post Kathy. I will miss your posts from the desert, but look forward to hearing of your exploits in your new home. I( am sure you will make many new friends and have a lot of fun birding your new home patch!!

DeniseinVA said...

Oh wow, Kathy, you're moving! All the way to Boston? Gosh, I will miss your Arizona adventures but will most definitely look forward to hearing all about those from your new home in Boston.

I want to thank you for your recommendation to visit Nisqually. It was absolutely lovely though I could have done with your expert advice as I didn't see as many birds as I would have liked. Maybe we went at the wrong time of the day? When I share the photos from there I will let you know. I fell in love with the place, that's for sure.
An English Girl Rambles

Donna M. Simonetti said...

Gosh, we saw a lot of birds. Going through the list I guess I take some of them for granted. Shame on me. Thanks for the list.
Also, thank you for helping me find this place & for assisting me with my latest lifers. You are a great birder Kathie.

0ceana said...

beautiful site and awesome capture. My eyes are still scrolling your bird list...True birder

Warren and Lisa Strobel said...

Kathie: We loved Sweetwater - it was the first place we birded in SE Arizona - went straight there afer landing at the airport and checking in a hotel.

We loved how an urban water treatment area has been turned into a wildlife haven. And we got several lifers, including Gambel's Quail and Abert's Towhee. Oh, and Cinnamon Teal!

Warren and Lisa

Kathie Brown said...

Erin, how nice to meet you! Thanks for the information. I wondered if they were turtle eggs. So glad to know that you have been enjoying my blog all this time. I hope you will visit me on Kathie's Birds blog when I get it up and running.

Gaelyn, these wastewater treatment plants are birding havens all over the USA! Here in Arizona we have several, including one right here in little Corona de Tucson! However, not all of them are made into a haven like this one but Gilbert Water Ranch near Phoenix is another fine example of using reclaimed water for the birds!

Idaho birder, there is a lot to miss here in AZ and a lot to see in other places. I will have access to all kinds of birding in New England. Though I grew up there, I will see it with new eyes now. I just hope that you can get back here someday.

TonyC, I am sure I will have all kinds of adventures, though it will be quite an adjustment, especially since I will be living in or near the city! However, I hope that you will come and visit me on my new blog, Kathie's Birds.

Denise, I am so glad that you liked Nisqually. I was there in February, so there were lots of ducks there then. I would love to visit it again someday.

Donna, I am so pleased to help, and I thank you for that kind compliment! However, I still feel so inadequate sometimes and I know I still have so much to learn!

Oceana, well thank you! Welcome to my blog!

Warren and Lisa, so glad you made it there! It is amazing when I think that in one day I saw nearly 50 species there while some of my state Life Lists do not even have 50 species total for the whole state!

Dawn Fine said...

Howdee Kathie,
I also love birding Sweetwater..great place.
You two saw allot that day.

Kathie you have to be one of the best listers out there. Sadly, I am not listing..maybe we need a few more birding sessions together!

So glad you and Donna got together..both passionate birders! I love to see that!