Friday, October 26, 2012

A Sweet Sunday at Sweetwater Wetlands

1. recharge basin-kab Recharge basin at Sweetwater Wetlands 10-21-12
Anyone who has ever gone birding in Tucson knows that one of the premier places to go birding is at Sweetwater Wetlands on the northwest side of town. When I lived here before it was one of my favorite places to bird. Now, here I am on a Sunday afternoon with my new friend, Chris, going birding here for the first time since my return in August. I cannot believe the thrill that runs down my spine as we pull into the parking lot. We start seeing birds as soon as we opened our car doors. A kestrel greets us in the parking lot, while other birds fly overhead or called from within the wetlands themselves. A warm, golden sunshine streams down on us and I find myself rushing to get my camera, binoculars and fanny pack with notebook, glasses, and cell phone all in place. My heart swells with anticipation of all I hope to see and all the memories of being in this place before.
2. chris r-kab Chris Rohrer photographing the kestrel
Chris and I start the walk over the little bridge and head down the east side of the ponds. I note that a lot of vegetation has been cleared out between the parking lot and the little stream.
3. kestrel-kab American Kestrel 10-21-12 Sweetwater Wetlands
4. bridge-kab Yet, as we cross the bridge I am surprised by how much vegetation has grown up in the ponds. I can hear birds within the tall wetland grasses, but I cannot see them. A Sora’s whinny rings out through the greenery. Chris and I both listen and marvel at the sound. We see and hear coots, while overhead a variety of blackbirds fly, speckling the sky with their black silhouettes. On a bit of scrub by the stream a black phoebe bobs its tail. Above the tree canopy the pair of kestrels fly from treetop to treetop and back again.
5. sign-kab Sweetwater Sign
6. Phoebe-kab Black Phoebe
7. teal-kab Blue Winged Teal
8. peeps-kab Peeps on the berm
Farther down the eastside path we come to the recharge basins to the east. We can see hundreds of ducks and dozens of shorebirds, but many are too far distant to identify. We try to take a few pictures, but the sun is all wrong and security fences keep us far away from the basins.
9. grasses-kab Sweetwater sky
Chris and I walk slowly along the east side, stopping here and there to identify birds or snap a few pictures. The light is fading faster than we both want it to. We arrived around 3:30 but are now wishing we had gotten here even earlier.
10. blackbirds-kab Blackbirds
11. ducks-kab Hundreds of Ducks
It is soon evident that the ducks have returned to Tucson. They are everywhere and in great numbers already. I cannot believe how many teals we are seeing as well as Northern Shovelers, widgeons and mallards. To our great frustration, we can see upwards of 30 tiny peeps down in the recharge basin, but none ever come close enough for us to positively identify other than the killdeer and the spotted sandpipers. Neither one of us has a spotting scope, so we move on.
12. grebe-kab Pied-billed grebe
Coots are in the ponds and the recharge basins. In one of the ponds we spot pied-billed grebes and ruddy ducks.
13. widgeon-kab ?, Coot, and American Widgeon
14. mountains-kab Mountain View
15. turtle-kab Red-eared Slider
A turtle lounges on a log and a pair of cormorants takes wing and flies away. Long shadows fall across the pathways now and we have only made it down one side of the ponds! We reach the farthest end of the pathway and as we make our turn to the west a Great Horned Owl flies out over the wetland and disappears in the cottonwood trees beyond.
16. nighthawk-kab Nighthawk!
As the golden sky fades to rosy-pink and lavender I spot the bat-like fluttering of 3 Lesser nighthawks! I cannot believe my eyes, for I thought they had all migrated south already, yet here they are over our heads and Chris and I are trying to snap a shot of them in the gloaming. It is very hard to get the cameras to focus on their fluttery flight in this low light but we manage to each get a shot or two of their distinctive silhouettes.
17. green heron-kab Green Heron
We are barely over that excitement when a Green Heron flies up into one of the nearby cottonwood trees and catches the last rays of gold from the setting sun. I point it out to Chris and he turns excitedly and starts snapping away. The Green Heron is a Life Bird for him!
18. moon-kab
Darkness falls rapidly once the sun has slipped beyond the horizon. Chris and I hurry down the northwest edge of the ponds. I know they lock the gates after a certain point and I do not want to get locked in. In spite of my hurriedness I am also feeling regret. We have been here for two hours and I know we did not see all the birds we could have! I now wish we had arrived earlier! All I can think as we head to the car is, “I need to come back here soon!” I can never get enough of Sweetwater Wetlands!
19. pond-kab
Note: In the end we saw 32 species of birds in the two hours that we were here.
Birds Seen at Sweetwater Wetlands on 10-21-12:
  1. Wood Duck
  2. Mallard
  3. Mexican Mallard
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Cinnamon Teal
  6. Green-winged Teal
  7. American Widgeon
  8. Northern Shoveler
  9. Ruddy Duck
  10. Gambel’s Quail
  11. Cooper’s hawk
  12. Red-tailed Hawk
  13. American Kestrel
  14. Green Heron
  15. Black-crowned Night Heron
  16. Killdeer
  17. Spotted Sandpiper
  18. Pied-billed Grebe
  19. American Coot
  20. Sora
  21. Mourning Dove
  22. Great-horned Owl
  23. Lesser Nighthawk
  24. Black Phoebe
  25. Verdin
  26. European Starling
  27. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  28. White-crowned Sparrow
  29. Red-winged Blackbird
  30. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  31. Great-tailed Grackle
  32. House Finch
(We also saw additional peeps, 2 cormorant species, and Chris saw 2 avocets but I did not.)


  1. How wonderful to see this post. YOu told me about this place and early this year I was fortunate to go there for the first time while on vacation. It was so much fun, I went back again before we went home. This place is truly a treasure for Tucson. The ducks were particularly good while I was there. Your photos are wonderful and I love seeing how it looks now. Can't wait until the next time I get to visit there again. Good to know you are still introducing other birders to the wonders found there!

    1. Thanks Mary! I am glad you were able to visit this wonderful place!

  2. 30 species in two hours and you're complaining. You'll be back for more.

  3. Kathie, sounds like a great place for birding. Cool sighting of the ducks and all the great birds. Wonderful photos! Have a great weekend and happy birding!

  4. sounds like you & chris had an exciting much to see...and hear...with many sightings to snap pictures of!!

    of favorite is the TURTLE!!!!!! and i LOVE the moon shot!

    happy weekend!

  5. That is a place I would like to visit. I especially liked the photo of the teal.

    1. NewMexiKen, I do hope you got to come and see it! You would run out of time before you ran out of birds!

  6. Hi Kathie

    Looks like a great spot for birding.


  7. You made an impressive list! I loved my visit to Sweetwater to meet Mary and her sis and hubby Mike. I learned a lot from them that to be a proper birder. I haven't been back but have been thinking about what a great visit that would be now that it is no longer hot.


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.