Sweetwater Wetlands

Black Phoebe at Sweetwater Wetlands.

November 3 – December 20, 2020.

The other day as we were walking along the road we stopped and chatted with another camper. Seeing Greg’s binoculars and my camera he asked if we were birders. “Yes,” we replied. “Oh! What have you seen?” he asked.

We rattled off a handful of birds we had spotted the previous day and that morning. This made me think about last spring when we were asked the same questions as we were walking down a road outside of Sedona, AZ. When asked, What have you seen, being relatively new birders, all we could say was, “Uh, birds…”

We used to only be able to ID birds by taking their pictures, hiking back to the van to download them from the camera, uploading them to our iNaturalist app, comparing our shots to other pics on the app, making what we thought was a good ID, and then letting the birding community weigh in and let us know what we got wrong. These days although we still use iNaturalist we have been IDing more birds on sight or consulting our Merlin app (which lists names of birds with their pictures in different regions) while we are still out in the field.

“Out in the field” – we really are starting to sound like real birders!

And now that we are even better at birding it has become even more fun. It is a little like a treasure hunt. We often have a shortlist of birds we’d like to find. I use the iNat app for not only IDing birds but for discovering what other birds have been spotted in the area we happen to be in. When I saw that someone had spotted a Belted King Fisher on the app at Agua Caliente Park, we were there the next morning to find it. Consulting the app feels a little like cheating but as we have learned in the bird world cheating is a sign of intelligence!

Although I wrote about a few of the places we went birding around Tucson in my last post I left my absolute favorite place, Sweetwater Wetlands, for a stand-alone post.

Yes, there is a wetland in the desert in Tucson, AZ.

On the west side of the city, off of the I-10 Prince Rd. exit, tucked away behind a nondescript business park are 2.5 miles of pathways lined with cottonwood trees, several ponds flanked by towering cattails and willows, and a world of birds.

The park was originally constructed in 1996 to help treat backwash filter water from the now-closed Roger Road Water Treatment Plant. Today it is like a playground for birders, middle-agers and seniors creeping around with their binoculars and ultra-telephoto lensed cameras. Every once in a while there will be a flurry of excitement. “Did you see the Northern Harrier?” some random birder asks us. “No, where was it?” “Down that path.” And off we’ll go, searching the trees and skies for another birding prize.

Occasionally there are birding tours through the park. Some guy leading a group, stopping every 5 or ten feet, will nonchalantly point left and right out into the distance at birds that seem to appear out of thin air.

People also come to the park to practice more subdued, quieter hobbies like plein air painting. And I’m sure occasionally they come for just a relaxing walk to watch all the nerdy grey-hairs with their big lenses looking across the ponds, up in the trees, and into the sky for birds.

* Click photos to enlarge (they are better that way) and to view in a slideshow.

** Although we have done a lot of posts about birds lately we don’t intend to turn Make Like An Apeman into just a birding blog. I promise there will be some travel posts coming up.

Walkway to the main pond viewing area.
There are several ponds at the Wetlands and a few different viewing areas. This is the main viewing area which is usually teeming with different species of ducks and other waterfowl. And if you have a good pair of binoculars or a good telephoto lens you can often see other types of birds perched in the trees at the other end of the pond.
Ducks in the main pond.
American Wigeon. These ducks are often found feeding with coots and other diving birds. The divers bring up vegetation which the wigeons snatch away.
American Wigeon.
American Wigeon.
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
While we were looking at ducks another birder spotted this Green Heron at the far side of the pond. Green Herons are bait fishers. They must not like the way frogs kick. They drown frogs before swallowing them.
And another time someone spotted this Cooper’s Hawk.
Paths like this crisscross through the park.
We saw this Bobcat walking down a path hunting. He didn’t seem to mind that there were people watching him.
He would crouch, look off into the vegetation lining the path, and then suddenly pounce. The last time we saw him do this he came back with a rodent snack which he promptly gobbled up.
Ladderback Woodpecker. I was pretty excited to see this Ladderback. But still, I have yet to get a good Ladderback picture. They move around a bit too fast for me.
Ladderback Woodpecker.
Green-winged Teals.
Green-winged Teal.
Common Slider
American Kestrel. These birds are actually small falcons. There are no true kestrels in North America. Beginning falconers often train using them. They can take down birds twice their size. We wouldn’t had seen this Kestrel if we hadn’t been walking behind a birder giving a tour at the time.
Anna’s Hummingbird
White-crowned Sparrow. They can stay awake for up to two weeks during migration.
Immature White-crowned Sparrow.
American Coot. Coots are brood parasites, often laying eggs in other coot nests. The host chicks usually hatch first. Coot chicks are “ornamented” with orange-tipped plumes. The parents make sure that chicks’ plumes match the first one hatched, and will shun or kill chicks whose plumes don’t match.
Pied-billed Grebe. It may take a grebe hatchling a month to learn how to swim. It will start by riding on a parent’s back. Once it learns, though, it will dive instead of flying off when threatened.
Pied-billed Grebe
Abert’s Towhee.
Coooper’s Hawk.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Gambel’s Quail.
Gambel’s Quail.
Mallard.Snowy Egret.
Snowy Egret.
Mexican Duck.
Lesser Goldfinch.

This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

14 thoughts on “Sweetwater Wetlands

    1. What nice thing to say! Tucson has so much to offer. I hope you make it to Sweetwater Wetlands some time. It is really an off the beaten track gem.

    1. Perhaps they tuck their tale when the are hunting – concentrating. I was so happy to see a Bobcat. I knew there were supposed to be some at Sweetwater but just didn’t think they come out with people around. He didn’t care about us one bit – was totally focused on his lunch.

  1. I saw your comment with Sharon Wagner’s blog and wanted to stop by and say hello. I’m an avid birder and lived in TUCSON for over a decade after retiring. Now, living on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Tucson and the surrounding area is a great place for wildlife…and, yes, the Desert Museum…a greater place even!!!

    Nice to meet you Duwan.

    1. Hey Anni, thanks for stopping by the blog.

      I used to live in Tucson too a long time ago. But now my husband and I just travel around in our van. Still we have lots of friends in Tucson and are there often.

      We spent last January traveling down the Gulf Coast. That is when were just starting to get into birding. I’d love to go back. I really enjoyed camping on the beach.

      Good to meet you too.

  2. We will definitely have to check this place out whenever we return to Tucson. Yes, you two have truly become birders. I hope you have time to play that bird game now as well. 🙂

    1. Haven’t played the bird game yet – too busy writing these blogs. But I think we will take some time this evening and see if we can’t figure the game out.

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