Birding Blog Archives

October 15th, 2010
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October Fun Birding Workshop: Sweetwater Wetlands

Belted-Kingfisher-Silverbell-Lake-10-1010-01Green-Heron-Silverbell-Lake-10-1010-02Ed Tobin, Susan Fallon and Marcee Sherrill joined me for October’s Fun Birding Workshop which concentrated on the area around Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson. We started on the other side of the Santa Cruz river at Christopher Columbus Park. The two lakes here are often productive and today was no exception. A fine male BELTED KINGFISHER gave us great views by the smaller lake, and a juvenile GREEN HERON flew in to add to the excitement. The larger lake, Silverbell Lake, had a GREAT EGRET but little else on the water. A few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS joined the YELLOW-RUMPEDS around the lake edge, while a male LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER gave us particularly good views, albeit partially hidden behind branches of a dead pine tree. A latish CASSIN’S KINGBIRD passed through and it was good to witness “visible migration” first hand as a constant stream of BARN SWALLOWS headed south along the course of the dry river, along with a kettle of TURKEY VULTURES.

We dropped down into the dry Santa Cruz river bed and began to explore the lush grasses and thick scrub. A single BREWER’S SPARROW was joined by several LARK and WHITE-CROWNED SPAROWS, a BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER was calling, a pair of VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were present and the swallow migration briefly included a few NORTHERN ROUGH-RINGED and a single BANK SWALLOW, a very late record for SE Arizona. Another late migrant was a female SUMMER TANAGER which was found in the riparian area along the river just where the outflow from the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant turns the dry wash into a flowing river. A WILSON’S WARBLER was in the same area.

Dickcissel-Sweetwater-Wetlands-10-1010-02Dickcissel-Sweetwater-Wetlands-10-1010-05For the previous few days a DICKCISSEL had been seen in the river bed a little further to the south. This bunting-like bird, common in Midwestern grassland, is a rarity in SE Arizona and is a bird I had never seen anywhere in the world, so I was particularly keen to take a look. A small crowd was gathered in the area it had last been seen, and a brief chat with a couple of departing birders confirmed that a Dickcissel had indeed been seen recently in the long grasses which dominated this part of the river bed. Just before we arrived at where the group was standing, I noticed a bird in the grass and… yes! A Dickcissel. Then another, and another! I called over to the crowd and everyone got good looks at these local rarities. Two Dickcissels flew off towards Sweetwater, then the other slightly north along the river, but within a few seconds two more were in front of us – so there were at least three but maybe as many as five Dickcissels in the area. Splendid!

Flame-Skimmer-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01Flame-Skimmer-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-02Flame-Skimmer-Sweetwater-Wetlands-10-1010-01Variegated-Meadowhawk-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01Mexican-Amberwing-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01We headed back to Christopher Columbus Park and drove around to Sweetwater Wetlands. An INCA DOVE was near the entrance but very little was moving around the Hidden Pond. As soon as we moved away, though, we found warblers aplenty, mostly ORANGE-CROWNED and a few COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. Eight duck species were evident, mostly in drab eclipse plumage, which included a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL. The resident HARRIS’S HAWKS made their presence known, as did the vocal SORAS – thanks to Marcee’s sharp eyes we got good views of one in the “usual” ditch. There were also many dragonflies and butterflies on view.

Susan and Marcee left me and Ed to finish off the afternoon. We birded Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant from the road, the plant itself being closed on Sundays. We were rewarded with a fine BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER around the pond nearest the road.

Great-Egret-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-03Greater-White-fronted-Goose-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01Greater-White-fronted-Goose-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-03Greater-White-fronted-Goose-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-05Killdeer-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-03Killdeer-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-02Rock-Squirrel-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-02Turkey-Vulture-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01Turkey-Vulture-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-02Great-Blue-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01herons-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01Lakeside-Park-10-1010-01We decided to head across town for our final birding of the day, to Lakeside Park. I’ve seen some great birds here over the years. It’s not the most obvious birding site in terms of habitat, the lake being surrounded by a busy footpath and grassy slopes, but it is one of the largest bodies of water in Tucson and attracts some real crackers.

The first bird we saw was a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE which had been hanging around with the Mallards on and off for a week or two. The main attraction soon became evident, a gorgeous little TRICOLRED HERON which picked off small fish around the edge. Ed and I settled down to watch and were eventually rewarded with outstanding views. It was fun to see it in the same field of view as a GREAT EGRET and GREAT BLUE HERON, emphasising just how small these herons are.

Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-08Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-35Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-14Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-28Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-61Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-48Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-40Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-27Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-80Tricolored-Heron-Lakeside-Park-10-1010-05It had been another really enjoyable Fun Birding Workshop – for me certainly, and everyone else seemed to be having fun too. 😀

Next month we’ll be exploring the Santa Cruz Flats to the northwest of Tucson – why not sign up?

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