Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson, Pima County, AZ

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Some days, you just need to go with what you get. In checking online for the opening time for Sweetwater Wetlands, I found separate times for different months (not unusual around here) that stated it opened at 8:00 a.m. in November. I have no idea which header I clicked for that information because I just now checked again and it opens at 6 a.m.  As a morning person, I would have been there much earlier but as it transpired, I took my time and arrived at 8:30.

First bird I saw from the parking lot was a Cooper’s Hawk perched on a snag. The first birder I saw on the trail told me my target bird, Baltimore Oriole, had been on that snag until the Cooper’s showed up about five minutes before my arrival. Some days just feel like a “GOTCHA”.

This was my first stop. Another target was located in Madera Canyon about 45 minutes farther south. Therefore, not intending to spend much time at Sweetwater I walked a bit faster than my usual birding pace but stopped for photos of perched birds multiple times.

Cooper's Hawk that scared my target bird from this snag shortly before I arrived
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sensing that the above two raptors had given me a great start to my "bummed" day, I continued walking the trails - not stopping to search the ponds for waterfowl.

Overhead a small flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds flew down into the marsh reeds beside me. Later a few Red-winged Blackbirds did the same. But the reeds were loaded with these and other birds chattering away and sometimes squawking.

The next perched raptor took my breath away. Perched with the sun behind me, a juvenile Northern Harrier with its rufous-red breast lit up the marsh and stayed still for at least five minutes.  It's former name, Marsh Hawk, was apropos today.
As seen from the trail

Look at that owl-like face! Juvie Northern Harrier

Obviously, I was still searching for the unusual eastern bird - Baltimore Oriole - but kept coming upon other interesting sights. I saw a flat fluff ball in a distant tree so walked over to see if it was a nest or something else. How about a Roadrunner in a tree with its downy feathers exposed!  It perched for as long as I took photos.

Greater Roadrunner - above and below

There were so many Song Sparrows in one spot on the ground that I took photos of one. This is our Southwestern form - much lighter than those back on the East Coast.
Song Sparrow
While I was looking at all the sparrows in this one location, I noticed another surprising bird. I tried photos but didn't do a good job. Last evening I posted it in eBird as a Common Ground Dove but my "morning mind" said, "Get that checked by an expert; it looks like a Ruddy Ground Dove!" So, I have the back end and the front end of a Ruddy Ground Dove, I think. If you're interested in seeing it, just click on the eBird option at the end of this blog.

No bird stops me in my tracks as quickly as a Green Heron. It was in the water feature just west of the foot bridge to the trails as I returned to the parking lot.

Green Heron - above and below

With that sighting, I wrapped up my time at Sweetwater and drove south where I also dipped on finding the Red-breasted Sapsucker that's been reported frequenting a certain spot. Sure, I could have walked some trails looking for it, but if it came back to its sapsucker wells on the trees where I stood, I would have missed it.  At least eight other birders showed up from time to time for it, too, with a guide among them. When he arrived, my hopes lifted; I thought I just wasn't birding hard enough. Another bird that got up my hopes for my target was the Ruby-crowned Kinglet that likes to lift insects from sap wells. But other sapsuckers create the same wells - providing some fast food for the kinglets.

On a beautifully sunny and cool autumn day, there is no way I can call today's experiences a bummer. My heart was full.

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  1. Hey now! A Common Ground-dove is nothing to sneeze at! I don't think i have one of those for that locale. That's a great find. The Baltimore Oriole is a pain in the butt. Seriously. I've gone after work before work and on the weekends. Everyone says, "Oh it was perched"...blah blah blah but I am beginning to wonder if it's real:) In January? or February, I briefly spotted this character but not for a photo. Congrats again on the dove! That's cool!

  2. I think that's actually a Ruddy Ground Dove!