Do you have a local patch? A spot near your home where you regularly go to bird? I live in Tucson, Arizona, and my spot is a wastewater treatment facility called Sweetwater Wetlands. The City of Tucson has created a spot that not only uses natural processes to help clean wastewater, but also provides a habitat for birds and other wildlife and serves as an outdoor classroom for Tucson students as well.
I could easily spend an entire morning birding at Sweetwater, but it is close enough that I also stop by when I only have a little time. I can leave my house early and spend a little time birding before work or I can drop in at the end of the day. When folks come to Tucson to visit and ask me where they should bird, of course there are all of the high profile spots, but I always start by recommending Sweetwater.
If I can manage it, I try to go once a week. It’s a great way to see the seasons change by watching the migration wax and wane, and to just get a feel for what is happening in my town.
Last Sunday I had a free morning, so I decided to drop in. I parked, grabbed my binoculars and scope, and walked about ten feet over to the sidewalk, where I stood for about five minutes, quickly counting at least ten species. While it’s true that a lot of what you see there are the more common Sonoran Desert species (lots of Verdin and Gila Woodpeckers, for example), unusual things show up at Sweetwater — bizarre, off course eastern species, like Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Baltimore Oriole. One winter a Solitary Sandpiper hung out for months and months in one particular pond. The birding at Sweetwater can be really good (I’ll end your suspense: nothing out of the ordinary made an appearance on the day I’m writing about).
The City of Tucson has done a tremendous job of welcoming birders to Sweetwater, creating interpretive signs that tell you everything from the kinds of birds that use the area to the engineering design of the ponds and plants that filter waste water.
Cattail grow lush at Sweetwater and they serve dual purposes. They provide habitat, but their roots also filter impurities from the water.
During the winter months, the ponds at Sweetwater fill with waterfowl. It’s not unusual to see hundreds or even thousands of Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons. On this day shovelers outnumbered everything else by far, with many hundreds of them floating and snuffling around in the water. The Ruddy Ducks, though — oh my! IA male Ruddy Duck in full breeding plumage is a spectacle of nature that is hard to beat.
A Red-winged Blackbird flew in so close that I could barely get it in the field of view of my spotting scope. I recently got an iPhone 5s (I know, I’m late to the game) and was really having fun with the camera’s slow motion function and my PhoneSkope adapter.
Everything looks so brilliantly crisp and clear through my scope, but when I attach my phone it quickly becomes apparent that digiscoping takes some skill. For every decent picture that I’m sharing here I took about twenty that I immediately deleted. I’m a work in progress in many things, including digiscoping.
Spots like Sweetwater help me stay connected to nature when the demands of everyday life take over. Where is your local patch?