Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson

What is this aquatic scene,

Doing here in the middle of the Sonoran Desert?

It's a short story. This beautiful oasis of plentiful water is the Sweetwater Wetlands reclamation project, located withing the city limits of Tucson. Truth be told, the water comes from waste water and if the wind is blowing just right, you'd know that without an explanation. However, this is a brilliant use of the scarcest of all elements in the desert and we should be imagining many more such novel approaches to deal with environmental issues. If we could only be as resourceful and decisive as this in our dealings with energy problems, we'd be far better off. But that's an entirely different flight of thought.

Speaking of flight (apologies about this segway, couldn't think of anything else) Monica suggested we do some birding on New Years Day and she directed us here because it was so close to home and we'd never been before. I know the term "delightful" is used capriciously, but this time the word fits perfect.
It's all about the birds!

Monica and I aren't even novice birders, but we live in such an avarian rich environment, we're constantly  enthralled by the beauty of these creatures. When we arrived at the wetlands, the first bird we saw was this one. To you and me, a lovely little thing. But nooooooo. Not just any lovely little thing. It was an Albino Flycatcher. Now don't ask me how we knew that, ask the gent who was standing near us who was in a state of excited agitation. He was the one who told us that this was a very rare sighting. Honestly, I've googled and searched for an albino flycatcher in our books, but I've not seen one. Could he have been wrong? Sure. Did it diminish our delight (that word again?) Nope, not one bit.

Next up, a colorful bird perched in a tree almost directly above us on our walk. I've no idea what it is. Where the heck was that expert guy when we needed him?
By the way, this wetlands isn't a small area. It covers 18 acres of reclaimed desert on the shores of the Santa Cruz River. The Santa Cruz is about the only river that I know of in this area that flows south to north and it was also about the last river to have a constantly flowing stream of water. Not so anymore, other than around this site. Now it relies on the summer monsoon storms to make it flow.

Now, this is another very rare sighting! She's called the Monicus Surfaris Spigelmanitis. According to old archives, she is native to Brooklyn New York and some years ago migrated 2400 miles to Tucson. By all accounts, she is thriving in the Sonoran Desert.

No, not Duck!
I mean, this is a duck.
I obviously don't know what kind, but it was really enjoying that leisurely paddle through the water.
Really beautiful reflections on a delightful day.

The question that constantly came to my mind was, where were these aquatic birds coming from? The surrounding area is desert for countless miles. You wouldn't think of these birds as being native, yet they certainly weren't imported here. At one time during times of plentiful water (and that wasn't as long ago as you might think, maybe several hundred years?) these birds must have been native. It only goes to show how forgiving nature can be, if given the chance. Here's four ducks, er, two ducks and two reflections, chatting away on a boggy log. Looks like the one on the left has a lot to say.

Undoubtedly,  the most striking bird of the day was this Vermilion Fly Catcher. He (yep, I'm certain it was a male because the males are the more showy of the type, the better to attract the female) was constantly flying back and forth between two trees. At first I didn't understand why he was imitating the Times Square Shuttle, just flying back and forth. Finally, Monica put things (very gently) into perspective for me. She mentioned the name of the bird again, pausing and enunciating the part that sounds like "fly catcher." OK, I've got it now, by golly. He was flying back and forth to catch flies!

Finally, the Vermilion Fly Catcher IN FLIGHT!

Now, you've no idea how many shots I took before I actually got this one. But hey, it's digital, so nothing wasted except some virtual pixels.
And don't forget, for a closer look at any of these pictures, simply place your cursor over the photo and left click!

To all, we hope your New Year will be as delightful a year as the start of our New Year was to us.


Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Great bird pictures! I imagine that you know that down in Cochise County, the San Pedro runs from south to north and is the flyway for lots of unusual birds. (some of them the humans that come from all over the country with binoculars at the ready).
Congrats on a really nice post.

Leigh said...

Thanks Vera and thanks for setting me straight on the San Pedro River's direction of flow. I've been there several times but never knew which way the water went. And I've seen some of those humans including one that took the funniest fall, face first, in the mud alongside the river bed. Needless to say, Monica was NOT smiling. Nor was I, at least not out loud.
Best to you in the New Year.

Brett said...

Great pictures! You should submit the photo of the Albino to birding databases (if it's that rare, I doubt there'd be many pictures available - and ones with such detail!).

Also, I've heard the Surafaris can be an exceptionally elusive creature... especially the females. Kudos on the find!