Tucson’s Sweet Water
Last morning in Arizona. My place doesn’t leave until the afternoon. Not satisfied with 18 hours of hard birding the day before, Clay Taylor of Swaorvski, Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds, and I decide to make a mid-morning run out to Sweetwater Wetlands, one of the many water treatment facilities near a birding hotspot that has made the decision to treat water the natural way, through extensive marshes and drying beds, and allowing the site to double as a quite literal oasis in the middle of the desert. The place is crawling with birds, and not the desert specialties we’d been eagerly scooping up over the last couple days, but ducks and coots and shorebirds. Not anything you’d travel to Arizona specifically to see, but just the thing to pad a growing trip list.
I was strick immediately by the dragonflies, gorgeous individuals in many hues of green, blue, and especially red. I was impressed to find a Roseate Skimmer right off the bat, pinky-purply and gorgeous, even if the light didn’t cooperate for a photo.
The bids were pretty good, and we snagged a load of new ones for the trip. Cinnamon Teal cruising through the cattails, Baird’s and Spotted Sandpiper out on the mudflats, and a handful of Abert’s Towhee working the mesquite scrub just off the trail. but the dragonflies were definite highlights. I wished I could have gotten a photo of a Flame Skimmer, a neon red bodied bug with huge red patches on the wings. It was intense, but never in the right place at the right time. I did get this unidentified saddlebacks/pennant. Any ideas? I have no idea where to even start.
But birds. Oh yea, birds. as we were leaving we spotted a large-billed kingbird on top of a snag. It had been years since I’d been to Arizona, but I was still scarred by a moment as a 14 year old at Camp Chiricahua – with more enthusiasm than skill – birding the hotel parking lot on the afternoon of my arrival. We found a yellow-bellied kingbird and I hesitantly asked whether it was a Tropical Kingbird, fully versed as I was in SE Arizona’s specialty species. “No,” said another camper no sign of sympathy in his voice, “not here”. And he smirked at my naivete and ignored the Western Kingbird on the wire.
So here I was, almost 2o years later, in a similar position. But damn it if that bird didn’t look like a Tropical Kingbird.
When it finally sallied out to snag a big, we saw the all black tail to confirm it. Even I had to admit that’s clearly what it was and I entered the checklist into eBird expecting the wrath of the reviewer to come down on me. But as it turns out, a lot has changed in those 20 years. Tropical Kingbirds are uncommon, but regular at several sites in the Tucson area, Sweetwater Wetlands being one of the most reliable. So I had every reason to be confident, despite the haunting remembrance of that day many years ago. Kids can be so cruel.
After the trip, I headed back to the hotel to pack up and head out. Thanks for Swarovski Optic for having me out. I can’t wait till I see Arizona again.