Moving day / Sweetwater Wetlands - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

December 28, 2020

Moving day / Sweetwater Wetlands

We’ve been in Tucson for a fortnight now, and it’s time to move on.  This has been such a pleasant stay, and we’d happily continue on longer here if it were available; but it’s not.

So that’s a bit dreary.  Or it would be anyway, if we didn’t have another place lined up that looks every bit as attractive to move on to.  And it’s still here in Tucson, so we have two more weeks of riding the loop and warmish weather to usher in the new year with.  And, the move itself is rather less onerous than usual.  Our new casita, as you might recall, is directly behind this one - same property, same owner.  An easy walk out the back door and through the cactus garden to our digs.   It takes us about half an hour to port our stuff from one house to the other.  We’re done by nine, with the whole day still ahead of us.

The doorway to our latest casita.
Heart 1 Comment 0
It doesn’t take us long to settle in.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Another colorful house in our old/new neighborhood, on Mabel Street.
Heart 2 Comment 0

It’s warm but windy this morning, and expected to keep getting windier as the day goes on.  By midafternoon we’ll experience 20+ mph winds with gusts nearing 40, if the forecast is accurate.  Rachael particularly dislikes biking in the wind, so she gets an early start before it things get any worse, leaving as soon as we’ve completed the Big Move for a dash out Julian Wash and back.  

I decide this is a good time to head out to Sweetwater Wetlands, possibly the most popular birding spot in town.  I’d forgotten about Sweetwater until Kelly referred me to the eBird website that she heard of from a woman she reported biking with yesterday.  One of its features is a worldwide index of birding hotspots, allowing you to zoom in on your location and see what’s nearby.

Sweetwater Wetlands is about seven miles away, beside the loop down the Santa Cruz River.  On the way out I of course keep an eye out for any birds along the way.  I don’t see many close at hand this morning, but there are a few reasons to stop.

A great tailed grackle, one of many in this noisy velvet mesquite tree beside the loop near Saint Mary’s Road. This is obviously a favored grackle hangout, judging by the dense white staining on the bike path.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The light isn’t the best here, but when I walked around to the sun side of the tree none were to be seen. They’re all hiding in the shadows.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The mourning dove - another species that’s so common you can forget to look.
Heart 3 Comment 0

We’ve biked past Sweetwater several times now, without really giving it much thought.  It’s where I expect though, beside the artificial pond I’ve stopped by before to observe the many ducks dabbling about.  

Sweetwater is an artificial wetland, developed as part of Tucson’s wastewater treatment system (hence the name, I imagine).  It’s an integrated system of settling ponds and marshes, intended primarily as a water reclamation system.  Treated sewage is fed into reclamation reservoirs where it is allowed to clarify further, seep down to the water table, and serve as a water source for recharging the Santa Cruz River, and for irrigating parks, golf courses and the like.

The pond I’ve stopped to view before is the primary recharge basin in the system.  It is fenced off to prevent public access, with prominent no trespassing signs and warnings that violators will be prosecuted.  It is also where the largest concentration of waterfowl is, of course.  They know where it’s safe and where they won’t be disturbed, and probably where all the best nutrient supply is also.

Unfortunately for me, all of this avian activity is too far off on the other side of the fence for me to pick up much detail.  If I were a serious birder, I’d be out here with a telescope or a giant ten pound lens hanging from my neck - just the sort of equipment that works well with bicycling.  Still, a few birds come near enough to this end of the pond to be barely worth a shot.

Here’s that pond with all the ducks we saw two days ago. We’re seeing it again so I can explain what it is now that I know. Sweetwater Wetlands is artificial, and an important component of Tucson’s wastewater treatment system. The system generates reclaimed water from the city’s sewage for recharging the aquifer and providing water for parks and irrigation.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Coot with ruddy ducks.
Heart 1 Comment 0
He’s too far off for a good shot, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a ring necked duck.
Heart 1 Comment 0
A male green winged teal, another handsome bird a bit too far off for my liking.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Adjacent to the recharge basin is an area open to the public.  It’s an attractive area, a collection of ponds and reedy marshes with a network of trails weaving through them.  Bikes aren’t permitted, so I lock mine up to a fence in a secluded spot and then wander around through the park for the next hour.

As usual in places like this, I don’t see all that many birds - and those I do see are off at the far side of a marsh, hiding in the shadows of cattails and bulrushes.  I see many more people than birds really, many of them those ‘serious birder’ types with their heavy optical equipment weighing them down.

Still, it’s a very pretty area, birds or not.  A nice walk, and a nice change of pace.

In Sweetwater Wetland, maybe the best birdwatching spot in town. I saw more watchers than birds though.
Heart 2 Comment 0
A ruddy duck?
Heart 2 Comment 3
Jen GrumbyWhat a great shot!
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Bill ShaneyfeltAgreed
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruddy_Duck/id#
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Mallard and turtles.
Heart 4 Comment 8
Jen GrumbyTwo turtles and a yoga-posed duck..
A sure sign of very good luck!
They were resting in reeds
Nibbling all kinds of seeds
From the swirl of the wet marshy muck.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Gregory GarceauTo Jen GrumbyJen, this is the second time I've picked out the same picture as you for a comment. Some photos are more ripe for a limerick than others, I guess. Yours is great, but I have a little darker interpretation.

A turtle should never bite a duck on the tail,
For the wise duck will retaliate without fail,
A web-footed kick,
Will do the trick,
And turtle's headache will make him cower and wail.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Bill ShaneyfeltRed eared sliders. Considered by many in AZ to be invasive.

https://live-reptilesofaz.pantheonsite.io/turtle-amphibs-subpages/h-t-scripta/
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Jen GrumbyTo Gregory GarceauNow that would be something to witness! Judo duck kicking the irksome turtle square in the forehead.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauSo mean! What happened to that Minnesota Nice we keep hearing about? We may need to prescreen your contributions, Greggo.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltHow can anything this slow moving be invasive? Seems like it would be pretty easy to round the critters up if they wanted to.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonHa! They move faster than invasive plants though...
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Bruce LellmanNew thought for the day - turtles as an invasive species. They do seem to be invading that Mallard's space however.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
In Sweetwater Wetlands.
Heart 2 Comment 0
One thing I appreciated here was that several of the trees were labeled. This is a Fremont cottonwood.
Heart 1 Comment 0
And these are Goodding’s willows.
Heart 1 Comment 0
And this is a willow/cottonwood blend.
Heart 1 Comment 0
In Sweetwater Wetlands. I wish I’d timed this shot better. When I first arrived the wind was gusting and a low cloud of fluff was drifting above the cattails.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Gone to seed.
Heart 4 Comment 0
It was worth biking out to Sweetwater just to learn what these trees are along the river.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Ride stats today: 20 miles, 400’; for the tour: 1,359 miles, 47,900’

Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 1,339 miles (2,155 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 9
Comment on this entry Comment 4
Jen GrumbyThanks for the grackle video. That whimsical and varied vocal repertoire always makes me laugh. 🙂
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyI’m becoming very fond of grackles. They sound so cheerful and excited to be alive. I’m sorry we don’t have them further north.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Bruce LellmanI grew up in Minnesota and I loved how the grackles would congregate in the fall, more and more of them every day in the forest talking up a storm and planning their upcoming trip south. It was a cheerful sound.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanI’d forgotten that grackles make it that far north back in the Midwest. We don’t have them at all in Oregon, of course. The ones down here, the great tailed grackles, are a different species though and even chattier I think. If you wouldn’t miss the rain and cold too much, you should come down here some winter and give a listen for yourself.
Reply to this comment
2 weeks ago