Sweetwater Wetlands Great Horned Owl

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The Owl. Sony HX400V at 2400mm equivalent field of view.

Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson Arizona was one of the first “municipal wetlands” in the US: waste-water reclamation ponds converted to a birding destination. This year they took Sweetwater off-line and replaced it with a new, modern facility down the road, but it has become such a poplar and well-known birding spot in the Tucson area that they are still pumping enough water to keep the ponds full. August us not the time to visit, but it was when we were in Tucson, and it is still good enough birding not to miss. We were, in fact, there three times, once in the early evening and once in the early morning on our own, and again in the early morning with a group from the Tucson Birding Festival.

On the first visit we walked up on a Great Horned Owl sitting between the trail and the pond. We pretty much photographed it from every angle and framed it with the full range of the zoom on the Sony HX400V.

When we walked on the bird was still sitting there. The next morning a group of birders had already found the Owl when we got to that side of the ponds. In fat they had seen it take a Coot, behead it, and fly up to a branch to eat it. Again we took all the photos we wanted before the Owl had had its fill.

Sweetwater Wetlands, of course has other attractions, especially in other seasons, but a Great Horned Owl is always a treat.

Madera Canyon 8/2044

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Coming up through the grasslands to Madera Canyon. In-camera HDR with some "creative" processing on the sky.

Madera Canyon is one of the first birding destinations I ever visited. It is primarily known for Buff-collard Nightjar (in the grasslands on the way in), Elph Owl, and hummingbirds…some of the rarest Hummers in the US visit the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge in the Canyon on a semi-regular basis. In recent years the upper Canyon has also become a reliable spot for Elegant Trogon, and this year, though I was not aware of it before our visit, a bevy of Montezuma Quail has been regular along the watercourse behind the Lodge. Madera Canyon is about 45 minutes south of downtown Tucson, and we’ll worth a visit any time you are in the area.

As mentioned in the Photoprowl on the Tucson Sonoran Desert Museum, on this trip I was traveling light with a single superzoom Point & Shoot camera: the Sony HX400V.

We had only a very short time to visit the Canyon one morning before the vendor hours at the Tucson Birding Festival, so we knew Trogon was pretty much out of the question. Though they have been seen and heard as low as the Lodge, to really have a good chance you have to hike well up form the end of the Canyon road. We parked at the Amphitheater and Nature Trail parking lot and hiked back among the creek bed behind the Lodge to the Parking lot below the Lodge, then climbed back up the Lodge to finish with some Hummingbird watching at the feeders. The creek was, in August, dry, but the Canyon was still lush and green. We found wildflowers on the slopes and birds deeper in.

The first bird we saw in the Canyon was the Rock Wren, but the most common bird was the Mexican Jay. A large flock was working along the water course, looking for bugs. Ash-throated Flycatcher was also there, and, of course Squirrels and Lizards, but the real treat was finding the bevy of Montezuma Quail, though we only saw the sentry bird up on a rock standing guard. The rest of the birds were well down in the brush. This was my first good look at a Montezuma Quail. I had only ever seen them once before…a bevy running across the road in my headlights as I drove in Southeast Arizona many years ago. This was better :-)

Of course the upper Canyon has a beauty all its own, unique the the Sky Islands of the Southwest.

We spent the last half hour of our visit sitting on the benches overlooking the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. As mentioned, these feeders have attracted some of the rarest Hummingbirds to be seen North of the Mexican Boarder, along with all of the Arizona specialities. Broad-billed was by far the most common on our visit, and as I have written elsewhere, it really deserves a better name! It is a magnificent hummingbird, but of course that name is already taken. Besides the Broad-billed we also saw a few Anna’s, and I am sure if we had had more time we would have seen all the usual Madera Canyon Hummers.

Of course the highlight of the visit is the worst photo. A Brown-capped Starthroat had been reported at the feeder nearest the building and there were several photographers camped out on and behind the nearest bench. I had to settle for distant, and somewhat random shots, hoping to catch the bird. In this image it is the very large Hummer making the Broad-bills look small.

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I hope on my next visit to Madera Canyon to have more time. The Canyon deserves more. :-)