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Sweetwater Wetlands - Tucson, Arizona

by Stacy Egan



Wetlands in the desert?  Here in Tucson we have the Sweetwater Wetlands, an artificial wetlands area on the (usually dry) Santa Cruz river. This wetlands is a part of a waste-water reclamation project built in 1996 under the direction of US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, City Parks and Recreation Department, the University of Arizona and many local environmental education and wildlife organizations. To me it is a unique opportunity to photograph flora and fauna that I wouldn't otherwise see in the Sonoran desert. Just don't go wading into the water.

In the desert, water is life.  From the little Sweetwater Wetlands Bird Checklist obtainable at the park, I count almost 250 species of birds have been reported at the wetlands.  This is a favorite sport for birders.  In winter months hundreds if not thousands of migrating waterfowl make their home here.  A family of Harris hawks are often seen in the large eucalyptus trees north of the ponds.  Cooper hawks, herons, grebes, doves, flycatchers, hummingbirds, wrens, blackbirds, roadrunners, towhees,...all these avian species, and more, benefit from the environs here.  I had to buy a couple bird guides to help me identify all the different birds I've photographed.  It's been an educational experience.

Birders have great fun looking through their binoculars for the relatively rare species to these wetlands.  It seems every time I've been there I hear them ask each other if they've seen a Least Grebe.  One time I was on one of the observation decks photographing some American Coots displaying territoriality when a birder approached me and asked if I had seen a Least Grebe.  I said, "No, what do they look like?"  I had never seen one.  A couple minutes later he exclaimed, "Oh, there's one!"  Huh?  I swung the camera around on the bird he indicated and fired away with my shutter.  I felt gratitude for observing a bird rare to this area.

In summer months, when the waterfowl have long left for more northern climes, I photograph the abundant dragonflies and damselflies.  I've noticed they don't really get moving until the sun has been up a couple of hours.  I used to try and photograph them as they hover, but I found it is much easier to photograph them when they land on a bullrush or cattail blade.  In the cool of the morning, before any breeze starts, is a great time to photograph spiders in their webs or hanging to blades of grass.

So if you're in Tucson and have a couple idle hours, bring along a long lens and extension tubes and try the Sweetwater Wetlands for avian and insect photography.  From the eastbound I-10 freeway exit Prince Road to the frontage road.  Be ready to quickly make a right turn on Sweetwater Drive.  The Sweetwater Wetland entrance and parking lot is on the left, about 0.1 mile.




All images and text copyright Stacy Egan