Bird Song Hero – A New Way to Learn Bird Songs

Are you a birder? Do you wish you had a better birding ear? Then check out The Cornell Lab’s new Bird Song Hero Tutorial. Instead of just hearing the bird call you get to see it too.

Pretty cool new approach!

Give it a try:

Spectrogram of a Northern Cardinal song:
Screen shot 2014-06-08 at 7.30.52 PM

Fish in the Santa Cruz River!

The Arizona Daily Star ran an interesting article about the return of fish to the Santa Cruz River here in the Tucson area. Unfortunately, the swimmers aren’t native (they appear to have been released by folks who no longer wanted them). There is talk about releasing native fish into the river in the future.

I have one correction, the article opens with, “The Santa Cruz River is flowing vigorously near West Ina Road and for miles to the northwest…” However, as all Sweetwater Wetlands fans know, the water in the Santa Cruz River actually starts just north of the Wetlands, fed by treated effluent from the new Agua Nueva Water Reclamation Facility (WRF). From there the river flows north and just south of Ina Road it receives more treated effluent from the upgraded Tres Ríos Water Reclamation Facility (WRF).

It is lovely to watch the flowing river – and the birds and animals that are attracted to it.

Full article:

Santa Cruz River Winding North

Posted in News

Wednesday Morning Bird Walks at Sweetwater Wetlands

The temperatures are heating up, which makes our watery locales even more popular with the natives (and by natives I mean birds and wildlife). Mornings and evenings are a great time to wander around the Wetlands.

Want to learn more about the birds hanging out at the Wetlands? Tucson Audubon Society offers a free, informative bird walk every Wednesday. From their website:

“Join Mike S. for an easy walk through the wetlands to see waterfowl, regular and visiting warblers, and several exciting species hiding in the reeds. Birders of all experience levels welcome! Contact leader for start time and to sign up,”

It is a wonderful way to spend the morning!

Posted in Events, News

Wetlands Annual Burn Scheduled for Tuesday

Sweetwater Wetlands will be closed on Tuesday for a prescribed burn. The burn is done to clear thick cattails and other growth from around the ponds which not only improves visibility for birders but also eliminates habitat for mosquito larva. They only burn one half of the Wetlands each year, leaving plenty of shrubbery for birds and other animals.

The Wetlands will reopen Wednesday morning.

Tucson Audubon is offering a free bird walk on Wednesday:

“Join Mike S. every Wednesday for an easy walk through the Sweetwater Wetlands to see waterfowl in the hundreds, regular and visiting warblers, and several exciting species hiding in the reeds. Birders of all experience levels welcome! Contact leader to sign up and get meeting time,”

Snow on the Catalinas

Posted in Events, News

Changes at the Wetlands

Tucson Audubon Society’s blog has a very informative post explaining all the changes affecting the Wetlands.

The water levels are down, the ponds at the Roger Road Treatment plant are closed, and a new visitor parking lot is under construction. But don’t fret, the Wetlands are still open for exploring and good things are ahead.

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ABC = Amazing Buffelgrass Crew

This morning I had the great fortune to dig out nasty, invasive buffelgrass with the best volunteer crew ever!

In the buffel busting world we figure that a good pull should average one bag filled with buffelgrass per volunteer hour.

Using that formula we should have ended up with about 18 bags. Our group not only shattered that average with 31 but we eliminated the last remaining section of buffelgrass at the Wetlands! Woot!

Charles, Alison, Geoff, Peggie, Lance – you are all amazing! Thank you for all your hard work!

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Santa Cruz River Cleanup

Two weekends ago several hundred volunteers spent a few hours pulling garbage out of the Santa Cruz River. They spread out south from Camino del Cerro down to Silverlake Road.

Thanks to their hard work they removed over 8 tons of trash! On the one hand it is staggering to think about that much junk in our lovely river. On the other hand, it is a relief to know that the Santa Cruz is in much better shape now!

Thanks to all those hardworking volunteers and to Jean Hickman at Tucson Clean and Beautiful.

Trash Taken from the Santa Cruz River

Posted in News

New Entrance to the Wetlands

In an exciting development there is a new entrance on the west side of Sweetwater Wetlands. The work was completed as part of the Santa Cruz River shared-use path improvements, funded through the nearby Prince Road/I-10 overpass project.

For birders the gateway provides easy access to the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, with great views into a lush, desert riparian zone. The trees in the wash are known to host many a migrating bird.

For path users, the entrance serves as an invitation to explore the Wetlands. Hopefully, these new visitors will come to know and appreciate this rare glimpse into Tucson’s watery past.

The opening is located under the protective canopy of a sizable mesquite tree and offers bike racks, a bench, and a trash can. Truly a wonderful addition to the Wetlands!

Posted in News

October Events at Sweetwater

Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation has a busy schedule of events lined up all over Southern Arizona next month. Two of them will be held at none other than our favorite spot, Sweetwater Wetlands!

Tuesday, October 15, 8am: Join naturalist Jeff Babson in exploring the amazing world of dragonflies and damselflies at Sweetwater Wetlands. All ages.

Wednesday, October 23, 8am: Join birding expert Jeff Babson to look for ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, hawks, and warblers at Sweetwater Wetlands. Ages 12 and up.

We attended an Owl Walk led by Jeff Babson a couple months ago and found it to be an interesting and engaging experience. I’m certain he’ll bring the same level of enthusiasm and expertise with him on these upcoming walks.

These events are free, open to the public, and do not require advance registration. For more information check their website or contact: 520-615-7855 or

The weather will be cooler and birds have already started their southerly migration, so what are you waiting for? Come on over to the Wetlands and explore this riparian jewel in the desert!

Posted in Events, News

Behind the Scenes at Sweetwater Wetlands

Our visit to the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival this past weekend was a brief one, but we had such a good time that next year we plan on attending both days. The main draw for us was a talk by Bruce Prior, a hydrologist with Tucson Water. He is our point person for projects at the Wetlands and his talk was enticingly titled “Behind the Scenes at Sweetwater Wetlands.” How could we resist?

Bruce started off by surveying the attendees, “Show of hands how many people have been to the Wetlands?” Surprisingly only four of us raised our hands. Bruce wasn’t shocked, he called the Wetlands Tucson’s best kept secret. If people only knew what they were missing!

The complex of recharge basins, ponds, and waterworks were built to satisfy a fine levied against Tucson Water by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Back in the mid-1990s the utility was cited for failing to meet water testing requirements and assessed a $400,000 penalty. Instead of paying the fine ADEQ approved an alternate plan allowing Tucson Water to use that money to build a public facility provided it met three requirements: created a 17.5 acre wetland habitat (similar to what once existed along the Santa Cruz River), provided educational opportunities, and filtered reclaimed water.

I’ve heard that Tucson Water spent quite a bit more than required during construction of the Wetlands. In 1997 600 shrubs and trees were planted and the Wetlands officially opened in 1998. Bruce showed photos from 1998 and then contrasted those with current shots. The transformation from bare dirt to a lush oasis was amazing.

Bruce was careful to explain that the only life forms brought in were the plants – all the wildlife came of its own accord. After all in a desert, where there’s water, there will be wildlife. Except in the case of the turtles, those are thought to have been dropped off by thoughtless pet owners.

While we love the Wetlands for the beauty of its riparian habitat and the wildlife it attracts, the Wetlands are much more than a pretty place. It also processes one of Tucson’s water sources. Bruce explained that decades ago all of Tucson’s sewage was treated and the effluent was discharged into the Santa Cruz River. As Tucson grew and our aquifer shrank officials began looking for new water sources.

The $4 billion Central Arizona Project canal was one option for potable water but closer to home officials realized that effluent could be re-used. Since that time effluent is no longer considered wastewater, it is now called reclaimed water which is used for irrigation (golf courses, parks, and even some school playgrounds).

Tucson Water owns a filtration plant that puts the finishing touches on treated effluent. That plant has a 10 million gallon/day capacity. Just across the street, the Sweetwater Wetlands complex has a 20mg/d filtration capacity. Bruce mentioned that three more recharge basins will be completed soon. That addition will increase total capacity to just under 40 mg/d. For perspective, an average 18 hole golf course uses 1.5 mg/d during the summer months. That’s a lot of water!

Bruce wrapped up his talk by sharing a couple exciting new developments at the Wetlands. There will soon be an overflow parking lot north of the entrance, a welcomed improvement as the current lot fills up quickly. Also, there is a new access point on the west side of the Wetlands. As part of the ongoing expansion of the Santa Cruz River Park Trail the path by the Wetlands has been widened and paved; and benches and a bike rack will soon be installed by that entrance. From inside the Wetlands this provides easy access to the riverbank which offers views of an entirely different habitat.

So what are you waiting for? Come on out and explore the Wetlands!

New Entrance

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