The name may be a bit misleading, but the adjective sweet certainly applies to the birding opportunities at these water-reclamation ponds. The riparian habitat is important for wildlife in the absence of the cottonwood gallery forest that used to exist along the nearby Santa Cruz River. As such, it is a green jewel in an otherwise arid environment.
My favorite time to visit is in the evening just before the sun goes down, when activity peaks again after the warmth of the day. In winter, White-crowned Sparrows and Green-tailed Towhees join the resident Abert’s Towhees to scratch for food on the paths. The bulrush-filled ponds attract large flocks of noisy Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which in turn attract the attention of sharp-eyed Cooper’s Hawks. Harris’s Hawks are often vocal while settling in for the night in nearby eucalyptus trees. The lower settling basins often vary in the amount of water they hold, so checking each one assures a great mix of shorebirds and waterfowl.
In my experience, no other locale in urban Tucson is as pleasant or as surprising to bird as Sweetwater. — Matthew Brooks
Matthew Brooks is the education outreach specialist for the Tucson Audubon Society. He also wrote about Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 34, Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, Juneau, Alaska, No. 41, and Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, Las Cruces, New Mexico, No. 103.