A Glimpse of Two Families at Sweetwater

By Dan Weisz

Last week at Sweetwater, I caught brief glimpses of the lives of two very different families at Sweetwater Wetlands. Both of these families can be seen in the Foothills as well. Gila Woodpeckers are the most prominent woodpeckers around. We see them, hear them calling, and hear them banging on the sides of our houses early in the mornings. Gila Woodpeckers are primarily present in the United States in southern Arizona only. The second family here is a raccoon family. I’ve had them in my backyard and know they are present, although rare, throughout the Foothills

In one Saguaro near the entrance to the wetlands, Gila Woodpeckers were busy feeding young in their nest. In the photo below, the male Gila Woodpecker is about to leave the nest cavity while the female waits outside, ready to deliver a moth to her young.

The male didn’t always commit to going completely into the nest hole. Often he would hold on to the entrance, with his tail feathers sticking out while he delivered food.

Here the male is bringing a dragonfly to the young. Most of the holes seen in saguaro cactus were created by Gila Woodpeckers. They will drill a hole in the side of the cactus and then excavate a cavity downward between the skin and the ribs of the cactus. It takes several months for the cactus to heal that wound, creating a tough ‘scab’ that then allows for the Gila Woodpecker (and other birds) to use the cavity easily.

This feeding is done and the male is heading out for more foraging.

As we were walking along the southern path at Sweetwater, we suddenly saw young two raccoons running around the flattened reeds, playing some kind of chase game. One stopped upon noticing us.

The second was so busy running away from his sibling, that he didn’t see us until he ran through the reeds and onto the path. He stopped abruptly to assess his choices!

He took another cautious step with his right foot.

Planting that foot, he turned to survey the size of the group.

He leaned into that step, still thinking…

…then hightailed it back into the reeds.

And he disappeared, joining his sibling deep in the reeds.

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