As an osprey emerges from a pond and flicks water off its feathers, Thomas Hedwell points to the gold color sticking from its talons.
“Do you see the goldfish?” Hedwall said, looking through his binoculars.
The osprey, with its unlucky prey in its grasp, flies over deep and shallow ponds, islands and meadows toward its nest in the pines on the rim of the Kachina Wetlands.
The osprey is just one of the over 233 bird species that have been found at the Kachina Wetlands, according to eBird, a website managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where anyone can submit bird spottings in locations around the world. The wetlands has the most bird species logged in Coconino, even more than larger and more frequented bodies of water like Lake Mary and Mormon Lake.
Hedwall, who is a beekeeper as a day job, has logged the most birds at the Kachina Wetlands on eBird, contributing over 164 different species to the website. He says he uses eBird on his smartphone to log sightings, get notification when rare birds appear and stay connected to the community.
Birds like the lesser goldfinch, brewer’s blackbird, violet-green swallow and Canadian goose are some of the most commonly sighted birds at the wetlands, according to eBird statistics. Hedwall explained that the combination of forests, shallow and deeper ponds, meadows, islands and flowers made the location ideal for birds, fish and insects.
“It’s a huge variety of habitats in such a small area,” Hedwall said.
Hedwall gives tours for the Northern Arizona Audubon Society, which has declared the wetlands a birding hotspot. He says that his field guide book, with a bent edge that fits in his pocket, is essential to help him use plumage, colors, talons, beaks and other distinguishing features to identify bird species.
Hedwall calls the search for new or unusual birds a “treasure hunt,” one that he has been doing with his family and friends for the majority of his life.
“You can go with people who are really good or people who are just brand new and everybody enjoys it still,” Hedwall said.
The wetland is owned by the Kachina Village Improvement District. Sam Mossman, manager of the district, explained that the land is used as evaporation ponds for treated sewage water.
He added that even though he is not a birder, he appreciates the stories he hears about wildlife at the wetlands and has been attempting to evaluate their water usage to see if they can create more opportunities for habitat.
“The wetlands is just a really great place for Kachina Village residents,” Mossman said. “A lot of people go out there and walk their dogs and ride their bikes. It connects to the county trail system to go up to Fort Tuthill. It’s important to me to maintain that area.”
The Northern Audubon Society, Jay’s Bird Barn and Rocky Mountain Research Station are celebrating Migratory Bird Day at the wetlands on Saturday, May 18 from 8 a.m. to noon. The celebration will host two bird walks, spotting scopes for viewing birds, games for children and information about birds.
Many attempts to improve the wetlands through grants are close to completion. Mossman said about half of the interpretive signs paid for by the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund have been set up.
Mossman also confirmed that their floating boardwalk, which they hope to set up in a pond to assist with viewing wildlife, has been delivered. He hopes they will have it set up by the end of July.
Another project the district had worked on was a pollinator garden. The garden has been seeded, and now they’re just waiting to see if the seeds will sprout with the growing season. Mossman said the garden was partially initiated by the U.S. Forest Service as a way to attract more bees and monarch butterflies.
The Kachina Wetlands is located south of Flagstaff down Interstate 17, in the Kachina Village community near Forest Highlands and surrounding neighborhoods adjacent to Tovar Trail.