Lost Dutchman SP, Gilbert Water Ranch and two Maricopa County ponds

Friday, January 16, 2015

On Wednesday of this week, I led my monthly Bird Walk at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction.   The cold weather and muddy trails didn't deter the 32 people (snowbirds) who showed up to discover some of our desert birds.  By starting at 9 a.m., the birds were just coming out to enjoy the sun as it rose over the peak of the Superstition Mountains.  The first bird we heard, the Cactus Wren, was sitting on top of a Saguaro; it would not be the only one we heard and saw. Very quickly we flushed a Northern Flicker from the ground slightly ahead of our trail.  It hid within or behind a big thick clump of mistletoe on some low branches and it wasn't until it flew off that we got a good view of it.  The majority of the birders, new to the desert species, got excited about the Phainopepla and how, after it flew off, it returned to the same spot.  Being in the flycatcher family, that's one of its characteristics: sits out on an open limb to see, then takes off for insects and returns, often to the exact same limb.  Such behavior is made for beginners' enjoyment.  By the time we finished the walk, the "newbies" were calling their sightings of it, both male and female, and they had even picked up on its light little "peeyup" voice.


I was eager to go out birding again this morning.  Fortunately, I live within twenty minutes' drive of the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch with its abundance of wintering waterfowl.  Getting started there at dawn (7:30 a.m.) gave me some interesting looks at the Northern Shovelers in morning mist - mist, being a rarity here.

Northern Shovelers
Northern Pintail

Along the trail, I heard a familiar sound so stood still waiting for the bird I heard scratching under a bush.  Will it come out if I stay put?  Yes!  A Spotted Towhee!  It always reminds me of the Rufous-sided Towhee in my yard in Virginia, that is now called the Eastern Towhee to reflect the split of the Rufous-sided into the two different species.

Spotted Towhee
The morning light changed the appearance of this Green Heron tremendously.  I did a double take, but even with its dazzling "blue" feathers, it was a Green Heron.

Green Heron
Watching over all the action at the six ponds I birded today was this Osprey.


Although I was looking to find some specific birds that others had seen there in the past few days, I didn't find their birds but I did locate six Black-crowned Night Herons, a Cattle Egret,
numerous Black-necked Stilts, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and enough other birds to tally 48 species in about three hours.

I decided, then, to check out two other ponds to see what I might find there.  I'm not really fond of birding at Gilbert and Chandler Heights pond because it is completely surrounded by chain-link fence and block wall.  The binoculars seem to ignore the fence and give good views of the waterfowl but the camera doesn't work there at all, for me.  But the pond provides habitat to abundant numbers of species that don't normally visit Gilbert's ponds.   Before I reached the fenced area, I took photos from the shopping center parking lot (where I leave the car)  of a Neotropic Cormorant roost in eight cottonwood trees along the southeast end of the pond.
Neotropic Cormorant Rookery

What I didn't find at that pond was Canada Geese, so I drove another long block to check out the Pond at Gilbert & Riggs Roads.  They were there, along with some Lesser Canada Geese but I could not specifically pick out a Cackling Goose.  There was also a large raft of female Common Mergansers (50-70) way out on the pond - too far for a photo.  But what a sight!

That brings me back to my sighting of the day: - this cat.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty . . .
After walking to the end of the Gilbert Road fence around the Chandler Heights pond, I entered the empty lot on the north side of the pond that is also fenced.  I walked slowly to the back of the dirt lot to see if I could find a good opening through which I could get a better view of the pond.  That's when I came upon a large cat that immediately started walking slowly away from me.  At first glance I thought it was a well-fed feral cat. I clicked my tongue to see if I could get its attention.  It gave me the same once over I was giving it.  Eventually, it slipped under the fence and ended up where I wanted to be - closer to the pond!   Big cat! 

No Bobcat Ears but interesting markings . . .

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