Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

February 16, 2015
Although I might drive hither and yon criss-crossing the state to see birds, I know that one of the best places in the Phoenix area is the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, just a 20-minute drive from home. 

At sunrise this morning, I met a visiting birding pal there and we got started on the east side so that the sun could be at our backs the rest of the morning.   One of the first great sights for me was the increased number of American Avocets in the small reserve pond at #7.   Some of the males were already in full breeding plumage with burnt-orange neck feathers.  This long-legged sandpiper is a bird to see!  Look at its long blue legs, bold contrasted black and white body and its needle-thin bill, slightly up-curved.

Overhead, an Osprey flew off with a breakfast fish in its talons.  Soon, we came upon a treasure of activity.  My birding companion, Ann, spotted a Belted Kingfisher perched in a mesquite tree. I hadn’t seen it during my past two visits and wondered whether it was still around. Then I spotted a female Wood Duck paddling around with some Northern Shovelers.  That’s new!  I think it’s the first Wood Duck I’ve ever seen there.

Also on this reserve pond were the Hooded Mergansers that previously foraged in a distant pond. There is more water retained here and there is a lot of overhang at the pond’s edge for good cover, so perhaps they have flown over to this one.  At any rate, instead of the previous three Hooded Mergansers at the distant pond, there were, today, five (5) Hooded Mergansers.  Two males were bathing; the females were swimming a short distance out from cover and back in.  I counted three females and two males. I was unable to get clear enough views of the three potential females to determine whether one of them might be the juvenile male that had been over on the distant pond with an adult pair.  I rather think it may be a grouping of two females, two males, and a young male whose ID markers separate it from the female.

Ann enjoyed seeing Abert’s Towhees and the many hummingbirds since neither are present where she lives.  All the hummers turned out to be Anna’s Hummingbirds and she got a kick out of watching the sun light up their red head and gorget feathers.  We found an American Kestrel perched out in the open where it could keep its eye on activity.  This well-known falcon is small, pale and well-marked.  It takes its prey (insects and small mammals) on the ground.

As we walked the wide trails, we found a Spotted Towhee high in a tree!  Spring is in the air; he may have gone high to sing.  

Spotted Towhee

One of my favorite ducks is the Green-winged Teal.

Two males; one female Green-winged Teal

In the fields filled with green growth were Great Egrets; hidden within it were many Killdeer.  Tucked into some tamarisk trees, I spotted an adult and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Juvenile, sleeping

I had enjoyed the richness of birdlife at Gilbert Water Ranch once again and was glad to share it all with Ann.

Ann Bancroft

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