Higley and Ocotillo Road Ponds, Gilbert, Maricopa County, AZ

February 21, 2015
With so many birding choices available to us in the greater Phoenix area, I decided to check out the ponds that lie on the east side of Higley Road between Queen Creek & Ocotillo Roads.  Using the SanTan Freeway (The 202 South Loop), it was, on my odometer, an exact 5-mile drive south to the ponds.  BUT, the median does not allow a left turn, so it's necessary to continue south to the traffic light at Ocotillo where a U-turn will bring you north to the ponds on the east side of the road.  [See Tommy DeBardeleben's site for super directions to many sites in Maricopa County:  http://www.birderfrommaricopa.com]

The ponds, once rather isolated, now have community developments on the north and east ends.  But it certainly doesn't seem to bother the waterfowl that fill the ponds. 
One of five of the "Higley Ponds"
Access to the ponds
Where these man-made ponds serve as the end stage of a community's water treatment plant, they are often laid out in large squares or rectangles with berms around them for high-water control.  Roads for maintenance trucks are laid out on the berms providing a good walking route for birders.  Thus, being slightly elevated above the water line gave me great spotting scope views of the many ducks and shorebirds.  

Among the hundreds of ducks on the ponds, I was looking for one or two Blue-winged Teal.  Before leaving home, I reminded myself to name each and every duck I saw and to try to see each duck in the water.  How else would I find a needle in a haystack, so to speak?   That also made it easier to count the great numbers of some species like Northern Shoveler (95 of them) because I would count them pond by pond.  I stayed focused on using the spotting scope to the point that I saw no raptors overhead but heard flocks of ducks lifting off from one pond or another from time to time.  Here, all the ponds are not visible simultaneously like they were at Glendale Recharge ponds yesterday.  

By the time I birded the first two ponds beyond the parking area and rounded the road to the north, I immediately noticed how open the two large ponds to the east looked.  Since my last visit in September 2014, many invasive plants and trees (tamarisk or salt cedar) had been removed.  In the past it was difficult to find an opening from which to bird the two eastern ponds, but not today.  They were wide open and I was able to bird them both from one viewpoint at the north end of the canal.

Northern Pintails preening on the southeast pond
No matter how often I look at ducks, I can still be puzzled by how they present themselves.  A Northern Shoveler with its head tucked under its wing for a wee nap, shows all white breast with some black on top.  Oh, so you're a Shoveler, okay, and the counting goes on.  Northern Pintail have excellent lines and I enjoyed viewing them - all 55 of them.  I counted 30 Gadwall and 11 American Wigeon.  It was when I was looking at my favorite little Green-winged Teal and a few Cinnamon Teal that I came upon the duck I couldn't place. AH HA!
I looked long and hard at this bird because it was not exactly what I had in mind; I wanted the male Blue-winged Teal but what I found was the female.  Not being anywhere near expert in my identifications, I had studied last evening  and knew what to look for.  And, as I looked through the scope, the primary marks were there: the dark eyeline from bill to nape, its white eye arcs and the partial white crescent at the base of its bill.  Yowzer!  I managed to find the "needle".   This wasn't a Life Bird; I had seen and photographed Blue-winged Teal in past years and since today's bird was too far out to even consider a picture, I've posted this one from Gilbert Water Ranch two years ago.

Female Blue-winged Teal

As I was leaving the area on the roadway shown above, a man in a white truck who had driven into the property soon after I had parked, drove out with his two unleashed dogs running behind his slow-moving truck.  They were on a parallel road separated from me by a canal.  It was obvious the Australian cattle dog or blue heeler was interested in knowing what I was doing so it raced forward to a bridge across the canal and ran toward me.  Its owner kept calling it back (the other dog obeyed); I kept my eye on the one running hell bent toward me but just stood my ground and stared at it without saying a word.  As it got closer, it decided it didn't want to take me on after all. The dog slowed down, then stopped within about four feet of me, gave me one last look, and ran back to the truck and jumped in.  Good riddance.   But I'm still wondering what vibe I was giving off that turned the dog around!

Each day is different in the field!

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