Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

March 3, 2015
Here I am again at Gilbert Water Ranch where every visit seems fresh and new!
After a day of rain, Chris, one of my house guests from Ontario, and I headed there instead of the Salt River due to it having more solid trails and less potential mud.

We arrived at 11:15 a.m., late for most birding but  it's a time waterfowl tend to stay on the water where we can still view them.  Without the full sun bearing down on the Preserve, we managed to see 45 species in a little over three hours and enjoyed the thrills and challenges as we walked the trails.

Desert Cottontails were everywhere -- hopping on the trails, resting under shrubs, or out on the dry ponds.  Much less frequent were Cotton Rats, medium brown round rodents (size of a big russet potato, per Chris) that scooted out from under shrubs, then dashed back into cover.  (I've heard some people call them Pocket Gophers but I don't think the names are interchangeable; maybe they are.)

Although we took good hard looks at 16+ Anna's Hummingbirds in search of a Costa's, no bird flashed purple in the light.  They all had the darker belly of the Anna's and flashed red every time.

Anna's Hummingbird
Same bird as above with light catching some of its red feathers

Among the flocks of Northern Shovelers on the various ponds were the long-legged waders,  American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts.  Least Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers favored the sand spits where they probed for crustaceans and snails in the mud.  

There are times when I spend hours at the Preserve and see not a single Green Heron.  Today, we saw seven (7) of them, including this one, below, in a tree which gave it a good view into the water below.  Other Green Herons were nearby and the interaction between the herons seemed to take precedence over finding food.  Spring is on its way!  The Green Heron is definitely one of our birds that reminds me of its potential pterodactyl lineage.

Green Heron
This songbird gave us surprising good looks and I thank Chris for such a good photo.  This Plumbeous Vireo was a Life Bird for her.
Plumbeous Vireo
We found three Wilson's Snipe close to some trees on an island. Their legs were very short, the bird looked chunky squat and its bill appeared to be extremely long and thick -- probably as long as its whole body. 
Photo is somewhat fuzzy, but you get the idea of what we saw.  At least there is no mistaking it for a Long-billed Dowitcher with longer legs, more slender body with a bill that is long, but not as disproportionate as the snipe bill.

Two Wilson Snipe

While the Plumbeous Vireo was a nice sighting for us, the juvenile Harris's Hawk provided our entertainment.  In past visits, I've watched it learn to hunt on its own away from its parents and today it managed to capture what appeared to be a Cotton Rat!  Upon our approach, an adult hawk most likely would have taken flight with its catch but the juvenile just lifted its head and watched us between bites.

Harris's Hawk

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