Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

Wednesday, January 27th:
Arriving earlier than our specified meeting time, I was able to watch the Canada Geese lift off at first light from the various basins of the Water Ranch in flocks of 12-20 birds each.  Flying that way, I counted 130 of them before adding the few that stayed behind for a total of 138 today.

We started birding on the east trail when Lois Lorenz and Julie Clark arrived promptly at 7:30 a.m. The Verdin’s spring song was music to my ears; it had been absent all winter. That “spring” was in the air became apparent with most species pairing up and/or chasing one another through the trees. A House Sparrow gave us pause as it mated in what I would describe as “mallard” style - holding its mate down driving her beak into the ground. It definitely lacked the flair of most mating song birds where the female selects its mate, then stands ready for the male to alight.

The Water Ranch was super awesome with birds today. Even though we spotted 64 different species in four hours, there were many birds we didn’t see or identify. But what a joy to find the ones we did!

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron tucked into a flowering tamarisk; rising sunlight

In the shadows of brush cover beside the trail, Julie spotted the Spotted Towhee

With six ponds (or basins to hold treated wastewater), birds seemed to be everywhere. Not only did we see the young Black-crowned Night Heron above, there were ten (10) adults tucked into trees along each pond.

Mature Black-crowned Night Heron -- one of ten seen today at various ponds

One of my favorite shorebirds is the American Avocet, a long-legged sandpiper, mostly white with wide black stripes and a neck and head that turn from winter gray to cinnamon breeding plumage in springtime.

American Avocets in basic (winter) plumage. Females have sharper turned up bill than males.                 
Either a juvenile or male getting its breeding plumage
Great Egret showing breeding plumage feathers
Hooded Merganser
 At the Water Ranch, we've learned to look not only at the ponds and in the trees but up in the sky and tall utility poles for raptors. Today, Lois found this juvenile Peregrine Falcon waay up high. The stripes on its underparts rather than horizontal bars indicates its youth; a mature Peregrine will show horizontal bands.

Dark mustache helps ID this fast and powerful bird.
Same Peregrine preening with stripes more delineated
In one of the dry basins (some basins have some water; some dry grasses or mudflats), we saw three species of egrets: Great, Snowy and Cattle. While the Great Egret is usually seen closer to water, this one is hunting for small voles or rats in the dried up portion of this basin.

Note the elongated neck, dark legs (with mud on) and long yellow bill
The Cattle Egret is the smallest of the three species, just slightly smaller than the Snowy that has a black bill.
Cattle Egret: note thick neck; steeper forehead, shorter yellow bill and lighter legs than Great Egret (above)
[Rather poor photo as it was very far out in the field but I liked the contrast of the two out there]
Male Belted Kingfisher working Pond #5

The best sighting for me today was the male Northern Harrier (raptor) that flew into the dry part of one of the basins where it spread out its wings.  That fascinated me until I realized it was probably a hunting technique because it leaped up into the air and down on its prey.
After eating, it perched in normal posture and stayed there for some time.

Northern Harrier with wings outstretched
Northern Harrier pouncing
Northern Harrier with one morsel eaten

To have such an exquisite birding habitat within a twenty-minute drive is precious. I go there often and sometimes, like today, I blog about it.

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  1. That's a great place to go birding. I need to find the purple finch :-)

  2. It's usually on the 3/4 trail but we didn't find it (or the B&W Warbler) there today. The PUFI poked out from some shrubs along the trail at the SE dry end of Pond 5. After having seen HOFIs several times, this one stood out with its differences.