Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, Arizona

Saturday, March 5
Under the waning crescent moon in a vanishing dark sky, I arrived at Gilbert Water Ranch to the sound of howling coyotes and crowing roosters. House Sparrows were awake and singing but starlings remained quiet in their saguaro cavity nests.  
Ducks are a sure sighting at an early hour so a look into the ponds delivered some exciting birds. At the far end of Pond 7, many handsome spring-plumaged American Avocets were foraging together -- too dark and distant for photos at this hour, though. A handful of Canada Geese, a number of Black-necked Stilts and gobs of Northern Shovelers shared that end of the pond with them.

Farther along on the mud flats of Pond 1, a flock of Least Sandpipers flew in.

Least Sandpipers

Walking the trail between ponds, I spotted a distant Green Heron facing me from Pond 7.

Along the trail, White-crowned Sparrows began to emerge.

Other birds that came into view as I strolled a few paths:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (above and below)

Southwestern subspecies of Song Sparrow checking out a small stream (above and below)
Song Sparrow checking me out as I also scoured the stream

Brown-headed Cowbird
As more visitors began arriving, I knew it was time to check out the birds on Pond 7 once more now that the sun was warming everything.  It was delightful. Black-necked Stilts are the first series below with the top one being so close I couldn't catch its reflection!

Black-necked Stilt

Note the pink legs

The wintering population of avocets could be counted on one hand. Not today! The striking breeding-plumaged birds had discovered the water ranch! 

Distant flock of American Avocets

The following photo is also distant and not very good, but is included to show the very angled up-tilt to the end of its bill...indicating it is a female. The bill on the male is also up-curved but not so dramatically.
Female American Avocet
Male American Avocet

When I reached the parking lot, I realized that the natural sounds that prevailed on my arrival had been replaced with that of a weed whacker and lawn mower in a nearby housing development. The sounds of groups of children arriving with a few adults to lead them on walks or projects within the park were great -- just not conducive to continued birding. During my two-hour walk, covering less than half the ponds, I met and talked with other birders and photographers and managed to spot 43 species of birds.

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