Friday, March 9, 2012

Good Birding at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ

The welcome sign on the gates of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Look - there are birds on the sign! Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
For all the times I have visited the Phoenix, AZ area in the past 10 years, and especially since I've become more interested in bird photography in the last 2-3 years, I can't explain why I have not heard of this wonderful bird paradise before this past winter. My girlfriend and I were at her Step-Father's new digs, and one day we were discussing what to do with our time, when she picked up a 'things to do in the Phoenix area" brochure. She started listing all the placed we have already visited during our almost annual winter visit, when she said, "Hey, Jon, have you ever heard of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a preserve for wildlife in particular, birds. It's just in Gilbert (which we had spent some time there with friends just two days before)."
Birds? My interest was peaked... birds?... what better place could there be than a place with birds?
Val's Step-Father chimed in,
"I've been there. It's not very interesting. It had a few ponds and was bored after a half hour."
Birds? (I thought)... how can anyone be bored when there are birds!
"Let's Go!" There needn't be much arm twisting here. We only had a few hours before we had to be somewhere, but Gilbert was not a long drive away. it is basically a suburb of Phoenix.
What could be better than a place that has a silhouette of a Great Blue Heron on its entrance gates? Even though it's missing a foot, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
So we went. Val's Step-Dad was not interested. He thinks I am a kook, anyway - the way I "obsess" (his words) about birds... I do not apologize. Yes I like the challenge of bird photography - and the challenge of trying to add to my Life List of seeing as many different species as I can. However, I do not drop everything at the drop of a hat ("bird fallout"?) to chase a bird. Unless I am already there. I may plan a trip to someplace interesting that may happen have a reputation for having bird species that do not generally appear where I live (Northern Illinois) such as my trip to Massachusetts last October (but Val had relatives who lived there that she doesn't get to see very often, so even though the trip was primarily made for me to see if I could see some East Coast birds, but it also served a dual purpose - visiting relatives). I am not in the league of the lead characters from the recent movie, THE BIG YEAR.  They were slightly obsessed - running up inordinate amount of travel expenses for one reason only - to see a bird. I am not that obsessed ...................... yet.
Egrets, Cormorants, Shovelers, Teals, Coots, Stilts, Grebes, Mallards and Sandpipers all in one pond. A typical scene at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Okay... back to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. This place s amazing. It is a 110 acre Preserve smack dab within the city of Gilbert, a Phoenix suburb.  Once you enter its gates and venture into the gardens and trails that meander around seven good-sized ponds, you'd never guess you were in the midst of one of the country's busiest metropolises. Over half of the 110 acres are seven ponds that has attacted over 150 species of birds looking for water and sustenance in the middle of the Southwestern desert. Below is a link that describes how the water basins are filled with reclaimed water. It is a fascinating story that has come about from the vision of people who were interested in creating an oasis for vegetation, insects, reptiles, birds, amphibians, mammals, and did I mention ... birds?
Also a link to its home page:

A flurry of American Coots, Green-winged Teals, and Northern Pintails being flushed from the side of a pond, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Upon entering and crossing a floating bridge over the lake, I immediately saw seven different types of Ducks in the water and counted a half dozen different land birds in the brush along the shoreline. By the time I reached the first pond, I easily counted another dozen different species. Val and I spent about two hours at this Preserve and didn't even cover half of the acreage. We needed to go to get ready for an upcoming commitment and we had her Step-Father's car. In short, I didn't want to leave. I loved this place. It was literally and oasis in the desert filled with birds - water fowl, shore birds, land birds, raptors, etc... I told Val that she could leave, get ready, help her Step-Dad with errands, and then come back in a couple of hours to pick me up ... No deal. I knew we had to leave. I was like a little kid in a toy store when it was time to go. I tried my best persuasions. I used my best logic. I used my power of reason. I appealed to her emotions. I appealed to her altruistic character (being a Theatre, Speech and English Major in College had its benefits). I pled. I threw a tantrum (No, I really didn't throw a tantrum).  But, Val ... she stood steadfast and we left. I vowed that "I shall return!" and I waved goodbye to Paradise in Arizona.
Gila Woodpecker, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
On the plus side, in our short two-hour visit, I tallied 40 different species, such as the Gila Woodpecker (Above) and the Inca Dove (Below):
Inca Dove, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
The following is a list of the 40 bird species from my 12/24/2011 visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch:
LAND BIRDS: Common Ravens, European Starlings, Great-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbird (female only), White-crowned Sparrows, House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, House Finches, Verdins, Lesser Goldfinches, Rock Doves, Mourning Doves, Inca Doves, Black Phoebe, Says Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Gila Woodpecker, and lots of Anna's Hummingbirds.
WATER & SHORE BIRDS: Ring-necked Ducks, Amer. Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Killdeers, Long-billed Dowitchers (*), Least Sandpipers (*), Black-necked Stilts, 3 types of Egrets (Snowy, Great & Cattle), Black-crowned Night Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, and three White domestic looking geese (probably White Chinese Geese).
(*): represents birds I added to my Life List.
Female House Finch, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Two days later, the day after Christmas, I was able to return and spend a couple more hours here. I was able to get to all seven water basins. Some were just mud flats, others were deep ponds and others were shallow marshes. In addition to the water habitat there was open grassland, hedgerows, small stands of trees, and flower gardens to attract a multiple of species of birds. On my second trip, I saw mostly the same birds as listed above but also added 6 more species (for a total of 46 species in 2 hours) and two more to add to my Life List:
12/26/11 BIRDS: Neotropic Cormorants, American Avocets(*), Yellow-rumped Audubon's Warbler, Vermillion Flycatcher (*), Cinnamon Teals, and Great Blue Herons.

More photos below:
Killdeer, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Mallard Duck, with the right light to show its irridescent purple  head instead of its usual green head, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Great-tailed Grackle, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Verdin, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Curiously with the hundreds (if not thousands) of birds at this Riparian habitat, there were no Canada Geese nor American Robins. This weekend and the next several weekends, I will feature more bird photography from this most excellent place. If you like birds and you find yourself near the Phoenix area, this is a must visit. One final photo below of some non-bird residents:
Turtles, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.

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