One of Arizona's many birding Disneylands is within about a half hour of the Phoenix airport. It is officially called "Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch" by the Gilbert Riparian Institute, but now known worldwide by birders as "Gilbert Water Ranch". This series of seven shallow ponds which are cyclically raised, lowered, and sometimes emptied create an oasis of mud flats for shorebirds and waterfowl. The nature trails winding their way around the 110 acres make for easy bird viewing. The southwestern native trees, shrubs, and plants surrounding the ponds make for excellent habitat for a whole host of other birds. The Water Ranch boasts approximately 270 species (per eBird submissions), 200 of which are seen regularly through the year. Rarities seem to be common here.
I got my start in birding in when I lived in Mesa, Arizona and visited the Gilbert Water Ranch about a dozen times. The first "bird walk" I ever attended in a group setting was there. I wish I could remember the lady's name that led the group...she was a great mentor and very encouraging. I owe 36 of my life birds to the Gilbert Water Ranch including the Streak-backed Oriole in November 2006 and most recently a Ruddy Ground-dove.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" - a statement that I realized is so true when I was able to briefly visit the Water Ranch last week after coming to Phoenix for a business trip. When I was a beginning birder, I didn't recognize the treasure trove that I lived so near. Now with several more years of birding experience under my belt, I walked around the Water Ranch like a smiling kid who just met Mickey Mouse.
|Pond scene with mud flat|
|American Avocet and other waterfowl|
|Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintails, Green Heron, and more!|