Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gilbert Water Ranch Diaries

We had heard a rumor.  One that would prove true.  Kathie and I met at a super early hour to find birds up in the Gilbert area.  We drove into the parking lot and my lifebird count started to rise leaps and bounds.
European Starling
As I write this today, I am laughing to myself.  Kathie and I have been on a million trips since this post.  On Sunday, we were on an epic journey together and started talking about our blogs and how far behind we are on writing.  She asked me, "Did you get to the Gilbert Ranch yet?"  I smiled and panicked at the same time.  "NO!"  We both have so many photos to process.  But life has been super busy and everything took a backseat.
Well anyhow, we entered the park and saw all the usual suspects of Arizona...Verdin, Starlings, Blackbirds, Egrets, Herons, Thrashers, Quail, etc etc etc......but we were there for the "Peep" show.  A little bird told us that we could see them up close and personal.  And boy did we ever!  A special post is coming on those tiny little birds.
But we were able to get so many birds in our first hours at this Gilbert Preserve.  I'm not a Phoenix fan but it was cool enough for us to be there on this day.    Phoenix is essentially one big concrete island in the middle of the desert full of crazy people who drive into your house while you're sleeping.  I'm not even joking.  The most random crime events happen there.  It's super hot all year round.  Full of cars and traffic.  Nature isn't far away but it's a drive.  Gilbert is essentially one big suburb of cookie cutter homes.  Our GPS tracker led us straight into this preserve and I think my jaw dropped to the ground.  What an amazing surprise!
Northern Mockingbird
There were birders present during the beginning hours.  Although I did count one homeless person who asked us to ID a Starling. Now that could have been legit but it felt like he was going to ask us for something more.   Something wasn't right with that one and we left with grace.  Now don't get me wrong, I was polite but in Phoenix, you never know if someone is going to pull a knife on you....so it's best to avoid those random elements whenever possible.
Snowy Egret
We both lost ourselves in the first hour with lots of "oh my gosh Kathie, LOOK!"  "Chris!  Get over here!"  Talk about being kids in a toy store. She's writing.  I'm taking pictures. Birds are flying everywhere. Complete and utter chaos. "What's the number on that Kathie?  How many Pintails would say?" And it went on and on like that......but we also stopped counting to just stare in awe at the amazing array of birds that we normally don't get to see up close.
Northern Pintail Ducks
Now if you're in Tucson, you need a spotting scope to see many of these birds.....especially in the Sweetwater Recharge ponds.  But at Gilbert, you could practically touch these birds.  That's how close they were.
Long-billed Dowitcher
And DOVES!!!  Phoenix and surrounding suburbish cities are full of them.  While Tucson has most of the same doves, most of them moved up to Phoenix and Casa Grande.  It would be here in Gilbert that I would spot my first Incan and Eurasian doves.
Eurasian Dove
I'd be watching a Killdeer or Sandpiper only to find hundreds of birds all shooting up into the air because a Northern Harrier was flying our way!  No way.  Camera!  Focus Chris!  Get your lens on him!  Focus FOCUS!  You're going to lose the bird!
Northern Harrier
Birding with myself is terrible sometimes.  I am a perfectionist when it comes to getting the shot and if I don't get it, I'm pretty hard on myself. Yes, birding is fun but it's full of challenges that push you to your limits in so many ways.
Meanwhile, a new Dragonfly comes my way and I think of Jeanne and her love of all things "wings" and snap the shot.  Pretty lifer!  While doing this photo shoot.......something more epic happens.
Variegated Meadowhawk
An Osprey flies over my head and I nearly crap my pants.  "Kathie!  Kathie!  Oh my....!"  It was the one bird I was hoping to see.  I mean REALLY hoping to see.  "Chris be careful....!"  I run off with my camera. A little kid with a little bell, "Dah Ding Dah Ding" comes out of nowhere and I almost get run over.  WTH!  When did runners, bikers and horse back riders join the birders on the trails???!!!  
I snap back to reality and train my eyes and observation onto this incredibly beautiful bird.  Kathie is so supportive and understood my thrill.  At that point, I stopped counting birds and just stood watching the Osprey for a long time.
Meanwhile, a Great Egret passes by the Osprey to check out his catch:)  In fact a lot of birds found the Osprey's find interesting:)

Just check out the wingspan below!  When it flew over our heads, I felt the presence of a dragon.  The shadow was big....and so were the talons as it looked at us below:)  I really respect Kathie and value her thoughts on birds.  We remind each other of etiquette and keeping our distance as to not bother the birds.  I'll be writing about a very controversial topic in a couple weeks while on the tail of a super rare bird on the trail.  Birding etiquette is always first on our minds.
Osprey in flight!
And just as incredible as the Osprey was to me, this Incan Dove below made my day.  I have been really bothered this year by their disappearance from Pima County.  They are rare to find in Tucson.  I've been searching for them the entire year.  Once numbering in the thousands around Tucson, these birds now are somewhere in the hundreds.  While Tucson has seen a major decrease in their populations, the Phoenix area has seen a rise in their numbers  What gives?  Over the next two days, we'll be exploring more from Gilbert Ranch.
Inca Dove
I'd like to thank Laurence from Butlers Birds and Things for putting the idea into our heads.  We want to bird with you Laurence.  Imagine the epic birder team we'll make together.  We'd become a force unlike any other.  All birders would fear us.  50 birds in a day?  How about 200?!  Okay maybe I have an active imagination:)  But I can't wait to meet you maestro.  More tomorrow....


  1. Bonitas imágenes!!!.. Muchas aves me recuerdan mucho a las de aquí.. Muy similares o iguales como el águila pescadora o el Estornino pinto.. Un cordial saludo..

  2. Sounds like a great outing, Chris! A neat place to see lots of birds too. Love the Osprey shots and the Verdin is one of my favorites and one of my must see birds. It is cool you are able to see so many life birds with Kathie, she is a great birder. Wonderful photos, have a great day!

  3. Wonderful post Chris and some lovely photos. I just love the way you write conveying all your excitement and making the reader feel they are there with you :)

    Love the way you caught the iridescent plumage of the starling and great Osprey shots - they are such magnificent birds :)

  4. Great report from what sounds like a fabulous place, Chris! Thanks for sharing

  5. What a wonderful outing for you and Kathie. The photos are great!

  6. Hey Chris you're a champ! Thanks for the shout-out. I'm glad the GWR was good to y'all.
    You're right about Phoenix being a giant weird concrete jungle, but, as you mention, there are also a lot of good birding preserves scattered throughout.

    I'm looking forward to birding with you and Kathie too. The Thanksgiving break was very busy, too busy in fact for me to get any birding in at all (what gives!?) but hopefully over winter break we can check out the San Rafael Grasslands or Whitewater Draw--a return trip to southeast AZ is long overdue for me.

    Your Osprey shots are very cool. I've been to the GWR many many times and see the Osprey there frequently, but never actually with prey.

    Til' we meet in the field...

  7. wonderful images..the rabbit is my favorit..

  8. You birders have so much fun. That osprey is totally awesome! Can't wait to come join you.

  9. Wow---you two hit the jackpot... I'd love to have a video of you and Kathie searching out birds.... You are like two kids in a candy store... ha ha


  10. it's nice that you can...AND DO...track down the little oasis-es, preserves, wildlife areas amidst your concrete jungle!! it's great to see all the different critters you encounter.
    AND now you have another 'birder' you can travel with. FOUR eyes are better than two, when it comes to spotting the wildlife!! love the rabbit...the starling is beautiful, as is the dove...but the Osprey in flight is amazing!!

  11. i'd love to see an osprey! i've had the pleasure of a couple of inca doves at run*a*round. certainly not plentiful here, but so beautiful.

  12. Your osprey shot and well...all of these are wonderful!!!! What a thrilling post! I loved the story of it as well as the photos. I'm intrigued about the Inca dove too, now that you have told me about his decreasing numbers here. I will start keeping an eye out for him...and maybe we can learn why he has moved north of us to (horrible!) Phoenix.

  13. I am so glad you liked teh riparian preserve! It was my favorite place while living in Chandler. And you haven't seen everything yet... are the burrowing owls back? I just read aloud your description of Phoenix and Gilbert to my half! We laughed so much...
    Glad to see and read more in the next days.

  14. What an epic experience you two birders had. Awesome captures here, Chris.

  15. Chciałbym się znaleźć w taki miejscu, gdzie fruwa tyle wspaniałych i różnych ptaków. Dziękuję za kolejną pokazaną ich dużą ilość. Pozdrawiam.
    I would like to find in such a place where flies and so many great variety of birds. Thank you for another shown their large number. Yours.

  16. As a resident of Phoenix since 1994 and a frequent visitor to the Gilbert Water Ranch since it opened in late 1999 I take exception to your wildly exaggerated views on the safety of the Phoenix metro area compared to Tucson. In the hundreds of times I have been there I've met plenty of birders, photographers, joggers, walkers, family groups, cyclists, dog walkers, and people on horseback, but never a homeless person that I was aware of. The only time I have ever felt uneasy over safety was when I asked a guy to please keep his large dog on a leash and he went into a rank about how he fought in Iraq to make sure he had the freedom to let his dog run free at the Ranch.

    Yes, Phoenix can be a scary place. After all it is full of Republicans. But note that Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson, not Phoenix or Gilbert. And according to CityRating.com (http://www.cityrating.com/crime-statistics/arizona/tucson.html#.ULUhi46lfyU) the violent crime rate in Tucson was over 54% greater than for all of AZ and nationally. The violent crime rate for Phoenix was only 26% greater than for AZ as a whole and nationally. Gilbert had a crime rate significantly lower than either Phoenix, or Tucson, or AZ or nationally.

    The Water Ranch is a great place to see and photograph birds. I've personally seen 215 species there (out of the 270 or so confirmed). Most of the posts I make to my blog, as well as most of the images on my web site (richditch.com), come from the Gilbert Water Ranch.

    So please, come back again but leave the negative attitude in Tucson where it really is dangerous.

    1. I appreciate your point of view and I thank you for sharing it. Arizona in general is a little rougher than most places in the US. Birders coming to our area from other states like say Wisconsin are not familiar with border security issues. You are right. Tucson is not better than Phoenix when it comes to crime, but in Arizona, it's always good to lock your doors and keep an eye open for suspicious behavior.....Tucson and Phoenix alike:) But I do like Tucson:)

  17. A pleasure to read Chris, your enthusiasm is very entertaining and your images inspiring.

  18. Awesome Day! It was great to follow you along via this post! I could feel your excitement! Jeff and I look forward to birding with you and Kathie this winter!

  19. OMG I can hear your excitement in this post. I'm surprised you didn't take wing yourself.
    Wonderful pictures, wings and all. Thanks for the mention.

  20. You and Kathie sure make a great team! That's great that you were able to see so many birds close up. Nice shot of the Osprey. I love watching them fish. Hope you are having a great week!

  21. You lost me at "super early", but reeled me back in with "crapped my pants". :-) ~tracy

  22. The descriptions and photos of the birds are wonderful. The description of the city and crowds of people is amazing too but not what I would like to experience :-( I like the country and open spaces too much.

  23. This is truly a wonderful series of shots from your day!
    I not only enjoyed the images but I got caught up in the excitement as well wondering what was coming next. :)
    The starling and the reflection shots are some of my favorites.
    Lovely WBW post!

  24. Always wonderful to see your photos of those marvelous birds! Anyway, I've nominated you for a Beautiful Bloggers and linked to your blog.


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