Monday, December 17, 2012

Except this Ranch is actually good for you!

It's as old and established as love and war. The Gilbert Water Ranch is one of the birding foundations in central Arizona. It pulls in rarities every year, most recently a Rufous-backed Robin, Winter Wren, and Chestnut-sided Warbler, and it maintains a good 50-70 species on site throughout the year, meaning that at any point one can go there expecting to see lots and lots of birds.
Now, apart from the rarities is pulls in from time to time--and with Streak-backed Oriole and Groove-billed Ani, it's had some good ones--the birding is not overly unique. The habitats that the Water Ranch provides are pretty ubiquitous to the numerous wetlands and water treatment areas around Maricopa County, and most of what one sees at the GWR can be seen elsewhere. But the lack of specialization is not a problem, because the Ranch still brings you up close and personal to so many species, affording more and better looks of more birds, and photo ops too, than perhaps anywhere else in Maricopa.

This aspiring ballerina was actually photographed at a park near the GWR. I wonder if it noticed that it stepped in Goose poo..?

Dowitchers come by the hundred of millions (just hundreds actually) and practice their symmetrical feeding at the GWR each winter. They say that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with computers and give them infinite time, eventually they'll compose a Shakespeare work. I dunno about the monkeys, but put some Dowitchers in front of some typewriters and they'd get it done, due in large part to their methodical type-writer feeding habits and their richly cultivated inner lives.

These birds stare at their reflections all day, inlaid to a background of mud. You know they've got to have some seriously deep and contemplative insights to share with the world.

This Green Heron looks like he just had an epiphany, and also like he is wearing period-appropriate Shakespeare style bloomers and tights. Well coordinated good heron, lookin' sharp...

This Mockingbird also looks inspired, or at least like he's trying to get inspired. Usually they have such upright, Thrush-like posture. I've never seen them sit on their haunches like this except when they're on a nest. Perhaps he is wondering if there's more to life than being really aggressive and mocking towards all the other birds and animals around him.


This winter Warbler who needs no introduction...

The Audubon's sub-species, told by their yellow throats, bring a lot of business to Phoenix everyyear. Or at least, they would if they contributed to the economy, but they're too common to really pull people out of their chairs to go chasing after them, and they don't pay any toll fees when they migrate down in huge numbers. Now, if a myrtle subspecies shows up, that's a whole different ballgame...

And on the subject of regional population variations, it has been very interesting, and also disheartening, to hear of the continued decline of the Inca Dove population in Tucson and southeastern Arizona. Every year there are less and less birds and breeding pairs recorded. It's now considered a rare sighting down there, and pretty soon eBird will start double checking on any Inca Dove entries in the southeastern counties.

In Phoenix anyway they're still doing very well. Their population seems to be on the rise and I see these  adorable little puffs in neighborhoods and apartment complex parking lots just as much as at designated wildlife preserves.

Sheepish Green-wing Teal are another staple of the GWR. This is probably the best place to observe and photograph these very handsome and culinarily unscrupulous ducks. I have some more shots of this  fancy guy with which I'll follow up later this week.

If you ever find yourself in the area, or have bird nerd friends and family heading to the area, point them in Gilbert's direction. For one reason, it's the only good reason to ever go to Gilbert, and secondly, it's got some excellent (sub)urban birding.