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20-20-23 At The Gilbert Water Ranch

Great-Tailed Grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus
These are birds I met at the Gilbert Water Ranch, or Riparian Preserve which is located in the middle of the Valley of the Sun, or the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area, Arizona.

I scouted several of the trails at the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert after I arrived late Saturday afternoon, but I did not carry my camera. The light was fading and I wanted to get a feel for this place I’d been hearing about all these years. Given the developments of housing and light commercial buildings all around, it is surprising to find such a sample of nature in its midsts. There are seven ponds squeezed into a single 110 acre lot, with 4½ miles of trails throughout the park. Not every pond is kept full. I noticed two that were mere mudflats and others were only inches deep. But this is not a bad thing. It provides a wider variety of habitats.

When I was on my scouting mission Saturday afternoon, I saw an intriguing bird. It was very “mockingbird-like”, but where the light gray feathers should have been, there were black ones. The white flashy feathers were there on its wings and tail, and everything about the bird’s movements and behaviour just screamed “MOCKINGBIRD”. The bird was skittish and shy and I wasn’t able to get great looks at it. When I returned the following morning with my camera the bird was not to be found. I’m left to conclude it was a melanistic form of the familiar Northern Mockingbird.

One of the first birds I met on Sunday morning were Gila Woodpeckers working the holes in the Saguaro Cactus at the east end of the parking lot. I first thought the birds might be preparing the excavated holes for nesting, perhaps cleaning out refuse from the many starlings who seemed to have taken over the area. After reviewing my images I discovered they were foraging on ants from inside the cavities.

I’d never studied how Great-Tailed Grackles drink water before my visit on Sunday. I had a nice encounter with a pair of these birds and watched as the noisy male took a drink from a small pool on top of a rock. When taking on the water, the bird turned its head upside-down and collected the water in his upper, decurved bill. I thought that was interesting!

I wasn’t on a mission this day to chase rarities. I was mostly getting acquainted with the “usual suspects” in the neighborhood. It was a most satisfying morning. The local citizens are lucky to have such a place to enjoy and explore.

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