2020-11-12 Thursday In Gilbert Arizona

It was a big day for me Thursday in Gilbert. The sun was at its harshest mid-day height when I arrived at the Water Ranch, but I stayed into the late afternoon when the rich warm glow of a low winter sun shed on all my subjects.  I walked almost two miles through the five acre reserve, taking over 1300 photos, most of which I discarded. After several hours of winnowing the wheat from the chaff, I pared the set down to 184 images I thought were worthwhile. The gallery below displays 49 of these images.

I spent much of my time perched on my small folding stool at the edge of Pond #7, where I could observe the lonely, out of place Roseate Spoonbill that blew in a few months ago, and has been staying here at the preserve. The nearest locations where this bird might belong are on the gulf coast of Texas or the southern Gulf of California coast of mainland Mexico. How it ended up in central Arizona is a mystery. Some believe it got caught up and carried here by a powerful summer storm. To the delight of local birders, it seems to have found a satisfying habitat at the Water Ranch, because it has remained here, making the best of its circumstances. Come spring, if hormones kick in, it will probably fly off in search of romance.

Most of the time during my vigil, the spoonbill foraged at the far end of the large pond from where I positioned myself. I took the distant images the bird gave me, watching and enjoying its side-to-side bill sweeping through the pond’s shallow water. Snowy Egrets seem to take advantage of the action, pouncing on the small fishy prey disturbed by the spoonbill’s foraging style. I’d seen this cooperative interspecies foraging before. This spring in Texas, I watched as Snowy and Reddish Egrets followed the packs of spoonbills as they moved through the shallow water of the estuaries east of Brownsville.

Northern Harrier - Circus hudsonius
This Marsh Hawk was making such a racket with its vocalizations, it caught my attention. 

There were other attractions at the ranch to entertain me. I saw plenty of shorebirds. Though inconspicuous at a distance, there were many hundreds of Least Sandpipers mingling with the stilts, yellowlegs, avocets, dowitchers, ducks and pelicans before me. When disturbed by passing raptors, these sparrow-sized shorebirds picked up and sallied over the pond in murmerating flights, wheeling and turning in near unison. During my shore-side vigil, calm waters provided me with reflecting images of the birds foraging in the nearby shallows.

After several hours, I picked up my gear from the pond’s shore, and continued my long hike along the trails that weaved through the preserve. I found flycatchers, towhees, vireos and warblers working the thorny brush that lined the pathways. While I was near the eastern limit of the preserve near Pond #2, I heard unfamiliar calls. When I investigated the sounds, I discovered it was a Marsh Hawk making a racket while soaring in circles over the pond. I couldn’t tell what the fuss was over, but the bird’s behaviour provided me with an opportunity to capture a series of airborne images.

The bird species I met during this day were American Avocet, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Verdin, Vermilion Flycatcher, Neotropic Cormorant, Northern Harrier, Hutton’s Vireo, Great Egret, Abert’s Towhee, Redhead, Ring-Necked Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy Egret, Greater YellowLegs, White-Crowned Sparrow, Black-Necked Stilt, Least Sandpiper, American White Pelican, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Killdeer, Gambel’s Quail, Green-Winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler.

This was only my second visit to the preserve. Early this year, when I was on the outbound leg of my trip to Texas in February, I stopped to investigate this location. Local birders are lucky to have such a place as this sanctuary among the urbanized sprawl that dominates the Valley of the Sun.

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