Shown is the water reclaimation facility near Prescott Airport. Prescott City Council Tuesday allocated $119,000 for a proposed fence to be installed so birders can gather. (City of Prescott/Courtesy)

This past Saturday I led a Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored bird walk to the city-owned-and-operated recharge ponds, by the Prescott Airport. Historically this area was off limits to the public, but recently the city has taken several steps (and has plans for several additional actions) to make the facility more accessible for recreational use.

The trend of public utilities doubling as recreation sites has become increasingly more common throughout the country. Many municipalities have developed their recharge facilities into recreation-friendly public places.

If you were to ask me where my all-time favorite place to go bird watching in the Phoenix area is, my answer would be a resounding, “The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch,” also known as Gilbert Water Ranch. Every day this facility is used by thousands of people — walkers, runners, bicyclists, dog-walkers, horseback riders, moms with small children, and families going there to have a picnic or do a photo shoot for bridals or senior pictures. It is, without a doubt, THE place to go in the valley to engage in outdoor recreation. And it’s free! 

And, it is a public utility. The primary purpose of this facility is to recharge treated wastewater back into the aquifer. Other communities in Arizona have also opened their wastewater treatment facilities to the public for recreation purposes. Some examples are Sedona Wetlands, Glendale Recharge ponds and Tucson’s Sweetwater Ponds.

You might wonder how a public utility can double as a recreation area. There are basins where the treated wastewater is discharged and the basins are surrounded by raised walking paths. Think of the raised Peavine Trail bordering Watson Woods and Watson Lake. Walkers, dog-walkers, joggers and bike riders stay on the path, and there really is no impact to the surrounding area. It’s actually very simple. 

Using a city owned and operated utility as a recreation site benefits the community as well, from an ecotourism stand point. Every month, thousands of visitors from all around the state visit the Gilbert Water Ranch to go birdwatching. I appreciate our city working to make our recharge facility more accessible to the public. Every time I go there, the workers are super friendly and very supportive of bird watchers.

Our birdwatching field trip this past weekend resulted in over 20 species. Two of the birds we saw were considered ‘rare,’ for this time of year and required documentation in eBird. The first rare bird was a lone yellow-headed blackbird that was in a flock of hundreds of red-winged blackbirds. We got the bird in the scope, and one of the participants took pictures of it, so it was well-documented.

Our other rare bird was a greater yellowlegs — a type of sandpiper. This sighting also had to be documented, as it didn’t show up in the eBird checklist for that location without clicking on the “Show Rarities” option. Some of the birds we saw included a Bald Eagle, a northern harrier, a red-tailed hawk and an American Kestrel. We also saw two porcupines and four javelina! It was a great morning. 

If you are interested in getting into the hobby of birdwatching, the local Prescott Audubon Society chapter offers guided bird walks the first Saturday of every month, at Watson Woods. If you would like to participate, simply show up this Saturday, Feb. 5, at 8 a.m. at the Peavine Trail trailhead parking lot off of Sundog Ranch Road. The bird walk is two hours long, and requires no registration. The event is free and open to all birders of all ages and levels of experience. There is a $3 parking fee. 

Until next week, Happy Birding! 

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona.  Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years.  If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at