This past week I led a Jay’s Bird Barn sponsored field trip to Gilbert Water Ranch. This was our first long distance, out of area field trip. We plan to do one field trip each quarter to destinations further away to places we have not led field trips to in the past.
Prior to the trip, I logged into eBird to see what had been reported at this location the day before, as well as over the last week or so. Several individuals had posted a list of their bird sightings exceeding sixty species. Based on their observations, I had a goal to see sixty species on our trip.
We left at 6a.m., as it is about a 125-mile drive one way to the Water Ranch, and we had to get through the Phoenix traffic. We had a lovely day—short-sleeve weather, abundant sun, no wind–it was perfect for bird watching.
Gilbert Water Ranch is one of my favorite birding destinations in Arizona as there are so many different varieties of birds to be seen here. Seven retention basins of varying sizes make up the bulk of the facility, with tree-lined trails winding between the ponds. It could best be described as birding in a desert with a bunch of water!
The diversity of habitat lends itself to a diversity and variety of birds. Over the years about 280 different bird species have been observed at Gilbert Water Ranch, so it is certainly a prime place to go birding, especially during fall, winter, and early spring.
It was not difficult birding, as there were birds all around us—in the ponds, in the sky, on the trail, and certainly in the trees.
Pond birds included a variety of ducks, neo-tropic cormorants, herons, egrets, and wading birds, such as least sandpipers, avocets, stilts, killdeer, snipe (yes, they really do exist!) and dowitchers.
Birds in the sky included northern rough-winged swallow, osprey, belted kingfisher, American kestrel and a peregrine falcon that blew past us at a tremendous speed.
Birds on the trail included white-crowned sparrow, Abert’s and spotted towhee, curve-billed thrasher and Gambel’s quail.
Birds in trees included ruby-crowned kinglet, northern mockingbird, orange-crowned, yellow rumped and northern parula warblers, Anna’s hummingbird, Gila woodpecker and northern flicker.
We birded for about four hours before breaking for lunch, and we tallied up our bird list for the day. According to my count we were at 58 species. As we were wrapping up lunch, I wandered over to the edge of a pond and saw species number 59, a common yellowthroat.
We needed only one more species to get to 60 but it was time to leave. We walked to the parking lot, and while standing in the parking lot, at a great distance away, in flight, I spotted a red-tailed hawk soaring. Number 60—we did it!
That afternoon after returning to Prescott, my wife and I went on a bike ride on the Peavine Trail, where I saw over 60 gulls, and two Caspian terns at Watson Lake! This past Saturday, I returned to Watson Lake and saw a Pacific loon which had been reported earlier through a Prescott Rare Bird Alert email notice.
With the amazing weather we are having, this is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the abundance and variety of winter birds we are seeing in the Prescott area. Both Watson and Willow Lakes have hundreds of water fowl including gulls, grebes, loons, geese, mergansers, ducks, cormorants, herons, egrets, coots and sandpipers.
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. 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 email@example.com.