126557aLast week I met up with some friends to do some birding down in the Valley. We spent about five hours together birding at the Gilbert Water Ranch, also known as the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in the town of Gilbert.

I arrived right at seven o’clock, just as the sun was breaking over the horizon. One of the first species I saw, however, was not a bird, but a cat – a very friendly cat. As I was standing outside of my car setting up my tripod and scope, the cat ran over to me and started rubbing up against my legs.

My first thought, of course, was that the last thing I needed was a cat accompanying me on my birding! My attempts to part company with the cat were futile – we were joined at the hip (or at least at the ankle) – from the cat’s perspective, much to my dismay.

As we began birding, though, something very interesting happened. While I did not anticipate this at all, the cat actually was like a bird magnet. Instead of scaring birds away from us, the birds were drawn to us because of the cat. Once I thought about it, it made sense. It is a natural reaction when birds see a predator to alert other birds to the presence of danger.

As we walked the paths at the preserve, the birds actually came to us – we didn’t have to go looking for them. It didn’t take me long to realize that having a cat with us was working to our advantage. Go figure. Northern mockingbirds and curve-billed thrashers were sounding the alarm and coming very close to us.

As we continued our birding, the cat must have thought we were boring as we weren’t giving him any attention, and eventually he wandered off. My goal was to see as many different species as we could, and as we tallied up our bird list for the day, I was very pleased. We finished the day with 59 species!

Some of the highlights included seeing peach-faced lovebirds in the early morning sunlight – what a pretty little bird! A big surprise for me was seeing three hooded mergansers. I would not have expected to see this species at this location.

We had a pretty good day finding raptors, though some of our ‘looks’ were fleeting. We saw osprey, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, American kestrel, and the one that I was most excited about was a peregrine falcon, which we were able to get in the scope.

We saw a good variety of wading birds such as black-necked stilt, American Avocet, long-billed dowitchers, least sandpiper and snipe. We also saw a lot of the long-legged variety of waders – great blue heron, green heron, black-crowned night-heron, great egret and snowy egret.

In spite of our success in finding birds, I am baffled sometimes by the ones we miss. For example, we didn’t see any lesser goldfinches. I would have expected to see at least a few.

If you are looking for a good place to go birding in the Valley, I highly recommend visiting the Water Ranch.

On another note, I would like wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for your love and friendship. Our family is so appreciative of the community support that we enjoy. I am happy to announce that we plan to be back in our “old” store location in the Safeway shopping center on Monday, Dec. 30.

Until then, Happy Holidays and Happy Birding!