Birding Escapes: Gilbert Water Ranch, Arizona
By Bobby Harrison
October 15, 2013
In the heart of metropolitan Phoenix lies one of the best birding locations in Arizona. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, better known as the Gilbert Water Ranch, is a water reclamation system that has become a haven for birds, bird watchers, and bird photographers. Seven water recharge ponds and a fishing lake are at the heart of the Water Ranch, which attracts native Sonoran Desert birds, migrants, and a host of vagrants.
Water levels in the recharge ponds are regulated to simulate Arizona’s dry and wet seasons throughout the year, thus attracting an abundance of birds during all seasons. Deeper ponds attract migrating and nesting waterfowl, such as Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, and Ring-necked Duck. Shallower ponds attract American and Snowy egrets, White-faced Ibises, Blacknecked Stilts, American Avocets, and numerous shorebirds and terns.
Almost four miles of trails wind among the recharge ponds, providing riparian habitat for a myriad of passerines such as Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Blackthroated Sparrows, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Curved-billed Thrashers, Verdins, and both Blue and Black-headed grosbeaks. The giant saguaro cactus garden adjacent to the parking lot is an excellent place to find Ladder-backed and Gila woodpeckers, Pyrrhuloxia, Browncrested Flycatchers (at left), Whitewinged Doves, and Greater Roadrunners.
The Water Ranch is also a magnet for vagrant species. Tropical Kingbird, Groove-billed Ani, and Streak-backed Oriole have been recorded there, and the list continues to grow. Some vagrant species have made appearances for two or three years in a row.
With more than 270 species of birds, exceptional habitat, and a central location in Arizona, the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch is a fabulous allseason birding escape.