An oasis for Sonoran Desert land birds and a migrant trap for vagrants and rarities in the Phoenix metro area.
By Jim Burns | Published: 4/25/2008
Metro Phoenix finally has a vibrant and accessible hotspot worth checking any time of year. When the Gilbert Water Ranch (also known as the Gilbert Riparian Area) opened in 1999, it attracted waterfowl and wading birds immediately. Birders hoped it was just a matter of time until the ranch became an oasis for common Sonoran Desert land birds and a migrant trap for vagrants and rarities. Hope became reality in 2003, when a Tropical Kingbird appeared, and a Groove-billed Ani, Streak-backed Oriole, and Prairie Warbler turned up in the fall of 2005.
The ranch includes seven recharge basins and a fishing lake, all connected by gravel hiking paths. Fluctuating water levels dictate a different mix of birds weekly, if not daily. Something exciting is always going on. You may spot a skulking Least Bittern, a migrant Magnolia Warbler, or exotic Peach-faced Lovebirds, members of an established flock. Regular visits yield a large site list. — Jim Burns
Jim Burns also wrote about the Salome Highway Thrasher Site in Maricopa County, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 7, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona, No. 53, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area, Show Low, Arizona, No. 143, Canoe Creek Road, Osceola County, Florida, No. 150, Francis Beidler Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina, No. 158, and Mount Ord, Sunflower, Arizona, No. 184.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates to view location:
Wet and dry recharge basins set among a variety of native Arizona vegetation.
Flat. Gravel and dirt trails are wheelchair-accessible.
More than 250 species. Residents: Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Northern Cardinal, Abert’s Towhee. Spring: American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Anna’s Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher. Fall: Long-billed Dowitcher, Cinnamon Teal, migrant passerines, occasional eastern warblers. Winter: shorebirds, mixed sparrow flocks, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Loggerhead Shrike. Rarities: American Bittern, Ross’s Goose, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Zone-tailed Hawk, Least Tern, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler.
When to go
Good all year but best in winter.
4.5 miles of trails. Two restrooms with water fountains. Observatory open Friday and Saturday evenings at nightfall. Free family birdwalks 8-11 a.m., third Saturday of the month, October-April.
Nature preserve. Open daily from dawn to dusk. Free admission and parking.
Arrive at the crack of dawn and leave before noon to avoid the mid-day summer heat. Apply sunscreen during all seasons and bring plenty of water. A spotting scope is helpful.