I had the pleasure of joining my good friends Margarethe Brummermann and Ned Harris last Tuesday, April 27, for a trip “up north” to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. Gilbert is rather seamlessly connected to Phoenix, but it was well worth enduring the traffic to reach this wetlands gem.
There are seven ponds covering 110 acres here, with the berms between them providing comfortable trails for walkers, joggers, and wildlife-watchers. One pond is dedicated to fishing and stocked with a variety of game species. Not all of the remaining ponds are full at any given time, but draining some exposes mud flats for shorebirds like the long-billed dowitcher to probe.
While the preserve provides wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for people (there are also manicured lawns, a playground and “dino dig” for children, and even a small observatory), there is another purpose to the area. “Reclaimed” waste water, already treated for sewage, is what fills the ponds, allowing for a further natural purification and recharge of underground aquifers (as I understand it, anyway). It certainly seems to agree with the likes of the American avocet.
Our personal bird tally for the morning and early afternoon included mallard, cinnamon teal, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, Canada goose, American coot, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret, black-crowned night-heron, green heron, killdeer, black-necked stilt, mourning dove, white-winged dove, cliff swallow, red-winged blackbird, and great-tailed grackle.
Dragonflies are plentiful, too. It is a bit early in the season for them, but we still saw common green darner, blue dasher, roseate skimmer, black saddlebags, red saddlebags, and Mexican amberwing (female above).
The area is planted with lots of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers that provide plenty of cover and forage for all forms of wildlife. There is even a pollinator garden that attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
Should you decide to visit, be prepared for the park’s popularity. By 9 AM on a weekday the parking lot can be full, and the trails crowded with people walking for exercise and school groups learning about wetlands. When the day heats up, you might consider taking a break indoors at the Gilbert public library. It abuts the preserve and overlooks the fishing lake.Meanwhile, you can live vicariously by visiting websites like Tom Webster Photography that give a great overview of the preserve and its facilities. Also be sure to visit the website for the Riparian Institute which manages the Preserve.