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