Some days I'm not sure what is more fascinating - the birds that I see when I'm out birding, or the people that I meet. On a recent trip to Neely Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona, it was definitely a person and not a bird that captured my attention. In fact the trip would have been a complete bust had I not had the good fortune to run into Tom Cole right in the parking lot.
It was a bitter cold December day and the site seemed to not be very wheelchair friendly. Then Tom appeared, wanting to know where I got the reindeer antlers and red nose adorning my van. With his binocs, camera, red plaid flannel shirt, slightly graying beard, and mischievous dimpled smile, I felt I had found the closest thing to a birdwatching-Santa!
|Tom Cole explaining to us newcomers the|
odd layout that now exists at Neely Ranch.
Neely Water Ranch isn't quite what it once was when Tom first started birding here. Several of the recharge ponds have been permanently drained and filled with rows and rows of solar panels. The whole area is enclosed by cyclone fencing, block walls, gravel berms, and iron bars. Old bird blinds offer sterile views of solar panels. While there are birds to be found, (we saw a Northern Harrier, an American Kestrel, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, a Vermilion Flycatcher, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Black Phoebe, and a Says Phoebe) it is in an odd and unnatural setting. A fire station sits on the west side, and huge electrical towers and Schuff Steel adorn the northern border. So unless you like your nature photography to have a strong industrial edge, Neely Ranch is not the place for you.
But if you are in the neighborhood, its worth stopping at Neely Water Ranch just in the off chance that Tom is there.
Click on image below to view slide-show:
Neely Water Ranch is located at Cooper Rd. and the Western Canal, just north of Elliot. Parking is available in the gravel lot to the rear of the fire station parking lot.