Thursday, December 8, 2011

Birds vs. Birdwatchers

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.
I was amazed to learn that Tom had birded Neely Water Ranch for the last 17 years, taken copious notes, created an extensive data-base, and recently published a book about it - The Intersection - Seventeen Years of Bird Processing on One Street Corner of the World. A great review of the book can be found on the citizen-science website SciStarter .

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.


  1. Your blog is looking better all the time, Peggy.
    Isn't it funny how things seem to fall into place sometimes?

    Reindeer/Santa on your van? Well, it seems to do its work.

  2. Thanks Yoke! I' glad to see you are back to posting too. Where would we be without our birds?!

  3. I went to Neely on Christmas day 2019 and saw 16 birds bringing my tally for that one site to 19,918 birds. I finally GOT those reindeer antlers for my car and they can be viewed here:

    My book on the site is on Amazon:

    Or you can read it here for free:

    The site isn't being very well maintained and the trees and brush block some of the view near the parking lot. What used to be the main pond to view from the viewing area is not visible at all now because of the trees and brush.


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