An Old Friend

Each year in the desert has its own routines as well as echoes of previous trips. Some years I’ve spent many early-morning hours at the Gilbert Water Ranch, watching birds, taking photographs, filming video. This year, I had to make a point of getting out to it in the days before we were scheduled to leave Gilbert for points Floridian and South Carolinian.

Walking through the Riparian Preserve is like visiting with an old friend: I may not see or hear anything new, but the familiar conversation has a certain charm, nonetheless.

There’s the waterbird that reliably catches my eye (That’s not a duck . . .) and the mockingbird that first catches my ear.

2-photo collage of distinctive smaller birds

Grebe (left); northern mockingbird (right)


There’s the statuesque great egret (I think it stood like that without moving for at least 30 minutes) and the vanishing snowy egret, a reminder of others like it and of the challenges in keeping birds in the frame.

2-photo collage of great egret standing stockstill and a fleeting glimpse of a snowy egret's feet as it exits the frame

Great egret(left); shy snowy egret (right, heading left)


There’s the ubiquitous mourning dove: self-satisfied, to my eye, and just a little self-consciously cute.

2-photo collage of mourning dove, looking cute

There are the elegant female and male avocets, scooping up less-than-elegant slimy bits to eat.

Female and male avocet, wading and feeding

Female (left); male(right)

There’s a cinnamon teal, re-triggering my quest for photos of birds with their wings flared.

3-photo collage of duck flaring its wings


There are the invasive, annoying, yet striking starlings.

2-photo collage of juvenile starlings and nesting starling

Juveniles (left); adult on the way to making more juveniles (right).


There are the always amazing black-necked stilts.

3-photo collage of black-necked stilts


There’s the tiny Anna’s male hummingbird.

Close-up of colourful head of Anna's hummingbird

There’s the skulking green heron who almost forgot he was out in the (almost) open.

Green heron out in the open

And there’s the chortling cactus whose amused face saw me on my way for this year, thinking of the birds I saw whose picture I couldn’t get at all due to their size, speed, distance, or position under cover: night-crowned black heron, Abert’s towhee, verdin, dowitchers, great blue heron, yellow-rumped warbler, gila woodpecker.

Cactus chortling

Yes, I’ve seen it all before. And yet it’s new every time.


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6 Responses to An Old Friend

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Beautiful pictures.

  2. “Chortling” is a brilliant epithet and after studying the image for several minutes I still have not pinned down all of the reasons why. “Buxom, wide-eyed figure with small mouth pursed yet up-turned at the corners” evokes a chortle. The contrast of metaphorical softness and literal prickled toughness adds to the humor. The comparative size of this bird-haven to your human scale weighs into the formula. But there’s surely more!

  3. Jim Robertson says:

    Very nice collection Isabel. Good reason to head south, and a few of those will follow you home

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Many thanks. And I know what you mean. Local birdwatchers here get a bit excited when they see a white-crowned sparrow: For them it’s only a winter visitor.

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