By now you know we are birders, people who go out into the yard, the woods, the canyons, the parks, the shore, the hills, the back alleys….to look for birds. We see them, identify them with our guidebooks, record them in our spiral-bound notebooks and move on to the next one. It is a sport/hobby of honesty and integrity. And birders help out each other. They post sightings on listservs, which include time, day and location down to which fencepost the bird sat on at the time. I have seen some posts that refer to a page number in the Wisconsin Gazetteer. In birding this is a pretty universal practice.
An amazing spot that demonstrates this camaraderie is Paton’s in Patagonia, Arizona. In 2006 we (Jeanne, Curt and our son Nathan) were on a birding vacation in Arizona. We didn’t know too many specifics about the area except that Southeastern Arizona is one of the top birding spots in North America, being a land of mountains, grasslands and deserts that marks the Southern most boundary of many resident North American species, the Northern most range of many resident Mexican species and a stopover spot for many migrants on their way from Central and South America to the farther reaches of North America. We were in Patagonia because an Elegant Trogon, one of those Mexican birds, had been spotted in Patagonia Lake State Park and we decided to see if we could find it. Now, to non-birders it may seem a fool’s errand to go someplace you’ve never been before looking for a bird that isn’t usually found there – it makes finding a needle in a haystack seem like an easy task. That’s where the birding community and those listservs I mentioned comes in to play. We regularly monitor the Wisconsin list and have found many good birds by following other birders alerts of interesting birds (the Northern Hawk Owl in Carl Andre State Park, the Tri-colored Heron at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher near Kewaunee to name a few). So, we weren’t totally in the weeds trying to find the Trogon because we had been monitoring the Southeast Arizona/New Mexico List. We got to the town of Patagonia around noon and decided to stop for lunch before heading to the State Park, a few miles further on. Patagonia isn’t a very big town – one main drag with maybe two blocks of town on either side – with not many choices for eats. As we drove through town we spotted a small house with some folding tables under a shade cover in the front yard – a tacequeria! We’re game and we’re hungry so Mexican it is for lunch (it also makes sense seeing that we’re less than 20 miles from the Mexican border at this point).
While we were waiting for our food to come out from the kitchen a guy stops at our table, noticing our binoculars, and asks if we know about Paton’s backyard. We didn’t but he assured us that it would be worth our while to stop in. He gave us directions – it’s only a few blocks away from the cafe and in the direction of the State Park, so we decide to stop in.
Turns out that Paton’s is world famous, especially for hummingbirds. Really – just look at the guest register at the gate to the back yard – people have signed in from all fifty of the US states and numerous countries. Paton’s, itself, was the home of Wally and Marion Paton who maintained a number of feeders in their backyard, at least 8 hummingbird feeders and a half-dozen or so platform feeders for passerine species. The Patons graciously opened their yard to anyone who wanted to come and sit and watch the birds. But they did more than open their yard – they provided a shade cover and folding chairs and field guides. The feeders were numbered so birders could easily call the attention of the other birders to a good prospect. So after lunch we stopped and we sat and we saw birds – 8 life birds (that’s birds we had never seen before) along with many others. What makes the Paton’s yard so “birdy” is, in part, the feeders but also the location. The other side of the fence that encloses their yard is the Nature Conservancy’s 1350 acre Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
Wally died a while back and Marion died in 2009 but their yard remains open to the public under the care of interim site hosts while their family decides the home’s future. And as always, donations to the sugar fund are appreciated.